by Siqi Yuan
More than 460,000 international students came to Australia to study in the first eight months of 2013. As a strongly global multi-cultural country, international students have become an important part of Australian tertiary education.
This year’s enrolment represents a 0.8 per cent increase on the previous year and compares with the average growth rate for enrolments of 5.7 per cent per year in the preceding 10 years.
Even though the numbers have decreased in recent years, there is still a huge population of international students in Australia. These students come from at least 40 different countries and regions.
“International students are very diverse. They are not all the same, they come from many different countries, they have many different backgrounds”, says Katherine Gordon, head of Internationalism at University of Technology, Sydney (UTS).
This year, 9751 international students enrolled at UTS, spreading over most of the faculties and different course types. And the number is steadily increasing year by year.
Studying at overseas universities is not easy. International students not only deal with study problems, but also with negative feelings.
It is easy to feel isolated. As Ms Gordon says, even if students come from America or England, and English is their first language, Australia is a different culture. When local students talk about the political situation, the economy or the society in class, it is difficult for international students to interact because they are not familiar with such topics.
However, universities are working to create opportunities for international students to mix with local students. There are various types of programs and activities organised through the Orientation Week with bands of established students dressed in orange T-shirts from the Peer Network to help new students. And during semester, universities create opportunities for international students to get to one another and local students.
“We set up a whole arrange activities and free events to help students engage with each other,” says Fiona Tschaut, manager of Leadership and Community Connections at UTS. She says there are at least 150 clubs for students, and there are always free events to encourage students to join in.
However, such strategies don’t always work.
‘’The events did help me a lot. I joined in some events at university, met new students. But I didn’t make many local friends there,” says Babak Azari, an Iranian research student at UTS.
International students still tend to mix with one another rather than local students. One of the main reasons is that many local students do not necessarily make friends at universities. They maintain friendships from high school or childhood more strongly than the friendships they make at universities. Moreover, they have a very busy schedule of work.
Even though universities try really hard to make students “stick around” the campus, and they have many places and computers for them to study and chat with each other, after class local students often just go home or to work.
No matter what universities do, some students still live with depression as they struggle to adjust to a new way of life.
Katherine Gordon emphasises the importance for students to keep a steady mood, and to understand that even if a student sometimes feels homesick or unsettled, this is natural. She says it is important for students to understand that even if they feel down today, tomorrow will be better, that it will not last forever.
“It is important for international students to understand the process they are going through, and try to keep a positive mood, to keep in good mental health, to exercise, and eat well,” she says.
Furthermore, there are many services at universities to give international students academic help, career advice, health care, and accommodation.
“As an international student, even though the university helps us a lot, it’s still hard. I think it is most important for us is to stay strong,” says Helen Wu, a Taiwanese Master of Business Administration student at UTS.