Imagine this; you have spent years studying another language; for imaginative purposes the language is French. You’ve had lessons, you have practiced and by all standards you have become ‘proficient’. You are sure you could put your knowledge into practice and you look into a French university exchange. You arrive in France, bright eyed and bushy tailed, ready to impress your new student peers with your competence in their language… only they’re saying words you’ve never even heard before, they’re talking very fast and you have trouble keeping up… was that a swear word you just heard?
This is how international students in Australian universities feel, these struggles are closer to home than you might think. The University of Wollongong has 31,464 students enrolled, of these students 12,811 students are international students who are either studying in Australia or abroad. With more than a third of your peers being international students I want you to stop and think, how many international students are there in my classes? How many have I spoken to this year? Have you ever worked in a group project with an international student? Have you got any close, personal friends who are international students?
One of the biggest struggles that international students face when coming to Australian universities, such as UOW are language difficulties. Local accents, fast speech and Australian colloquialisms reduce their understanding of the language and their ability to speak it, not only this, international students also struggle knowing what to speak about with their Australian peers. When they learn English, they learn a much more ‘proper’ way of speaking than the casual, slangy way that we on the South Coast have adapted. We may say ‘hello, how are you?’ as ‘How’re ya goin today?’ ‘What’s up mate?’ or ‘Oi, how ya been?’. This can be very confusing for students. You may be thinking, ‘what has it got to do with me?’ What I want to tell you is that you can have a huge impact on helping international students that you may come across.
International students are already facing numerous issues such as feeling homesick, struggling to understand and keep up with Uni work just like you and I, and in a lot of cases financial problems. We can do our best to minimize adding loneliness, isolation from their classmates and the big language barrier to this list. A lot of international students don’t realise that it’s common to talk about the weather, if you are sitting next to one in class why not mention what a nice day it is, ask them what their plans are for that afternoon and talk about what TV shows they like to watch.
You may not realise, but your responses in this conversation can be a huge help to them, they will listen to the way you speak, they will regard your opinion on the day, be interested in knowing how you spend your free afternoons and might even be interested in watching the same TV shows that you watch so that they can watch them too, and then have something t talk about the next time they see you. These students want to fit in, but how can they know how if we don’t help them? All it takes is being polite and friendly, if they ask you what you mean when you are talking in slang, try and help them understand. What I’m saying is, it really isn’t hard to be nice and in doing so, you may change a peer students whole view on their time spent in Australia.
UOW at a Glance, Facts and Figures – Key Statistics, viewed 19 August 2015, available from: http://www.uow.edu.au/about/UOW009570.html
Khorana, Sukhmani, Lecture 3 ‘Internationalising Education and Cultural Competence’ powerpoint slides, BCM111, presented 12 August 2015
Kell, P and Vogl, G (2007) ‘International Students: Negotiating life and study in Australia through Australian Englishes’, Everyday Multiculturalism Conference Proceedings, Macquarie University, 28-29 September 2006
Marginson, S (2012) ‘International education as self-formation: Morphing a profit-making business into an intercultural experience’, Lecture delivered at the University of Wollongong, 21 February 2012, available online at http://focusonteaching.uow.edu.au/content/groups/public/@web/@cedir/documents/doc/uow119828.pdf