The five biggest culture shocks I experienced as an international student

March 02, 2017
Article Promo Image

I arrived in Australia five years ago thinking that it wouldn’t be too big of an adjustment, with English being my first language and my love for all things cheese.

In time though, I realised that the English-speaking and cheese-loving combo was clearly not real preparation for life down under. Here’s some stuff you usually have to find out for yourself, but now you don’t because I’m here to tell you. You’re welcome.

Australians love their coffee

Type coffee capital into Google and you’ll see Australia is at the top of the list. For someone who didn’t drink coffee at all back home, I found myself caving in.

Firstly, coffee is serious business here. There are blogs and magazines dedicated to hunting the best coffee in town. And you can never miss it. Walk anywhere and you’ll be sure to stumble upon a café (and the smell of freshly grounded coffee!).

Personally, the coffee culture properly hit me when I was sitting on the uni lawn one morning and almost everyone around me had a coffee cup in their hand.

For all those just starting out – if you can’t beat them (you can’t), join them. My coffee journey didn’t even start with coffee. I stuck with chai latte for a long time, and that’s just tea. I’ve levelled up to a coffee-based latte now (thanks Melbourne).

The informality

This surprised me more than it should have, but I had to really make an effort to address my tutors by their first names.

It felt strange initially, and I was always worried I came across as rude because back home, it implies a lack of respect. But I was mistaken – just because it seems a lot more casual here, doesn’t mean that there is no mutual respect between teachers and students. If anything, it humanises teachers as real people and not just heartless authority figures, y’know?

Also, you don’t have to ask your teachers if you want to run to the loo. You just… do it.

Mac-what?

Australians love shortening words – because who has the time to pronounce the entire thing anyway? It’s quite endearing, but it can be a bit tricky for international students like myself, especially if the words don’t even sound like the first option on the list.

‘Maccas’, for instance. I call it McD for short at home. Or words I didn’t know could be shortened ‘ceebs’ (short for CBF which is short for can’t be bothered), barbie (barbecue), arvo (afternoon) or Woolies (Woolworths).

Guess that’s just ‘Straya.

Sports allegiance

‘Nuff said. If you haven’t seen for yourself the fandom that is AFL and NRL, then are you really an Australian?

I’m not really into that scene, which is embarrassing since I still don’t have a team to support, let alone been to a game, but you’ll know when it’s AFL and NRL season. Aussies are decked out in their team’s merch everywhere – on the train, on the tram – heading to the game. Also, the streets will be empty of people. Well, except for international students. #fact

Supper – or lack thereof

Between dinner and sleep, I believe there’s room for more food.

The lack of supper choices here could easily be one of the biggest adjustment I’ve had to make, because almost everything closes by 9pm.

Where do people look for food after that, especially if you’re pulling an all-nighter for the assignment you left till the last minute and you just need a carb recharge?

Unless you live nearby Chinatown where shops close later, you’ll just have to deal with frozen veggies and canned tuna. Or just break the supper habit altogether. 

Sarah Leow

Sarah loves to eat and is already thinking about breakfast when she goes to bed. She's a recent psych major graduate from the University of Melbourne.

×