Challenges international students face in Australia: Tips & advice

International education is the third largest industry in Australia with numbers of enrolments continuing to rise. In the year to date there has been a 10% increase in international students arriving and 54% of these enrol in a tertiary institution. Australia is also the third largest destination for international students after the US and Britain.

But life as an international student isn’t all smooth sailing. Although most find the experience ultimately rewarding, being prepared for the challenges and the pitfalls, ideally before you arrive, is recommended. Often certain problems can’t be avoided, such as the challenges of finding employment, managing a budget and the difficulties of making friends, but being mentally prepared for what awaits and knowing where to turn to alleviate some of the stress can help. It also helps to know you are not alone – all international students go through an adjustment period.

So what are the main challenges faced by international students?

Loneliness and homesickness are some of the biggest challenges: Being away from family and friends, in a new country not knowing anyone is of course one of the most obvious and persistent challenges. Missing your support network from home is a big problem and having to face the numerous problems alone such as language barriers, and worry about money, jobs and accommodation. These problems can be very stressful, at least initially.

“In my country, I had my family and I was very secure, but here I was completely alone, so I had to try to change and be more open and try to make friends from other countries.”

“Of course you have bad moments, you will miss your friends, your family.”

Financial strain and job hunting are also huge issues. Having to budget and the unknown territory of job searches are mentally draining. Not only that, the language barrier or fear of not having a good enough English level can be added stressors. It also will take time to find a job, but not knowing how long you will be without income increases your stress levels.

“Here in Sydney it’s impossible to not get a job. You have to do some kind of investment – buy a bicycle, buy a scooter, or have a white card, blue card or RSA etc…”

Culture shock and social isolation can take some effort and persistence to overcome. Many students assume they will meet locals in order to make friends, practise English conversation and understand cultural differences but not knowing how to do this and where to start can be a source of frustration. Many report that they were disappointed if they didn’t get the chance to meet and befriend locals.

English language improvement can be more difficult than expected. Many students end up meeting friends from the same country and don’t get to practise their English. They feel stuck in their social circles and are too scared to branch out.

“focus on your English from the beginning – try to really learn the language and enjoy it because if you have better English…you are going to get a better opportunity.”

Other problems cited are cost of living, racism, adjusting to the different and varying climates, obtaining the information needed, as well as insufficient cooking skills.

Tips & advice from international students and graduates:

“You have to switch your mindset. You have to adjust to the environment. You have routines, the different lifestyle, you have to shift your mindset because for a while I was between my mindset from Spain and my mindset here and you compare things and obviously one is always better than the other. Just enjoy what you have instead of wishing for the other life. Because it’s hard to leave your friends behind and the people that really love you.” Mario [ Spain ]

“You have to be really convinced of what you want, that’s the first step. Be fearless; go for it! You have the opportunity to live in another country, speak another language… at the end of the day it’s win-win, you have to try your best. Of course you have bad moments, you will miss your friends, your family.” Fernando [ Argentina ]

“…focus on your English from the beginning – try to really learn the language and enjoy it because if you have better English… in six months, one year’s time you are going to get a better opportunity, you can do something you like, otherwise you are going to do something you don’t want to do – so just focus on your English! You don’t need to work as a labourer or waiter if you don’t want to, you can get the opportunity you want if you focus on getting it.” Lucas [ Brazil ]

“Australia is more open to people wanting to have a business, it’s still a new country. If you have the passion for it, you just need to try it and studying is a really great idea to get to know the country and how business works as well.” Mai [ Japan ]

“Here in Sydney it’s impossible to not get a job. You have to do some kind of investment – buy a bicycle, buy a scooter, or have a white card, blue card or RSA etc. I see it as an investment but once you do that it’s impossible to not get a job. I chose the delivery (Uber Eats, Deliveroo) so I don’t have to get up in the morning at 4:00am. We have a big Brazilian community on Facebook so if you post there someone will put you in a whatsapp group for the kind of job you are looking for. If I wasn’t having a good life in Australia I would have given up looking for a proper job, an SAP job. If I wasn’t enjoying Australia I would leave.” Brenno [ Brazil ]

“Its not about focussing on a negative. you make a decision – you go either up or down and I decided there was only one way and I took the way up. I think it’s about knowing what you want. It’s about your attitude and your approach. Just keep talking to people, it’s tiring but at the end of the day it’s really about believing in yourself and being passionate. But you have to do it (yourself), don’t wait for someone else to help you.” Nick [ France ]

“Look for jobs in your field; try to find related work. If you’ve got an idea to make it happen, there’s no reason to fail if you do it properly, put in the effort it. Go with the flow. So luck and also effort. By doing a good job, people will want to teach you. Maybe luck is to do with wanting to know more and to keep going. The only English I had before that was in school. But if you speak it here all the time you pick it up quickly. I didn’t want to meet any German people in Australia or I’d never learn it. When I first arrived I struggled with English but I didn’t care if people laughed.” Nico [ Germany ]

All students face various challenges and have a range of advice to give.