Cultural differences you may experience in Australia
While studying overseas offers a great opportunity to experience life in another country, it can take a bit of time to adjust. It’s likely you’ll notice more than a few differences between Australia and your home country — some that you may have been prepared for and others that take you by surprise. We outline a few of the most common differences below.
A friendly and casual attitude
You may not be used to the level of informality seen in Australia, particularly in regards to your studies — it’s common to call lecturers and tutors by their first name. While Australians approach most situations in a relaxed and friendly manner, it is still considered good manners to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ and to be on time. In Australia, all people are treated equally and respectfully, regardless of their age, gender, sexual orientation, background or occupation.
Even people who grew up in an English-speaking country can get confused when talking to Australians. Australians use a lot of slang terms — even in the workplace and classroom — and the Australian accent can often be difficult to understand. If you’re struggling to understand someone, just tell them — most of the time Australians won’t even realise they’re using slang and they won’t be offended if you ask them to explain something in a different way.
Australia is a very multicultural society, with around one quarter of the population born overseas. As a result, you will find food and traditions from a wide variety of cultures — Chinese, French, Greek, Indian, Italian, Japanese, Mexican, Thai, Vietnamese, you name it! Australians are free to follow any religion they choose, and churches, mosques, synagogues and temples are located in most major cities and centres.
One of the things that surprises international students the most during their time in Australia is the learning experience in Australian classrooms. In Australia, students are encouraged to critically evaluate ideas put forward in class and to express their opinion in class discussions — even if their opinion is different to that of the tutor or lecturer. If you don’t understand a topic or idea, you are able to ask questions or seek further explanation. You may also be surprised by the number of contact hours you will have as a full-time student — only around 12 hours a week for some courses. Independent learning is strongly encouraged and you will be expected to spend time outside of class reading through course materials and exploring topics and ideas.
Shopping and entertainment
Shopping hours in Australia may be more limited than what you’re used to at home — even in city areas. Generally, shops open at around 9 am and close at 5 pm each day. Some areas may have late-night shopping, where shops may stay open until 9 pm or later on Thursday or Friday nights. Major stores, such as supermarkets and department stores, often stay open late each night and some even operate 24 hours a day. In terms of entertainment, Australians love sport, especially Australian Rules Football (known as AFL), rugby league, cricket and tennis, and many Australians — both men and women —spend their weekends watching and playing sport. You may also find that people in Australia drink alcohol more regularly than you’re used to in your home country, with bars, pubs and clubs all popular places to spend time with friends.