Students from all corners of the earth travel to Australia in search of a high-quality education. In 2013 alone, 526 932 international students were enrolled in Australian education programs, 231 186
of which were in tertiary institutions (source). In theory, this experience should provide both domestic and international students the opportunity to grow in terms of flexibility, empathy and critical thinking, however critics such as Simon Marginson explore how phenomena such as parochialism, ethnocentrism and struggles to keep up with nonsensical Aussie lingo, make it difficult for this to occur.
Parochialism can be defined as the narrowness or inflexibility of views. In this instance, it refers to the way in which Australians – university students in particular – are “not interested” (Marginson 2012) in opening their minds and really making an effort to break down hypothetical cultural barriers that exist between themselves and international students. Kell and Vogl also touched upon this point, noting that many of the international students surveyed felt Australians were reluctant to get to know them;
Australians can appear ambivalent, distant and disinterested in international students and foreigners in general (Kell & Vogl 2006)
This relates to the idea of ethnocentrism, in which one nation or culture believes itself to be superior to another. This could account for the ignorance of Australian students in embracing new cultures and the students within them.
But is this view explored by Kell & Vogl and Marginson really the case? I spoke with an Australian-born university student, of Chinese Descent, who explained how she struggled socially because the local students assumed she was international, and the international students were unwilling to mix with her because they knew she was a local. This suggests that the paradigm of education-related prejudice is multi-directional; is it possible that International students – for whatever reason – are just as unwilling to mix with domestic Australian students?
Another reason for a struggle of unity between domestic and international students proposed by Kell and Vogl is the difficulty in understanding Australian slang. Foreign students usually learn
academic English in their home countries and not colloquialisms, which are vital to communicating with the average Australian university student.
“a basic working knowledge of informal Australian English is … linked to the connection they (international students) make with the broader Australian community: (Kell & Vogl 2006)
Although recognising a stubby from a swagman may not, at first glance, seem important knowledge for a foreign student coming to Australia, this research suggests otherwise, and various initiatives have been born to help foreign students induct into Australian culture.
Let’s use the international programs on offer at the University of Wollongong as examples. The Global Communicators Program (GCP) was constructed to help international and domestic students connect, learn and share one another’s cultures. This is a positive tool or
building international relationships. Various clubs and societies exist also, such as the Korean Student Association, which exists not only to support Korean UOW students, but to offer insight into Korean culture, language and food for domestic students also. Although programs such as these raise the potential for cultural competence, both domestic and international students are required to make significant effort.
I myself see plenty of international students on campus at UOW who travel in groups of people who share their language and culture. I believe this creates a significant barrier. Yes, if I were on exchange in a foreign country, I admit I would seek out other students familiar with my language and culture, but I still think it’s a two-way street. If domestic students are expected to make more of an effort with international students, international students should make more of an effort with domestic students. Only then, I think, will cosmopolitanism (think unbiasedness and a high value of diversity) or ‘citizenship of the world’ be achieved on all fronts.
Kell, P and Vogl, G (2007) ‘International Students: Negotiating life and study in Australia through Australian Englishes’, Everyday Multiculturalism Conference Proceedings, Macquarie University, 28-29 September 2006.
Marginson, S (2012) ‘International education as self-formation: Morphing a profit-making business into an intercultural experience’, Lecture delivered at the University of Wollongong, 21 February 2012