Before I came to Sydney, I had heard enough cliché about how international students should try to immerse themselves in the language and culture of their study destination.
“Don’t stick to your own cultural group”, “Get involved with local students”, and “speak English as much as possible – try to think in an English way”, I was told. However, after more than one year of living here, my experience tells me that you cannot force yourself too much. Instead, just give yourself a chance to get exposed to your new environment and let it flow naturally.
One of my first memorable experiences at Sydney Uni was during a random group discussion in my very first tutorial. We quickly finished the questions and fell into some awkward quietness. Trying to act like a ‘local student’, I introduced myself with a few handshakes.
After this first step out of my comfort zone, I thought: “That’s it, I may never say a word to these people ever again.” Luckily, I came across one of the guys from this tutorial in another tutorial. Although everyone else was busy with their own stuff, we tried to learn more about each other and a cross-cultural friendship started. I admit that I was bit absent minded in the rest of the tutorials, but I enjoyed them a lot. We both extended our horizons in terms of cultural difference, which I definitely didn’t expect when I introduced myself. Sometimes, just give it a try
and you will discover a whole new world.
My second story is all about finding belonging. Loneliness is a big barrier that nearly every international student faces, but the amazing thing here is that no matter what you like, there is always a club/society waiting for you. I didn’t have a specific area I was really passionate about, so I chose Unimates, which I had heard a bit about at an information session as a society for fun people from diverse cultural backgrounds.
Members of Unimates are from all over the world and the majority are international/exchange students. I felt frightened in the new environment at first, but then I realized that most of us were in similar situations! I just joined a conversation and let the natural chemistry between cultures do the rest. Through weekly events they held, I could always feel the friendliness and fun. But it’s more like being a member of a big family – I’m appreciated for being unique and accepted at the same time.
Luckily, I was elected President of Unimates and became the new ‘mum’ of the society. Life here is full of surprises, especially for us international students. You will never know what you’re going to get.
Coming to study on this unique ‘island’ means a lot to us and we have a lot of expectations. But don’t be stressed, with only a little bit of effort, your life here may end up beyond your wildest imagination.