Seven cultural quirks international students need to know about Australia

Going overseas for your studies is kind of a big deal – and especially so if you are thinking of spending your study abroad time as far afield as Australia. Despite its remote geographic location, the land down under continues to be a popular destination for international students. In fact, in 2017 Australia for the first time overtook the UK as the preferred overseas study destination amongst Chinese students. And what’s not to like about great universities, sandy beaches, surfing and koalas?

But studying in Australia isn’t all about the outdoor lifestyle and cuddling up with native animals. Keeping up with your studies in a foreign country isn’t easy for starters and then there are some cultural quirks and differences that many international students struggle to get to grips with.

So, if you are looking to study in the country lovingly referred to as Oz by its inhabitants, here seven cultural differences that might surprise you

The laid-back culture

Australians are generally very friendly and easy-going. Weekends are reserved for the beaches, hanging out with friends and overall having a relaxing time.

Leisure time is taken seriously – to escape from all the academic stress!


If you are used to calling your Professor by their last name, then be prepared tone down the formalities a notch.

In Australia, it is common to call your lecturer or tutor by their first name. Even though this may sound rude and perceived as a lack of respect in other countries, Australians find it very normal – one of the reasons why Australia is known for its laid-back culture!

Shortening words

Australians love shortening words. For example, Australia as ‘Aussie’, McDonalds as ‘Maccas’, Afternoon as ‘arvo’, Barbeque as ‘barbie’ and the list continues.

It can be quite confusing at first, but as you settle in the new country and hear these acronyms being used all the time, you will quickly catch on and soon refer to your friends from near and far as ‘mates’.

Coffee culture

There is a serious coffee culture in Australia. According to CNN Travel, Melbourne ranks as the second-best city in the world for coffee.

Australians care about the quality and taste of their coffee. It is a way of life. If you walk around the university campus, you will find that most students clutch a coffee cup while moving from lecture to lecture.

Shops close early

Unlike Asian countries where the late night is filled with street food stalls, music, entertainment and vibrant lights from the retail stores nearby, Australia is the complete opposite.

Retail stores generally close at 6pm and restaurants by 10pm. This means that if you are looking for a late-night meal, it can be quite difficult to find places open past midnight.


Australians love their sports. From football to rugby to tennis, there’s a huge fan-base following.

If there is a match or special event going on that night, you may witness crowds of people exiting the train station, decked in their favourite team’s official merchandise. Families bring their kids along too.

Active learning system

Most Asian countries have a passive education system, where you are not expected to actively participate in class. Instead, you are required to carefully listen to your lecturer as a sign of respect.

This is vastly different when compared to the Australian education system. In some courses, a significant percentage of your final mark may come from class participation.

In fact, this cultural difference is one of the top factors that influence Chinese students to want to study abroad.

Tips for international students: How to adjust to life in Australia

Remember that culture shock is very normal. When moving to a foreign country, where the culture and way of life is vastly different to what you are used to back home, it is common to experience homesickness. The feeling of missing your family and friends, having anxiety and confusion are all signs of cultural shocks.

To adjust to life in Australia, take some time out to step back and reflect. It can get quite overwhelming at first – trying to settle in your new university dorm, enrol in the right courses and navigate your way around campus. By listening and observing, you will better adjust to your new environment. Also, don’t be afraid to ask questions if there is anything you do not understand, as this will help reduce any confusion or misunderstanding.

Another great tip is to get involved. Joining community groups and being open to meeting new people will give you the best opportunity to learn more about Australian culture. It also helps enrich your overall experience as an international student in Australia.

Lastly, communication is key. Staying connected and communicating regularly with your family and friends back home will help alleviate your culture shock.

Dandan Chang
Dandan Cheng is the COO and one of the co-founders of Sinorbis, a digital marketing platform that helps Western companies tap into China’s growing consumer market. She is a cross-border leader with deep expertise in Chinese market entry strategies and business operations. Prior to joining Sinorbis, Dandan was the VP and MD of Asia for HotelClub where she successfully expanded the brand.

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