An Idiot’s Guide to Studying in Australia
Words by: Mandy Moe Pwint Tu
Image credit: Spirit of International Education & Careers
So you’ve arrived in the land of the shrimps and the barbies, which had once only been an oddly shaped country at the end of the earth which you believed held the wonders that were kangaroos and koalas. Admit it, at one time you thought Australia was a land where wombats roamed free and crocodiles made dinner plans with one another as to when they should waylay and consequently devour your dastardly remains. Oh, and did you hear about the many different spiders that can kill you? Yeah, they’re all here.
To be fair, that’s definitely not all you heard about Australia. You heard about the amazing education opportunities here, and the distant dreams of attending univerisites like Melbourne or Western Australia convinced you that you needed to study in Australia. After all, for someone like you, the universities in your country (fill in the blank) did not quite match up to the universities in Australia. Plus, it was bound to be the adventure of a lifetime! First time away from your parents, you felt you were ready to start your own life, be independent, and show them all that you’re totally capable of doing things on your own! (The reality’s a bit different, but I’ll let you dream.)
You’ve made it! You’re here, and you’ve settled in to your desired course at your desired educational institute. Now what?
The first thing you learn is that if you want to see a kangaroo (and I have friends who’ve been in the country for about three years and still haven’t seen a kangaroo or a koala), you’ll have to go to the zoo or a wildlife park (in Perth, it’s Caversham). And it’s a rite of passage, friends, you can’t be in Australia and say you’ve never seen a kangaroo. Seriously, what will your parents think?
But of course there are other issues. Such as:
I’ve been in Australia for a few weeks now and haven’t made any friends. What do I do?
First of all, breathe. You’re doing fine. All you need to do is look around your classroom or walk around your college/university corridors and mentally pick out someone you think you might be able to talk to. And then go and talk to them. Alternatively you could join the Student Council/Guild, or one of the university clubs, and actually show up to their meetings! It’s a great way to meet like minded people.
I know you wish it could be easier, but unfortunately most of us mortals aren’t gifted with the natural charisma that seems to come naturally to gods. So make sure you say something nice.
How do I deal with homesickness?
Aw, sweetie. Skype’s your best friend here. Or Viber, if that’s what you prefer. Arrange for your parents or your sibling or your pet to come online at a certain time, and just talk to them. See their faces. Tell them what’s been happening. Tell them you miss them. Cry a little if you feel like it.
Periods of homesickness can either be very brief, or they can drag on for days. Don’t let this unnerve you. Go about your business, study, hang out with friends, maybe talk to a friendly teacher about it. If worst comes to worst, make an appointment with your college/uni psychologist. They’ll help you.
What else can I do aside from studying?
Unless you’re the ultimate introvert who hates adventure and are only here because your parents made you come here, you’ve probably already located your local supermarket or at least your grocery store. This is good. Now take a bus into the city and get lost for about an hour or two. Australians are generally very nice, approachable people, so if you can’t find your way back to the bus station to get home, ask someone who looks like they’ve got their life together and you’ll be set.
The city is your friend, my friend. You’ll learn to know it better in a few months, but you’ve got to start somewhere, sometime: the earlier the better. So wander around, go into the shops, eat sushi at the sushi place, and just get the feel of the place. This way you’ll also know where to take your friends when you all decide you want to spend a day out in the city!
Alternatively you don’t have to go to the city. Check your ‘Nearby Events’ on your Facebook (assuming you have Facebook—actually come on, of course you do), or go to Weekend Notes, and take a look at what events are near you, pick one that might interest you, and just go! It’s bound to be fun. Anything is, really, if you’ve got the right outlook.
How do I get more involved socially?
I find that volunteering is a fantastic way to get involved. This is also why it’s good to keep up with events that are happening around the city or even your suburb, or a nearby suburb, or a suburb you can get to without getting lost. Most event organizers often look for volunteers, so shoot them an email and get started on your first volunteer gig! If you’re lucky, you’ll even get a T-shirt. If you’re luckier, you’ll get a certificate saying that you’ve volunteered for this event and at any rate it looks great on your CV.
What else do I need to know?
Additional advice #1
You will be called upon to represent your country. The chances of this happening are pretty high, especially if you happen to be the only person from your country in your friend group. Be ready to give full discourses and lectures on the history of your country and your culture; prepare a ten-slide Powerpoint presentation to have on your person at all times. This is more important when there are things going on in your country that’s constantly making the news. Your opinion may not have mattered when you were back home, but it sure as hell matters now, and people want to hear it. You’re an ambassador for your country now. Take on the role with pride.
Additional advice #2
Have fun. Don’t sulk around in your house all day and all night. Go out and smell the eucalyptus. Say hi to strangers in the street. Smile. Because you’re not just here to study, you’re here to get the most out of your time abroad. Take time to learn the Australian culture, learn their history. You’ll soon find yourself saying ‘mate’ more than usual—at first you’ll try out the accent jokingly and then slowly but certainly it’ll seep into your own accent and it’ll terrify you. But you know what, embrace it. Watch Adam Hills. Realize with growing horror that you can relate to what he’s saying when he says Australians go up at every sentence. (You’ll find yourself doing that too; and also telling people to ‘have a good day’ will become second nature to you).
You’ll learn to be more open to other cultures. You’ll learn to open yourself up more, to take chances you’d never thought you’d take. And when the time comes for you to go home, you’ll find yourself wondering where home is exactly, and if you don’t—you’ll at least know for a fact that you’re not the same person as you were when you first arrived in Australia.