by Zhefeng Wang
Twelve minutes is the time it takes me by train from Burwood where I live to the University of Technology near Central Station where I study. Every week day, I start my routine by boarding a train at noon and end it by boarding a train at night when the university library closes at 10pm.
As a graduate exchange student in Sydney, I live a regular and simple life. Although three months have already passed, the memory of the 11 hours flight from Shanghai to Sydney is still as clear as yesterday. It was at 12:30 on 29 February that I landed at Sydney Kingsford-Smith airport. As I had my first lecture for the subject of Journalism Studies that afternoon at 2pm, my friend Yao Lin picked me up, and we took the train direct to Central Station. Then we walked hurriedly to the UTS Tower Building with my heavy luggage.
“I don’t want to miss any classes here in Sydney as it really cost me a lot to get this opportunity,” I told Yao Lin. As a Chinese student in the Erasmus Mundus Master’s Program called Journalism Media and Globalisation at Aarhus University in Denmark, I was selected as one of the 13 students out of 59 for the exchange program to study abroad in Chile, USA and Australia. That’s how I and five other Erasmus Mundus students came to Sydney.
However, due to my Chinese nationality, when I applied for an Australian visa, I had to face much more complicated formalities than my European peers. So that may explain why I am such a miser about my time and studies; I want to make every penny paid for my study worth it.
In fact, after arriving in Sydney, what challenged me first was and is still the study pressure. Although I got 7 for my IELTS test and I already had one semester’s study in English education in Denmark, it’s the first time I have been in an English-speaking environment. I have to make 100 per cent preparation before class in order to have an understandable lecture and a participative tutorial discussion.
I also have to spend much longer on writing and correcting my assignments than native speakers so that I may get a pass or a higher grade for an assignment. To be frank, it is a really painful process.
According to a media release from the Department of Education, Science and Training within the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, education is Australia’s fourth largest export industry and China is Australia’s largest source of foreign students. However, more and more young Chinese students are coming to Australia for high school and university education who have poor English language abilities.
Although being accepted by a university is much easier in Australia than in China, university study in Australia is even more demanding. It results in a system known as “easy in” but “strict out”. For some students, once they forget the happiness of getting an offer, they face frustrations with their studies. They find that they cannot generally understand what the lecturer or their peers say at class, they cannot express their opinions in English properly and be involved in the discussion, and they get low grades or even face failing subjects.
In China and in other countries like Denmark, if a student fails his exam or final essay, he could take part in a make-up exam or submit a make-up essay. However in Australia, failing a subject means one has to pay for and study the subject again. The fee for each undergraduate or graduate course here in an Australian university is usually $3000 to $4000, while in China many people only earn ¥3000 to ¥4000 per month (the exchange rate between Australian dollars and Chinese yuans usually ranges around 1:6.5). And so, some Chinese students, especially undergraduates, tried to find “shortcuts”.
The demand for “shortcuts” has created a “help” market. A search on the internet shows that it’s easy to find advertisements on student forums or other social network websites for “help”. The assignment agents promise to offer a high-quality, high-efficient service to students and to keep it secret. An assignment agency even has a Chinese website that clearly targets Chinese students.
As one Chinese student studying Public Relation at a university in Sydney said, “If I failed the final assignment I would have to pay more than $3000 to study it again; now I only need to pay $300 for a pass. Why not?” The student confessed that he had got in touch with one assignment agency to arrange a writer to do one final assignment for him. “There is no face-to-face contact, all connection is done online and the payment is also completed via bank account transfer.”
Although such cheating is definitely wrong, I can understand those students to some certain extent. The fear of failing brings with it a financial pressure so it’s understandable they think of finding some “resolution”.
Actually, the reason why Australia is such a welcome study abroad country for Chinese students and their parents is mostly because of the connection between its education and possibility of emigration. As the Australian emigration policy regulates, foreign students who have stayed in Australia for several years and hold some certain diplomas or degrees from Australian universities may have the qualifications to apply for Permanent Residence.
PR, short for Permanent Residence, has become the objective for many Chinese students who pursue their studies in Australia. “When can you get your identity?” It is one of the most common questions among Chinese students. Chinese students regard PR as the real legal identity in Australia. And it is also because of their hope of gaining PR that many Chinese students choose to keep their heads down and become less aggressive or radical in many public rights issues.
In terms of the travelling concession, the State Government offers local students half price concession but not to international students. In order to show their discontent at this unfair rule, many Indian students organised several demonstrations. However, few Chinese students become involved in these kinds of activities because they are afraid of being recorded and it may go against their getting PRs.
As foreign students in Australia, what worries the Chinese students most is their “identities”. In the case of the train attack on Chinese students on 24 April which sparked uproar in China once one of the Chinese victims used his Weibo account to issue the news, not all Chinese netizens showed their sympathy. They criticised the students here for their cowardly behavior. Many asked, “Why don’t you fight back?”
However, some Chinese netizens who had lived in Australia understood why the young Chinese students did not fight back explaining that fighting back may go against them and so they chose to make no resistance.
Actually such kind of identity distress is understood by some Chinese students who already have PR. One young man, 25, who came to Australia when he was 11, is now an intern in a famous architecture firm. He says that because he has a typical Asian appearance and he is not that sociable in the office, his manager always poked fun at him saying, “Boy, can you speak English?” The young man said, “It could not easily be regarded as race discrimination but I do not like such kind of humors.” However, he still did not retaliate.
Chinese international students’ best friends are usually Chinese international students. Australian-born Chinese (ABC) students’ best friends are usually ABCs. It’s uncommon for Chinese students to really blend into the Australian white people society. Although some of them have already changed their nationality and become Australian citizens, they still stick to their original communities. “I feel safe in that way,” the architecture intern said.
The moon in foreign countries is much rounder than in China. This is a Chinese proverb that describes a sort of kind of value that worships foreign cultures. However the life abroad is not as what is imagined.
“The life of the first generation is always very challenging. But it will be better for my children’s generation, and much better for my grandchildren’s generation,” my friend Yao Lin said. As a new Australian who came to Sydney to study university and stayed here for eight years, she was reluctant to become an Australian citizen at first but she did take the step eventually. The pressure from her family was the main reason. There are quite a few Chinese parents who value a child who lives abroad and think of it as worth showing off.
Anyway, I am an exchange student who is in Sydney for only one semester. Just as the 12 minutes by train between Burwood and Central is fixed, my stay in Sydney is limited as well. Every time when I feel tired or nervous, I remember that I will leave here one day and maybe will not come back, and then I forget all the annoyances and feel refreshed again. I could feel all the pressures but don’t need to carry any of them except for my study.