Australia is a hive of activity when it comes to global education. In 2014, a whopping 249,990 International students were enrolled in tertiary studies, making Australia the third most popular destination worldwide. It would seem our education system is high class, but what about the social experiences of these students, many of which are from non-English speaking backgrounds?
Kell and Vogl (2006) describe the social and cultural adjustment of international students as “a crucial element” to their success. Many come to Australia picturing a situation like the image below, however this is sadly not always the case. Domestic students often hold an ethnocentric view towards their foreign peers, leaving them isolated.
“Most international students want closer interaction with local students, and are prepared to take risks to achieve this…most local students are not interested.” (Khorana 2016)
When interviewed, many foreign students believed it was easier for them to ‘practice’ their Australian English by socialising with older people. They “spoke clearly and slowly and mostly they were more friendly.”
My grandparents have been hosting international students in their home for over fifteen years, and have enjoyed watching them flourish. The most recent, a Persian man studying engineering, not only improved his English speaking and comprehension through discussions with the 80-year-olds, but his confidence soared. He now readily engages with native English-speakers, and has just this week passed his English proficiency exams.
Despite this progress, it is worrying to think that in the four years of study prior to meeting my grandparents, he largely stayed within the confines of the Persian community, afraid to approach ‘others’. This is the real gap in Australia’s international education system; our aging population often engages far more readily with foreign students than our supposed ‘culturally-aware’ domestic students.
Australian Government, Department of Education and Training (2014). ‘International Student Data’, Available at https://internationaleducation.gov.au/research/International-Student-Data/Pages/InternationalStudentData2014.aspx (Accessed 10/08/16)
Kell, Peter & Vogl, Gillian (2006). ‘International Students: negotiating life and study in Australia through Australian Englishes’, pg. 1-10
Khorana, Sukhmani (2016). ‘Internationalising Education and Cultural Competence’ BCM111, University of Wollongong