Going on student exchange seems like perfect opportunity to combine the thing students have to do, and the thing they really want to do – study, and travel. A big adventure away from home, a new country, possibly a new language and different culture. A chance to further your education abroad.
Sadly, however, many exchange students do not have such a positive experience due to a multitude of factors. Most prominently is a language barrier, specific to the intricacies of English. While a lot of exchange students have studied English for a long time, it is generally in an academic setting. The spoken English language is very different to how it is written, with cultural context, slang, and historical context changing the meaning. So you could be very skilled in reading and writing in English, but still struggle to speak it and interact with others. This is very much the case in Australia, as Australian English is entrenched with colloquialisms. For example, the phrase ‘woop woop’, meaning a remote location has been used for decades, but there is no actual town named that.
The Australian accent, too, poses an issue for some students. As explained by Kell and Vogl, students from places such as Indonesia were used to hearing English spoken with an American accent, and Australian tended to mumble or slur words when speaking (2007). This causes embarrassment for both Australian’s and exchange students because neither can understand each other in verbal exchanges.
It may also be difficult to interact due to cultural differences. For example, Australia’s drinking culture; drinking alcohol is a normal social interaction in Australia and a way for friends, families, colleagues interact with each other. This is a stark contrast to many other cultures:
“Some students stated that it was hard to meet Australians because of the pub and club
culture of many Australians. One of the students explained that there are two groups of
International students, those who cannot go to pubs and drink because they cannot
afford to and those who cannot drink alcohol for cultural and religious reasons.”
Kell & Vogl, 2007, p. 6.
There are, fortunately, many ways to overcome cultural differences and increase interactions between Australian students and exchange students. Having an Australian roommate, watching movies in English, taking time to learn some colloquialisms and watching Australian TV shows such as Home and Away have been identified as helpful methods (Kell and Vogl, 2007). Focus should also be taken away from emptying out previous habits or cultural norms and replacing them with western values, but on combining the two together to create an appreciate of culture from both sides (Marginson, 2012).
Kell, P & Vogl, G 2006, ‘International Students: Negotiating life and study in Australia through Australian Englishes’, in Everyday Multicultural Conference Proceedings, Centre for Research on Social Inclusion, Sydney, 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, 2 February 2012, available online at https://moodle.uowplatform.edu.au/pluginfile.php/260023/mod_resource/content/1/Week%203_Marginson.pdf