Bonjour, ciào, hola, nǐ hǎo, konnichiwa, hey and G’day to my fellow peers, domestic and international. Student exchange is a rapidly increasing interest of many students all around the world today. Not only is it an opportunity to explore and immerse yourself into another culture, 84% of participating students at UOW felt that studying abroad helped them build valuable job and life skills such as language proficiency and cultural training and adaptability (UOW 2014). With that being said, student exchange sounds pretty good, right? Perhaps not. Marginson (2012) explains that “International education is not the rich intercultural experience it could be.” Why is this?
Firstly, in terms of exchange to Australia, I’ve come to understand the difficulties international students encounter, including temporarily assimilating into our Aussie culture and understanding our true blue slang and our chillaxed lifestyle, (see what I did there?). On top of that, they have a million things to think about: Housing, security, transport, language barriers, family and their education (Khorana 2014). So to ease the culture shock, Marginson (2012) explains that most international students seek a closer interaction with local students. Unfortunately, locals are described as “parochial,” and uninterested in pursuing an interest in international students and in hindsight, this quote reinforces a personal experience I remember from last semester.
I had a large proportion of Chinese exchange students in one of my tutorials. I noticed that these students kept to one side of the room and were never asked to participate in answering homework questions, which was part of our assessment mark. My tutor explained he did not want them to feel uncomfortable or pressured to answer questions.
Was this the right way to treat the students? Weren’t they here for an education, to learn and participate at our university? Kell and Vogl (2007) explain that both the academic and social/cultural adjustment is crucial in the achievement of success for international students, and in this situation, their achievement of success was compromised as my tutor potentially hindered their opportunity to get involved and jeopardized their potential to gain the confidence to get to know the local students, and visa versa. This is a prime example of the deficit model (Khorana 2014) where locals assume the international students are weak, lacking or helpless. Thus, it is suggested that “rather than seeing these students as helpless persons in welfare deficit…the idea of self-formation highlights the need to strengthen the agency freedom of students, and its scope and resources. Expanding the space in which students are free of constraint and coercion” (Marginson, 2012). So, should my tutor have sought to involve them more? I think so. Although I acknowledge they’re in a confronting and unfamiliar environment, “We need to give them dignity as persons with equal standing and rights with ourselves.” (Marginson 2012).
Secondly, an international experience in Australia may not be as rich as it could be, perhaps because the host universities are minimally assisting in maximising their experience. Here at UOW, there is a web page for many international students who may be interested in attending the university, containing information on events such as tours and meet and greets, however they need to create a bigger focus on events that provide opportunities for both domestic and international students to interact. For example, I was unaware we had a ‘buddy system’ for international students. International days should also be frequently held to allow both domestic and international to connect with different cultures. Even a simple acknowledgement and conversation with an international student can make all the difference.
In conclusion, instead of the typical ‘rack-off’, ethnocentric attitude domestic students have towards international students, we need to destroy the notion of the deficit model (Khorana 2014) and show them what good mates we can be here, Down Under.
Kell, P & Vogl, G 2007, International students: Negotiating life and study in Australia through Australian Englishes, Everyday Multiculturalism Conference, viewed 3 September <https://moodle.uowplatform.edu.au/pluginfile.php/259942/mod_resource/content/1/Week%203_Kell%20and%20Vogl.pdf>
Marginson, S, 2012, International Education as Self-formation, Focus On Teaching UOW, viewed 22 August, <https://focusonteaching.uow.edu.au/content/groups/public/@web/@cedir/documents/doc/uow119828.pdf>
Sukhmani Khorana, 2014, ‘Internationalising education – cultural competence and cosmopolitanism’, lecture notes, BCM111, UOW, viewed 22 August
University of Wollongong, 2014, International Students, University of Wollongong, viewed 22 August <http://www.uow.edu.au/future/international/index.html>
University of Wollongong, 2012, Ten Reasons to Study Abroad, Univesity of Wollongong, viewed 28 August <http://www.uow.edu.au/student/exchange/tenreasons/index.html>