Barriers For International Students In O-Week

Language barriers and the Australian drinking culture can preclude integration into residential colleges for international students during O-Week.

International students have previously found mixing with Australian residents during this pivotal social period to be difficult, and this is having a negative impact on their overall university experience.

Vice-President of ISD Events and Bruce Hall resident, DaHye Kim, says, ‘It was quite easy to make friends with exchange and international students, but when it comes to domestic students, it’s just really hard to approach… I’m [at] the stage of giving up making friends with domestic students in Bruce Hall.’

Despite international students needing to pass an English competency test, many have never been in a completely English-speaking environment and this can cause issues when conversing with domestic students when they arrive at college.

‘I still remember during O-Week, in the dining hall, I was sitting amongst all domestic students having lunch. Even though I was [from an] American school… I could understand none of them… there were 10 people eating and talking at the same time and it was just so difficult to follow their conversation,’ says Kim.

Unable to communicate easily with other college residents, some international students also experience culture shock when exposed to heavy amounts of drinking throughout O-Week.

Former IRCC President, Alex Ji, says, ‘Most international students are not accustomed to the drinking culture we have in Australia… I’ve seen during O-Week where international students couldn’t integrate because everyone’s drunk around them and it’s quite a cultural shock.’

International Student Representative at Bruce Hall, Hwa-Yen Chu, says having an abundance of drinking events throughout O-Week is off-putting for some international students.

‘Some international students come from very conservative countries and do not like to drink during parties. Because of the huge drinking culture in Australia, some international students are discouraged to go to drinking events and do not have the chance to meet new people,’ says Chu.

The combination of drinking events and the inability to communicate comfortably with local students during O-Week is leading to a culture of isolation and segregation.

International Student Representative at Burgmann, Boss Chinburi, says, ‘There have been many cases at the start of the year where many international students felt isolated and find the culture difference… hard to overcome.’

It has been suggested that having more international student representatives on each college committee as well as more non-drinking events during O-Week such as QZ1001 and ‘Introduction to Australian Sports’ will improve the disengagement experienced by foreigners.

Chinburi believes the introduction of the new Inter-Hall International Committee will also make a difference. Whilst still in the discussion stage, this year’s committee will be organising more inter-hall events for international students.

Lastly, Chinburi reminds local students to be mindful of what international students are experiencing: ‘For all the domestic kids trying to imagine what most international students confront everyday, imagine if you go to university in China, and having to speak Chinese all day everyday.’