As StudyInAustralia.gov.au points out, Australia is the third most popular destination in the world for international students because we have some of the world’s best education facilities, teachers, and courses. So if you’re coming to Australia to study, don’t worry – you’re not alone!
But what is Australian culture like? What will you need to know to do or not do while you’re here? We can tell you the basics.
What is Australian culture like?
Australian culture is fairly laid-back but we speak our mind openly and directly. You might think Aussies all live in the outback riding kangaroos to school, but actually more than 3 in 4 of us live in a big city along the coast.
The Department of Immigration has listed the main values of Australia that international students should know in their free e-book, Life In Australia:
- Freedom of speech
- Freedom to choose your religion
- Democratic government, and the right for every person to vote to choose their political leaders
- Freedom to choose who you associate with (spend time with)
- Respect for the equal worth, dignity and freedom of the individual
- Equality of opportunity no matter what gender, marital status, religion, nationality, disability, or sexual preference you have
- Peacefulness, not starting fights
- Tolerance, mutual respect and compassion for those in need
Generally, Australians like people who are willing to laugh at their own mistakes and have a sense of humour. Most Aussies try to be humble and don’t like to draw attention to their academic or work achievements, so they don’t trust people who do talk a lot about their own achievements.
What cultural things to do when studying in Australia
There are some things that you will usually be expected to do while you are in Australia:
- Your housemates in a sharehouse or your homestay family might ask you to do a few simple household chores such as washing the dishes after a meal. People in Australia do not have servants, so they usually do all of the housework, cleaning, childcare, and gardening by themselves. Even if they don’t ask you to do any chores, you should still make sure you keep your room clean and tidy, and take care of your own laundry.
- Be on time for tutorials and lectures, appointments, and even social occasions. Australians do not always arrive on time for a party, but they do try to arrive on time for other appointments and social times with friends.
- Try to give people “personal space” when talking with them. Do not stand very close to them, and do not touch them unless they touch you first. Many Australians, especially older Australians, usually do not touch people unless they are very close friends.
- Get good value when you choose your OSHC overseas student health insurance so you can afford to go to the doctor when you need to. Go to the doctor if you get sick, so that you can get well soon and not make your fellow students sick.
Then there are things that you can do that will help you to succeed in your studies and making friends:
- Ask questions if you don’t understand something. This is different to some other cultures, where the teacher is viewed as a person of authority who has more wisdom than their students, and students must show respect by not bothering teachers. Australian teachers want to help you learn and understand. If you think it will take a long time to ask the question and understand, you can speak with your tutor or lecturer after class.
- Go to any workshops that teach you how to write an essay or an assignment. Australia may have a different study culture than your home, for how to structure an argument or give your opinion in an assignment.
- Say “please” and “thank you” as often as you can. You will see that in Australia we say please and thank you very often, even when someone is just doing their job, like a waiter or a shop assistant. This is because in Australian culture, it is very important to show your respect to every person and treat every person the same.
- Try to say exactly what you mean. Many cultures use the word “No” to give an answer when they are being polite, but this is not how we use the word “No” in Australia. If you want something to eat and someone offers you some food, you should say, “Yes, please.” If you say “No”, they will think you do not want any food and they will not offer it.
What not to do in Australia
Some things are illegal (not allowed by law) in Australia. Do not do these illegal things:
- No spitting on the street. If you need to clear your throat or nose, use a tissue.
- No smoking inside any building, or near the doors or entrances to any building. No smoking on public transport such as trains, buses, and taxis.
- No making noise such as playing music in your room, before 7am in the morning and after 10pm at night. These noise curfews apply in most areas of Australia and can be either state laws or local council laws.
Some things will get you in trouble with your university or school:
- No copying other people’s work in an assignment or cheating on a test. Copying other people’s work in an assignment is called “plagiarism”, and it is something that Australian universities do not allow. You must not copy what somebody else has written in a book or an article or an online resource without providing the reference to this outside source, even if you understand and agree with what they said. You also must not copy another student’s work, even if you agree with what they have written. This is because in Australian culture, we see thinking for yourself as more important than getting the correct answer, so we ask you to “reference” the person who first said something.
Some things are not polite and you should try not to do these things in Australia:
- It is not polite to bargain or haggle with shop assistants, except at markets. In shops, grocery stores/supermarkets, and markets in Australia, you have to pay the price that is listed. The only shops that might let you change the price are shops for household appliances (whitegoods), furniture, or vehicles.
- It is not polite to stare if you see someone wearing very little clothing. In Australia, many people do not wear much clothing, because the climate is so hot and the culture is very relaxed. It does not mean that Australian people do not have moral standards.
- It is not polite to ask people about their age (how old they are) or money (how much they paid for something or how much they get paid for their work). Australian people often become embarrassed when someone asks them these things, as they can be related to status.