Read Your Textbook at the Beach: Adjusting to Australia as an International Student

Published 1 November 2017

Australia: The land of sharks, an inedible spread called Vegemite, the 80s mega-band ACDC and the legacy of Steve Irwin, according to the rest of the world. But, aside from our incredible indigenous heritage and a strong tradition of excellent rock bands, what exactly can us locals say is our cultural identity? Our beautiful country has such a multicultural population and long history, it’s hard for us to point to any particular characteristics and call them ‘Australian’. Sometimes the best way to find out is to ask a visitor from overseas about their culture shock experience in this desert nation.

We approached a few of our international students and asked them to give us an insight into cultural comparisons they’ve made during their time with us. Many of our students tell us that adapting to a new culture and learning to study in a new language are the most rewarding challenges they’ve ever experienced. Interestingly, they all highlight one particular approach to life they’ve encountered here. Maybe this is something we can identify as a uniquely Australian character trait? Read on and decide for yourself.

Valeriya Veresova (Master of Accounting student, from Russia)

“The first main difference between the lifestyles of Australian and Russian people is that Russians don’t usually spend that much time outside. This is probably due to the harsh winter we have; in Russia typically nine months of the year will be cold and people usually meet indoors.

Despite the much warmer climate here in Australia, it also seems that it’s just part of the culture to spend a lot of time outdoors. People here take the time to be social and ask everyone how they are going, even if they’re not that well acquainted with each other. I love this openness. It is not common for Russians to talk to people we do not know.

The second main difference is to do with time. Russians are normally hurrying. We try to do a lot of things during a short period. Australians are more relaxed and calm natured and take their time with things.

Thirdly, people in Russia are not as sporty as Australians. You will hardly see someone doing jogging early in the morning in Russia. If people do sports, it will mostly just be in the gym.”

Daniela Schröder (Master of Accounting student, from Germany)

“One thing I’ve really needed to get used to is the laid back and relaxed attitude of Australians. It’s been good in my private life however when it comes to work I need to remind myself that I’m not in Germany anymore. In Germany, everything has policies and procedures, and everyone tries to follow them. Here policies are in place too, but they don’t need to be followed that strictly. I think for me Australia is nicer due to the weather and also due to Australians being a little more relaxed.”

Sewwandi Ruwanthika Rathnayaka (Master of Accounting, from Sri Lanka)

“In Sri Lanka, we place a higher emphasis on hierarchy than people do in Australia. For example, the ultimate authority in the family is the oldest male member. In the workplace, it’s essential to pay particular respect to people of higher age and status.

Another difference is that as Sinhalese, we celebrate Sinhala and Hindu New Year. These are the main two festivals in Sri Lanka. Our climate is also very different to Australia. We have just two seasons: rainy and dry.”

Julian Rossolin (Graduate of Master of Professional Accounting, current KBS Accounting Lecturer, from France)

“I am from Paris which is famous for its history and culture, with many world-class museums and monuments. Sydney (where I now live) is known for its sun and beaches. In Paris, most people study in libraries and indoor areas but here in Australia, you can study at the beach or in parks because the weather is warm most of the year.

I’m absolutely loving the Australian laid-back lifestyle. Everyone is very friendly and happy, no matter where you go. It’s great!”

Maybe you won’t be so surprised to discover it’s the laid-back, outdoor lifestyle of Australians that these students found to be so unique. As highlighted by Valeriya’s description of Russian winters, nature undoubtedly shapes culture. With our mild climate and spectacular natural spots, it’s no wonder a life spent outdoors has become part of our identity.

Our friendly on-site Student Services teams are here to help you settle into life on campus and provide extra support to international students with transitioning into the Australian lifestyle.