Welcome to the Lucky Country?

It was a sunny afternoon. Mel Fung, 22, and her housemates were having a BBQ party at Bronte Beach. Mel lives in an international house in Sydney’s eastern suburbs. Almost all the tenants are from different countries; Mel from Indonesia, Poom Pukkawat Leesawan from Thailand, and Shukai Lian and Martin Lau from China. The two other guys  did not show., one from India, the other one from Singapore.

According to statistics, in 2010 there were 469 619 international students studying in Australia. The top five nationalities were Chinese, Indian, Korean, Malaysian, and Vietnamese. However, because of the cultural and academic differences between Asia and Australia, many Asian students find it hard to live, study and adjust to life in Australia.

Mel is an active young woman. While she ate and joked with Poom and Lian, Martin was quiet. He didn’t speak much and just lowered his head. Martin moved in to the shared house two weeks ago, to study accounting at the University of Sydney next year. He’s currently studying translation at a training school. “I was an active person when I was in China. When coming here, I feel like my English is not good enough, so I don’t speak a lot,” said Martin. “I had the same problem” said Poom, “even now I am still afraid of asking or answering questions in class.”

Jan Thomas, Manager of Student Development- International (SDI) at UNSW, thinks that international students should be aware of the language assistance the university provides such as language workshops, language exchange programs and the learning centre.

Meherlyn Jussawalla, the director of Diplomatic Relations and International Protocol, UNSW International, suggested international students should try to integrate and participate in different social events where they can meet people from different countries and speak English as their common language. She encourages students to talk to each other in English, even if they are living with people from their own countries.

Besides language issues, international students can easily feel depressed. Martin said he felt so disappointed when he found the life here was not as he had expected. “I have no friends here. I don’t think I can study well here. But I have to stay for I have paid. Now I feel so stressed and upset and I miss my family and home life.”

Mel is also homesick and had been from the moment she’d gotten off the plane. When she went to the UNSW Kensington campus on the first day she felt lonely and helpless. “I really wanted to fly back home that moment,” she said.

A survey conducted by Cambridge International College in 2008 revealed that 70% of respondents had suffered loneliness and/or depression during their time in Australia. Penny Shores, Senior Counsellor of UNSW Counselling & Psychological Services, said that study was probably correct. “The most common problems for international students are culture shock, homesickness, family concerns, academic problems, relationship problems, financial problems, anxiety, depression, physical and mental illness.” She sees about 1900 students in counselling a year, and 25% of them are international students..

Jan and Meherlyn said some students choose not to ask for help from the university as they may be a little reluctant to present themselves. But there are other options. Students can complete an on-line form within the newsletters sent out by SDI. Currently, 11,000 people  have subscribed to the newsletter.

By contrast, Lian is not homesick, because back in China he went to boarding school from the age of 15. However, he has other problems.  “I have been robbed three times since I came here in 2009. Now I am a very experienced ‘victim’,” said Lian. Luckily the robber didn’t hurt him, but stole two laptops, a phone and some money.

In June 2008, the Chinese consulate conducted a survey of 100 students. It found more than one in four had been a victim of such crimes. There is increasing concern among international students for their personal safety and well-being following the disturbing attacks on Indian students in recent years in Melbourne. Jan said all students need to increase their awareness of safety. To help students, SDI provides an online safety tutorial, which all commencing students and international students are required to complete.

According to Meherlyn, there is a formalised UNSW Student Safety Committee and it offers night-time walks around the campus. It also makes sure that there are enough lights everywhere at night and that trees are low so that potential assailants can’t hide behind them. “Don’t carry your laptop in your hands. If you are walking at night, don’t wear headphones. And most importantly, trying to walk with another person,” said Meherlyn.

Yinggang Sky Ai

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