Come In, Learn to be Australian, Leave.

International education is one of Australia’s biggest industries, and in all honesty, is thriving, both for Australian and for international students. But there are definitely problems facing international students when studying in Australia, and a lot of these problems are the result of Australia’s attitude towards other cultures, races and ethnicities. Instead of understanding that internationalising education could be an amazing opportunity for Australians to expand their world view and engage with people from a range of different backgrounds, we as a nation tend to try to force international students to conform and adapt to our cultural norms, instead of embracing the cultural differences and reaping the benefits of intercultural encounters.

This lack of understanding boils down to Australia’s tendency to be ethnocentric, which is the view that one’s own culture and values are superior and better than another culture or value system. This idea that Australia’s culture is better than others is the underlying cause of many of the views that Australians portray and how we are seen by others countries. Many Australians are comfortable viewing the world through an Australian-centred viewpoint – looking at the world through Aussie-tinted glasses – which ends up reflecting very poorly on us as a country. How we treat international students, asylum seekers, our own indigenous peoples and any person who could be seen as the “other”, has effectively put the nail in Australia’s coffin, and it is now viewed as as a racist and culturally inept nation.

You can buy these as bumper stickers.
You can buy these as bumper stickers.

Kell and Vogl highlight the ethnocentrism of Australia in relation to international students by saying that most international students feel that Australian students “do not want to know them”, and even though Australia is a multicultural nation, international students consider the “real Australians” to be Anglo-Australians (“White Australians”).  International students have to overcome a range of difficulties to get the feeling of fitting into Australian society, because some Australians have the belief that if you come to this country, you should have to conform to its culture and norms to fit in. The stereotypes, stigmas and assumptions surrounding international students are almost set in stone for Australians – They only come here so they can migrate (another issue that is highlighted by Australians fear of asylum seekers and “letting people in” the country), Asian students are smarter than Australians and only undertake maths/science/commerce degrees, and that international students are vulnerable and unprepared for an Australian education. These stereotypes were addressed and were dismissed by a Four Corners episode in 2015, but still exist in the minds of many Australian people.


The fact that international students are expected to “culturally fit in” to Australia, and put aside their own cultures in order to be accepted in this country is a by-product of Australia’s cultural superiority (Marginson 2012). These problems are almost exclusively that of any international student who isn’t “white”, which is also very interesting (and very sad) to consider. And other countries in the world recognise this, especially after the mistreatment of Indian students in 2009 and 2010, and the failure of the government to acknowledge that the attacks on these students were in any way racially motivated, and instead of mourning the loss of reputation, only focusing on the loss of profit (again, this relates back to Australia’s inability to believe that it is a racist nation, when time and time again, it shows that it values its own culture and people above others – which is what racism is).

Protests against racial attacks on Indian students in Australia in 2009
Protests against racial attacks on Indian students in Australia in 2009

Australia needs to change its attitudes towards international students if it wants to continue to be proud of its educational export industry, and as a nation, should reassess what is being lost by us not fully recognising the great opportunities cross-cultural experiences COULD be having on us as people.



[1] 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.

[2] 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.

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