If you are a domestic student studying in Australia in a Government supported place, like the vast majority of Australian University students, then chances are an international student is helping to foot the bill of your education expenses. International Education is big business in Australia and during the boom in 2009 it was estimated to be worth around 18 billion dollars, making it one of the biggest industries in the Australia (Boston Consulting Group, 2013)
For the students that come here however life is not always what they expect it will be. The reason for the International Student boom in 2009 was due to the promise of a potential permanent residency visa at the end of study, providing you filled a place in one of the many areas in which Australia was having a skills shortage. Many students flocked to our shores specifically from Asia and India where the lure of a better life in Australia was a big draw card.
In 2009 – 10 when the boom was at it’s hight reports of violence toward Indian students in Melbourne began to hit the news. Whether these attacks were racially motivated or not is still a contentious issue, and I’m not here to judge one way or the other. The effect it had on the International Student Industry was enormous. Coverage of the attacks in India became widespread and diplomatic relations between the two countries became strained as the Indian Government warned any potential students to think twice before heading to Australian shores.
So are we a racist nation, a nation with no respect or understanding of cultural diversity? For a place that often waves the multicultural flag proudly this scenario is at odds to how we often think of ourselves.
Perhaps the issue is with perception. In a study that looked at international students living in Australia, many of the students involved said that whilst they wanted to meet Australians, Australians didn’t necessarily want to spend the time getting to know them. The study drew this back to a disconnect in communication and our inability to see what these international students can offer us instead of seeing them as lacking, in English and understanding. (Kell and Vogl 2007) It’s time we started using their experience to help ourselves broaden our horizons. We have to stop thinking of ourselves as culturally superior and recognise our own immigrant history.
“It is not only English language that prevents students from speaking and mixing with local students but also knowing what to speak about” -Novera 2004: 480