Surviving as an international student

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It can be pretty tough when you first arrive in Australia and you have to adjust to a new culture, new lifestyle and new education system.

Three years ago, Ashvin, 23, and Michelle, 24, came from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia to study at RMIT University in Melbourne. Ashvin has just finished a degree in Public Relations and Michelle is about to graduate from the Professional Communication course. They had not met before they came to Australia but have since become best friends and housemates.

What surprised you most about Australia?

Ashvin: It’s very multicultural - I was expecting there to be more ‘Australians’!

Michelle: Students are very relaxed. If they don’t pass a particular subject this semester they just carry it forward to next semester.

How have you coped living away from home (and your friends and family)?

Ashvin: The first two months I was here I kept packing my bags to go home. Every weekend I’d think that maybe it was time I should leave.

Then you realise that you’re not the only one who’s feeling that way. You just need to make one or two friends who can help you cope with that homesickness and then it becomes routine.

Michelle: This is something my mum and my grandmother have been looking forward to. Every year, every day of my life, I’ve been reminded that I have to go overseas and study. So when I was here it was no turning back.

What’s the best thing about being an international student?

Ashvin: I’ve made so many new friends – the way I think, the way I speak, the way I do things has changed a lot.

Michelle: I survived. Life was easy for me at home - I didn’t do the cooking or pay the bills. So I came here for independence and I had to do everything for myself.

And the worst?

Ashvin: The shops. The life here shuts at 5 o’clock. I could not believe that! 5 o’clock is when we actually start planning what we’ll do for the night back in Malaysia. Our shopping centres close at 10 o’clock and our restaurants never close.

Michelle: When I first got here I didn’t know anybody and I had nowhere to go on weekends. I’m not the sort of person who asks for help and so I didn’t know how to use the tram for three months.

What services or resources have you found useful?

Ashvin: I think the consumer rights in this country are exceptionally good. If you’re not happy with something or something doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do the customer is always right. Back home ‘the customer is always right’ is a term, it’s not practice!

Here, it’s not the end of the world if something happens - you know that you can get help. And that goes for all the other services as well like Legal Aid, that’s really great.

Michelle: I know a lot of people complain about the public transport here but in Malaysia if your train is supposed to come at 10.35 your train will probably come at 11.35. Actually, the train is not so bad but the bus will never come!

Ashvin: Life is so convenient here, you just jump on the computer and you can get whatever you want. You’ve got the Melway and you’ve got the phone directory online. I never really used the internet to get information or to book myself in for something until I came to Australia.

How do you think your international student experience will help you in the future?

Ashvin: I think I’m at an advantage compared to anyone else who hasn’t gone overseas to study. After all the skills and qualifications you’ve got, this is the extra thing that employers will look at. It shows that you’re committed, you were brave enough to leave your comfort zone, and you’ve survived being away from home - in a culture that is so different to what you’ve come from.