How do international students really feel?

The personal experiences of three Chinese international students laid bare

When Clive Hamilton’s book Silent Invasion was recently published, claiming Chinese agents are undermining Australia’s sovereignty, it did not raise the anticipated  response of outrage from Chinese international students. This outcome should not be surprising: Chinese students, the antagonists of such narratives, have mostly remained calm when confronted with the anti-China sentiments voiced in Australian society.

We thought that people on campus would be interested in international students’ attitudes towards the anti-China events directed at them. Does it place a burden on our daily lives? Do we feel forced to engage politically in our adopted country? Are we’re resentful towards the limited, but damaging attitudes towards us?

Our intention is not to post any form of academic rebuttal or political refutation against the concept of a “Chinese invasion” or the oft-implied opinion that “Chinese students are spies”. Rather, we aim to lay bare the personal experiences of three Chinese international students. After reading their stories, you may have the answers to all your questions.


James*, 22

“I still remember, at Shanghai Pudong International Airport three years ago, I carried two big suitcases and hugged farewell to my parents. Before entering the security checkpoint, I patiently listened to their wishes and concerns that I had repetitively heard over the last few months, because it would be a year or more before I saw them again.

Honestly speaking, my heaviest burden at the time was not about going to a strange country or taking difficult courses, but the high cost of living and tuition fees. Unlike other Chinese students, my decision to go abroad was abrupt. After completing the college entrance examination, I decided to go to Australia to face new challenges. I didn’t realise that this decision exhausted all my parents’ savings. Obviously my parents wouldn’t complain to me about that – they just hoped that I would successfully complete my degree.

The moment my plane landed in Sydney, I realised that my life would be completely filled up with studying for the next three years. The daily repetitive life of going to classrooms, eating at canteens and living at dormitories is boring, but the enormous economic commitment of my parents and their high expectations forces me into repeating the same daily chores.

I’m telling you this experience because I want you to realise that there is zero probability that Chinese students are ‘being sent on a mission as spies in Australia. The pursuit for academic achievement is placed at my first priority,and I think this is the same condition for all Chinese students living in Australia.

We don’t have the time to commit ourselves to such “nationalism”—as we have sometimes been accused of doing—simply because we do not want to waste the life-savings of our parents that have been dedicated to our study.”

Peter*, 20

“Great climate, intense academic atmosphere, and natural scenery:here are countless reasons for me to fall in love with this country. But I still want to emphasize that I have no interest in staying in Australia after graduation whatsoever.

I am just a hasty by-passer of this country and completing my further studies is the only purpose for me to come here. I’m not really going to spend much effort in understanding or integrating into this country because the unfamiliar cultural environment and different ways of communication make it impossible for me to find any sense of belonging.

In addition to job opportunities brought about by China’s development, the strong reliance on one’s hometown may be an important reason that more Chinese students want to return to their country to continue their professional career after completing their degrees. If these students have always kept their thoughts to their hometown and they are also eagerly looking forward to returning to China as soon as possible, then the idea of Chinese students being spies, will be meaningless.

Ken*, 21

“For Chinese students who would like to try their best to integrate into the campus culture and even strive for their own interests during their studies, they may most likely be accused of being spies sent by the Chinese government in recent years.

To be honest, the prudent fear of the Australian society towards the Chinese students disappoints me, but I still believe that the country’s fair reasoning will finally defeat this gossip. I have always seen Australia’s multiculturalism as a treasure of this country. Many Chinese students like myself want to let more people on this land understand what the real China looks like and win respect and due rights for themselves.

When I see my fellow peers creating various high-quality student societies to give more Australian students the opportunity to know about China’s culture, I feel extremely proud because I think that the existence of these organisations will certainly contribute to eliminating misunderstandings. The Chinese people’s philosophy has always been that harmony is prized, we will not hold any aggression to Australia when we come to this land.”


These accounts are the inner monologues of three typical Chinese international students, but they delineate the life conditions of so many Chinese students. We clearly know what our original intention was when we set foot into Australia, what kind of academic expectations we have on our backs, and the goals and dreams we have developed since being here. We also believe that with further discussion, and using our voices, the misunderstandings of Chinese students by the Australian society can be eliminated in the near futures.

*Names have been changed