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4 Cultural Differences in Australia Every International Student Needs to Know

For new students coming here to study, cultural differences in Australia can range from the way teaching is conducted to how people interact and communicate in and outside the classroom.

Don’t worry though, you’ll adjust much faster than you think, and you might even discover that you like the Aussie approach to learning!

At MIT, our Foundation Studies course is a great way to experience the Australian learning environment and life on the Murdoch University campus while you transition into university study.

Here are four cultural differences that will help you to be aware of:

1. Get used to an informal approach in the classroom

Australian culture is informal, egalitarian and irreverent. Joking around is a regular part of interaction, even in the classroom. Hierarchy is not given the same amount of significance in Australia as what you may be used to in your home country.

For example, you should expect that your teacher will introduce themselves by their first name, and will also expect you to address them informally, using their first name.

It’s expected that you will join in with class discussions and ask questions in the classroom; you won’t be considered rude or disrespectful if you do. If you don’t understand something, just put up your hand, or visit your tutor in their office during visitation hours.

group learning

Remember, your teachers (and university staff) in Australia are there to provide practical and emotional support for students. You can approach a teacher that you trust with any issues you’re having, and they will help you. At MIT, you can also access a range of academic support services.

2. You’re expected to be an independent learner

One of the biggest cultural differences in Australia that you will notice as an international student is an independent approach to learning. In your home country, you may be used to being given strict homework and instructions by your teacher. Don’t expect that in Australia.

In schools and universities in Australia, much of your learning will be independent reading and homework. You will have more freedom to complete tasks in your own way, but also you’ll have the responsibility of managing your schedule alone. 

independant learner

Here are a few points you need to be aware of, as you become an independent learner:

  • At the beginning of a semester, you’ll receive a course guide. This will layout your reading and assessment schedule. It’s very important you manage your schedule effectively during semester, so you do well at your assignments. When you receive your course guide, read it thoroughly and make a calendar of all your readings and due dates. You can use a calendar app to set reminders and help keep you on track.
  • Group assignments are common, and an important part of learning ‘soft skills’ such as communication and teamwork. As a group, you will be expected to share tasks equally, and manage your assignment yourselves. You will be expected to complete your ‘fair share’ of the work, and contribute to group discussions politely and respectfully. See here for information on how to do well in group assignments.
  • Independent thinking and critical analysis are central to all subjects, whether you’re studying science, journalism or law. You will often be asked for your opinion in class. Essay questions and assignments will commonly require you to argue for and against each position on a topic, based on your own interpretation.

3. Plagiarism is not allowed

Copying something from a friend’s notes to use in your own homework, sharing answers for an exam, or including anyone else’s research in your assignments without reference is considered plagiarism (cheating) in Australia.

Plagiarism can come with some serious penalties at university, including expulsion.

Of course, it’s a very important part of your education that you quote other sources and include information from published research in your assignments and exams.

All you need to do is make sure you are referencing all your sources to avoid getting in trouble for plagiarism. There are two main different referencing systems acceptable in Australia you can use to do this: Oxford and Harvard.

To help, you can follow this guide on how to use these two systems correctly.

4. Day-to-day interactions might be different from what you’re used to

Moving to a new country, you might find that people related to each other a little differently. Here are a few tips that might help you to adjust, both in the classroom and outside of it:

  • Australians tend to be very friendly and outgoing. Whether you’re in a café, buying something at a store, or greeting a classmate, it’s common and encouraged to say ‘hello’ or ‘have a good one’ (meaning have a good day).
  • Australians will often use humour in conversation, and this humour is quite often sarcastic or ironic. To better understand this type of humour, it might help (and be fun!) to watch a few classic Australian comedy films, such as ‘The Castle’.
  • Australians are direct when it comes to simple questions. They will ask you personal questions quite freely, about your family or how you’re feeling, even if you’re not close. It’s not meant to be rude, it just goes back to that friendly and outgoing nature Australians generally have.
  • Australian values are egalitarian, and society is diverse. Equality across genders, classes, and cultures is important to most Australians. Universities are gender-integrated, and all gender identities are considered equal. Sexist, homophobic or racist attitudes at school will be considered offensive.
  • Australian slang is commonly used in school or work environments as well as general conversation. Brush up on your Aussie slang, and go practice it with some locals.

See here for information about pathways to Murdoch University, at the Murdoch Institute of Technology. 

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