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Seven pieces of advice to international students based on my five years of research and teaching in Australia - Career Plan- Careers in Australia, Australia Migration, Study in Australia, Study Abroad

By Careerplan specialist writer

23 August 2017

Many of you may have in mind of coming to Australia for higher studies. As it is the one of the largest destinations for international students, just behind the USA and the UK, experience of students in Australia is turning to a noteworthy area of public interest and government attention. And noticeably, you are eager to know about life, studies and work in a new state of your choice.

I studied in India, Nepal and the UK and I was exposed to education systems of North America and Europe. My Australia duty call started only after I have been exposed to the education system of these countriesî, and I was anxious to learn how studies, teaching and student life in Australia compares with other countries. That was the inquisitiveness when I first arrived in Australia in 2011, and since then, I have been privileged to get some insights, which could be of use to many of you who don’t know much about studying in Australia.

I have had the understanding of teaching and working with three of the eight Group of Eight elite Universities in Australia. More than that I have closely interrelated with a lot of international students as part of diasporic community and social engagement. Here are 7 lessons for future international students considering Australia to further their studies.


1. Balancing study-work-life is a major challenge

I have seen a lot of undergraduates emphasizing on completion of their assignments soon after overnight works. While some do not meet minimum attendance requirement as they devote too much time to going out and recreation. I have also met with individuals who spend more time working than studying, thus achieving poor academic results. You do not need to spend all of your time studying – if you are capable of managing it well; there is adequate time for some lucrative jobs and also to chill out with your friends and communities.

No single approach can work for everyone as students do not have the same financial situations, study requirements, and work arrangements. The advice I can give on this is that you need to cautiously assess your financial situation (and hence the amount of time you need to spend at work), the type of course you would be attending (whether the course can be done online, or there is a need for compulsory laboratory activity and so on), and your post-study objectives (which might affect your time allocation across formal studies and practical workplace training while learning).

2. Build people skills, not just the knowledge on subject matter

From the lecture hall to workplace and community life, one thing I have regularly found is that international students too often struggle to connect and present themselves effectively. They are most of the times very knowledgeable on subject matter and are well above the average, expected level of competency. However, due to language barrier and culturally fixated styles of communication not considered smart in the western society, their message does not come across well. I have overheard people asking the salesperson in a shop “Give me that box”, while the latter still grins and says “No problem, sir”. An Australia born person is more likely to say “Can I have a look at that box, please?” A more acceptable way to express the same thing.

I do not mean that Asian or African people are bad-mannered compared to Australians. In fact, people in the unindustrialized communities have strong traditional values with more respect for fellow human beings than any developed countries. In the developed world, the climax form of corporate culture has mandated everyone to be smart, smiling, polite and chatty in the workplace for proficiency. One time, one of my Aussie friends and I were paying for the few things we bought at the supermarket. “What an impolite response” my friend said, after coming out of the shop, indicating his despondency over the salesperson, who did not smile at us. Maybe she was a fresh international student not yet trained on how to smile at the workplace.

As a student, you are expected to work in a group. When you work part of your time for money, you will have to relate with a number of people. You are also supposed to connect with your teachers on matters associated with studies. When you have challenges on the study, you should be bold enough to come forward and dialogue with the relevant authority in the University. More importantly, if you have made up your mind to stay in Australia after graduation and want to put on for the job, your interview is the most critical stage where your people skill is judged.

I think international students experience a very different people skills situation in Australia, and to excel during the study and post-study career, people and communication skills are as vital as the core subject matter knowledge, in the cultured industrialized society.

3. Proactively manage your administrators and teachers

Your academic life is closely supervised by your University supervisors, particularly if you are doing your post-graduate studies or honors Bachelor degree. I have seen a lot of instances in which international students are under pressure due to strained relationships with their supervisors. In Australian system, post-graduate supervisors are given remarkable power over the students when it comes to defining development and achievement of the student. And the University authority has the power (and in fact obligation by law) to report to the Immigration of any cases of unacceptable study progress of international students. This means that post-graduate international students, even when they are sincerely dedicated to the study, feel uncertain and have a fear and high level of nervousness during the study. Their research performance at times becomes a survival compulsion rather than a spontaneous result of intellectual interest and commitment.

PhD studies modality in Australia includes a primary relationship between the student and his or her supervisor. The political inequity between the student and his supervisor means that in a lot of situation the intellectual sovereignty is compromised. Compared to North American model, the Australian method, modelled after the UK one, concentrate necessary level of communication and supervision within less individuals, often with a single primary supervisor. As a result, PhD students feel significantly constrained in their study, although if you are fortunate, you may find greatly empowering supervisors, who use the unrestricted power to further help and assist you in your learning (but this is not so common).

In these situations, what you are to do is to judiciously manage your supervisors, and not let supervisors manage you. If you are late in requesting for a meeting, suggesting an idea for your research, and deliberating next steps in your research, then you will get these things from the supervisor. You will find it hard to discard and then you will gradually be doing your supervisor’s research and not yours.

4. Live in Australia – do not think too much about home

Lot of international students enjoy living in Australia, though how much you enjoy changes across different cities and places in Australia. I have seen some students who physically live in Australia, and mentally are always at home, especially the young students coming to study bachelor level, they miss their relations and friends so much that they are not totally living while they are in Australia.

5. Avoid getting engrossed to one dream – be prepared to accept plan B and C

A lot of international students see studies as a step close to permanent residency. This is their perfect dream. Many of the students who wish for this, it is something possible and eventually they settle in Australia. Their dream come true. However, there are students who have slight chance of getting a permanent residence to be precise – their course or degree is not among the priority list for residency, or their age limit has crossed, or their performance in English is below the expected level. The problem is not that they do not get PR, but that they are not prepared for options B and C. They did not consider other alternative plans.

6. Look for your community and engage with them

Many countries have their diasporic societies in Australia. What I find missing is students do not show attentiveness to look for such communities and participate with them when there is a chance to do so. In fact, such communities can at times offer you residential care – they could invite you in the main festival times, join community occasions and so on so forth.


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