For a very long time, the University of Sydney, and perhaps most Australian universities, have been faced with the problem of International Students’ engagement. Many International Students arrived with the hope of building local networks and integrating into Australian society. However most of them graduate realising that they have zero domestic friends.
Blame is placed on both groups for their reluctance to get out of their comfort zones. Although many programs such as Australian Discussion Group and language exchange program are organised on campus, they have little impact on the situation. So what is it that makes these two student groups almost mutually exclusive to each other?
Most of the international students interviewed say that they have very few domestic friends. However, when asked about their interaction with local students in class, some of them gave positive feedback. ‘I have no problem interacting with local students in class’, says an anonymous Korean student. ‘I am welcome to participate in group discussions with local students’, says a Chinese student. However, despite some students’ pleasant personal experiences, not everything is perfect. An anonymous international student comments that there is a clear distinction between the two groups in class. International students from the same background will always form their own groups while local students are in separate groups. She adds that although she is welcome to contribute, local students sometimes make fun of her accent. ‘They probably mean no harm, but I get really upset’, she adds.
In general, international students feel that their brief interactions with local students in class do not result in real life friendships. There are three main reasons that are commonly agreed: a language barrier, culture shock, and the transient nature of international students.
Culture shock is the most talked about topic. Many international students find that they do not share any mutual interests with their local counterparts. ‘I don’t know what music they listen to, what shows they watch, what events they are following. What is trending for us is not trending for them.’ In fact, this is probably true and is immensely difficult to fix. Even for those international students who have local friends, they find it more comfortable making friends with students from the similar ethnic backgrounds. They still struggle to adjust to cultural differences and find that friends who are people of colour have more empathy towards them. An anonymous student from Hong Kong confessed that it took her a long time to make her white friends realise that they were privileged and for them to begin to appreciate the difficulties she went through. Culture shock is a two-way issue. One side of the friendship cannot always demand the other to adjust to difference. Both international and domestic students need to take a step back and try to appreciate the cultural differences that prevent their friendship.
All local students interviewed alleged that they understand that International students are their equals and that they struggle in many aspects of life in Australia.