Studying in a different country can be an incredibly exciting and rewarding experience. However, there are many adjustments to make and these take time. You will have a lot of new demands on your time so try to allow for that. In addition to study, you may be adjusting to living out of home as well as a whole new culture. For example, some students find that they need more sleep than they did at home because they get more tired. Most importantly, never assume that things are done the same way in a foreign country as they are done back home.
1. Adjust Expectations
You may need to check that you understand what the expectations are by asking people to explain them, step-by-step. Ask lots of questions: in general Australians are friendly and helpful. Your own expectations may also need to be adjusted. For example, you may find that initially you don’t do as well in your assessment tasks as you did back home, and that can be a shock.
It’s best to see your study achievements here as a work-in-progress. Give yourself a semester to try things out and adjust. Rather than expecting the same marks you received back home, aim to improve whatever marks you receive here over a period of a year. If you can, let your parents know that the different language and expectations of studying here might cause your marks to drop initially but that you have longer term goals.
2. Learn the Education Culture
Many international students believe that it is their English language skills that most affect their ability to do well at university. While language skills play a part, the different Australian educational culture can also cause difficulties for international students. For example, what is considered a good essay in Thailand or Japan is often completely different to what is considered a good essay in Australia. International students, whose first language is English, may also face the same problems.
A student who writes according to the tradition in their home country will not necessarily be successful here. That could be why many international students don’t always get the high marks they want, but can’t work out what’s gone wrong as they are following all the rules that got them high marks at home. Frequently it is not until a student has their first piece of assessment returned that they realise the impact of studying in a different educational culture.
Such differences in educational culture can include:
The roles and responsibilities of lecturers and students
The skills you will need to complete study and assessment tasks
The way in which you organise information and present an argument and evidence in essays.
It is very important to find out about the educational expectations in your faculty.
3. Studying Independently
There are some significant differences in the responsibilities of students and teachers in Australia. In some educational cultures, the teacher is considered an expert, whose job it is to transfer particular knowledge to the student, providing them with the correct perspective or solution.
In Australia, however, the teacher is considered a more advanced colleague in the field who gives advice, but not the answers. It is not the responsibility of the teacher to ensure a student passes or fails. Just as the teacher must do their own research and develop their opinions, students should develop their own perspective and ability to present a reasoned argument, at times even disagreeing with the lecturer or tutor.
This requires different study skills – those of independent research, constructing a logical argument, evaluating other people’s arguments, being responsible for your own learning and time management and asking for feedback on your academic weaknesses. Developing these skills takes time and practice. Decide on two or three areas that you want to improve upon each semester and take the appropriate steps.
4. Referencing and Plagiarism
Referencing in Australian education culture is very important. As opposed to cultures like India where wisdom is passed down or learnt from authority figures such as teachers, elders or philosophers. In Australia, much more emphasis is put on each person developing their own perspective and being able to present that effectively. As a consequence, it becomes more important to identify which ideas are yours, and which come from authors you have read. Learning how to use sources correctly in your writing is a skill that will be assessed in most assignments. If you do not use references correctly you will be accused of plagiarism.
Plagiarism can take many forms:
• Using any information from a book, or journal or internet site without referencing
• Using an author’s exact words without using quotation marks and referencing the page
• Writing an author’s ideas in your own words but without referencing.
Knowing how to use and acknowledge sources in your writing can take a bit of practise. Find out what referencing system your department uses – for example, Harvard, APA, MLA or Chicago. A good basic guide to most faculties is available as part of the library website. When you read academic writing, pay attention to how sources are used and what language is used to distinguish between your ideas and other writer’s ideas.
5. Built a support Network
Living in a new country can be overwhelming, so it is very important to make friends who can support you while you are here. Find out if there is a University club for people from your country. Join your favourite sports or hobby club and make friends with people who enjoy the same activities. It’s a good idea to try to make contact with local students too. They often know how the education system works here and can explain cultural differences to you. Sometimes your department will offer mentor or buddy schemes for new or international students. Postgraduate students will also find that there are a lot of social activities advertised through the Graduate Centre.
All these schemes are good ways to make friends. It is also very useful to build up a support network specifically for your study.
You may believe that you haven’t got the time to invest in social or networking activities; however, research shows that international students who develop strong support and friendship groups have a greater chance of succeeding in a foreign culture.
Courtesy: The University of Melbourne
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