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Studying abroad: the life of an international student

Are you considering moving to Australia to study? Perhaps you’re feeling excited about going to university somewhere new and your future career prospects, and at the same nervous about how far you’ll be from home and what happens if you don’t like it.

You’re certainly not alone. Even though it can be a life-changing experience, moving abroad as an international student can feel overwhelming.

But the good news is many, many international students have made the move before you, and learning from their experiences can help you hit the ground running on your overseas adventure.

Adjusting to a large, chilly, vibrant melting pot 

For Jolene Rosca, who moved to Geelong from the Philippines to study at Deakin, the sheer size of Victoria took some getting used to.

‘I was quite overwhelmed. Everything felt very big at first and everything seemed unreal,’ she says. ‘I also was confused by the public transportation, and I didn’t know how to use Google Maps.’

Melbourne’s multiculturalism, art scene and the forthrightness of its people are what first struck Jesslynda Clarissa, who grew up in Indonesia.

‘Melbourne is a melting pot of cultures with vibrant personalities that are not scared to express themselves. The main museums and galleries are accessible and located in the middle of the CBD. I always find myself inspired in this city that celebrates such a lively artistic culture,’ she says.

A move to Melbourne usually involves some degree of adjustment to the weather, and it was no different for Viet Le coming from tropical Vietnam.

‘It’s super cold in Melbourne. I wasn’t expecting it because Ho Chi Minh City is hot all year round, so I had to buy warm clothes,’ he says.

From loneliness to a family away from home

When you move away from family and friends, it’s common to experience homesickness – even though technology helps us stay in touch. University breaks and national or religious holidays can be especially tough, especially if your local friends busy are spending time with their families.

‘Holidays were pretty difficult since I didn’t have anyone to celebrate with. I felt quite homesick when I called my parents since they were all celebrating together with the extended family, and I couldn’t be there,’ Jolene says.

‘I felt anxious going out on my own since I didn’t know what to do and where to go. I opted to stay home most of the time, and it got very isolating.’

For Viet, studying during the pandemic compounded his loneliness.

‘I knew no one at first. I had a couple of housemates to talk to, but as an introverted person I did feel lonely, and because of lockdown I couldn’t go anywhere,’ he says.

Jolene says meeting a group of friends during her time studying online at Deakin College helped her feel less lonely. ‘We were able to explore Australia together. That made it feel a lot less daunting.’

Indeed, for many international students, friends become like family.

‘We tend to rely on each other like how we would rely on family back home. It’s partially because we are all international students and going through the same thing,’ Jolene says.

Jesslynda made friends with her housemates and enjoyed her first ever road trip over the Easter break. ‘We went to Ballarat for a few days and had the best times of our lives.’

She says international students form a special bond as they’re in similar situations and can understand each other’s feelings.

‘The friends I made during my journey in Australia have become my chosen family,’ Jesslynda says. ‘They have made Melbourne my home away from home. We look out for each other and have a special bond through being international students that not everyone can understand.’

Getting involved and making friends

Getting involved in the Deakin community is an easy way for international students to meet other students, make friends and establish a sense of belonging.

Jolene recommends DUSA (Deakin University Student Association), which hosts events throughout the year and is a great way to meet new friends with similar interests.

‘Joining DUSA Crew allowed me to meet loads of people on campus,’ she says. ‘Joining clubs and societies is also a wonderful way to network and make social connections.’

Viet agrees: ‘DUSA has lots of good events like mocktail workshops and cooking classes. They’re a good way to meet great people.’

Joining mentor and support groups when you first move to Australia is another great approach.

‘These can be beneficial if you need help, or you can also become a mentor if you are passionate in helping students,’ Jesslynda says.

She also recommends getting involved in social events like Deakin’s OWeek.

‘Join social events such as Deakin’s OFest parties where you can meet new people and make friends going to the same uni,’ Jesslynda says.

this. featured experts
Jolene Rosca
Jolene Rosca

Bachelor of Physiological Sciences,

Deakin University

Jesslynda Clarissa
Jesslynda Clarissa

Bachelor of Design (Visual Communication Design),

Deakin University

Viet Le
Viet Le

Bachelor of Exercise and Sports Science,

Deakin University

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