According to Marginson (2012), international education is Australia’s third or fourth largest export industry; but, more than its profit-making business, it is an educational and social experience, an experience with immense potential to enrich the lives of all involved. But this potential of international education is little realised and much improvement is needed in order for study abroad programs to continue to succeed.
Whilst there are huge benefits of studying overseas – employment opportunities, academic success and personal growth – these benefits are overshadowed by the issues confronting international students in Australia in both academic and social life. Kell & Vogl explain a number of common difficulties that international students face in terms of adjustment and wellbeing, some of which include homesickness, financial difficulties, language difficulties, loneliness, problems dealing with academic staff, isolation and anxiousness (2007 p. 3). International education, according to Marginson, is “not the rich intercultural experience it could be”, “international students want closer interaction with local students” (2012).
Unfortunately, research suggests that there is a very Australia-centred view amongst local students who expect international students to automatically ‘adjust’ or ‘acculturate’ to the requirements and habits of Australia. In this imagined expectation, according to Marginson (2012), “the international student makes an orderly progression from home identity to host country identity. The host country culture is normalized without question. The international student is routinely seen as in deficit in relation to host country requirements.” They are automatically expected to communicate more effectively, learn the local systems, and deal with the slights and frustrations. Marginson (2012) insists that it is important we think about international students in a different way; we need to give them dignity as persons with equal standing and rights as ourselves, we need to empathise with ‘them’ without forcing them to be the same as ‘us’. We need to understand that international students may come from very different backgrounds, with entirely different customs, beliefs, languages and linguistics to us so we must put ourselves in their shoes and consider how difficult studying abroad could be. However, in saying that, most international students have a clear end in sight: there is a kind of person they want to become; they have the ability to slightly change whom they are. And they do. Being shaped by cross-cultural encounters in the outside community and inside the classroom, the international student combines and synthesises different cultural and relational elements of their home and host country, blending them together, into a newly formed self. Upon the completion of their exchange experience, rather than just flipping back into their old home country identity, the international student often takes home a transformed self.
With enormous language barriers, cultural and social differences as well as other difficulties that an international student faces, it is imperative that local students go out of their way to ensure that exchange students get the absolute most out of their study abroad experience. Whilst there is some responsibility on the international student to put in the effort to meet friends and experience the host country by adapting to the language and culture, if you consider yourself in the place of an international student, you would greatly appreciate and enjoy a local student approaching and talking to you, so it rests on the shoulders of local students to make an international student feel less foreign.
Schleicher, A 2013, Getting internationalisation right, image, OECD Education Today, viewed 1 September 2014, <http://oecdeducationtoday.blogspot.com.au/2013/02/getting-internationalisation-right.html>.