You see the images displayed all over Australian universities – students of different cultural backgrounds sitting down, laughing together. It is the image that anyone is happy to see, but how much are domestic and study abroad (students primarily from the USA, Canada and Great Britain) actually interacting with international students and vice versa?
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), in 2009 22% of tertiary students studying in Australia are international (2011). Maginson (2012) stated that these students were typically hard-working and motivated to do well, as well as determined to make the most of their time in Australia.
However, “most international students want closer interaction with local students and are prepared to take risks to achieve this” (Marginson 2012) – yet local students tend not to extend the same invitation. Although personally I have seen this during my time at International House in 2015, I also see it from the opposite point of view – that often international students do not participate or socialise with domestic/study abroad students despite the efforts of mentors, student engagement officers and the local students themselves. I think it should also be said that, like visiting any foreign country, an international student should endeavour to learn the basics of English to assist with social interactions- without this, it proves inherently difficult for either party to help each other and create a positive educational and social experience.
It is important to note that as difficult as it may feel for an international student to communicate and interact positively with a domestic one, the feelings may be mutual – but it is the international students who suffer greater in the end: “Some… are personally isolated and face a struggle to survive” (Marginson, 2012). Often Australia’s ethnocentric attitude and this notion that we are ‘superior’ in someway is not only detrimental, but has also been wrongly intertwined with a patriotic mindset.
Due to this, it is then vital that communications between domestic and international students should have a greater emphasis placed on understanding and respect. By doing this, students of all backgrounds can learn to appreciate each other and therefore begin to stop a behaviour that causes more harm than good.
The positive aspects of communication between domestic and international students are endless. At iHouse, weekly events played an enormous part in creating friendships and mutual understandings. I saw so many international students come out of their shell and came to witness their fabulous personalities, talents and often love for Australian culture and slang. Marginson discusses this in his discussion about hybridity: “the international student combines and synthesizes different cultural and relational elements, blending them together, into a newly formed self” (2012) – their identity can change from interactions with local students and it is vital for their well-being that this is positive.
As International Media and Communications students, it is imperative that we learn to facilitate these interactions and are aware of the positive outcomes due to this knowledge. In addition, we must use this information in order to work effectively throughout our lifetime – an ever increasing international workforce and global market means that we must become flexible in our communication approaches in the future.
Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2011
Simon Marginson, 2012