If you're an international student, then coming to a foreign country like Australia is both scary, but also very exciting! Sydney is a great city to live in, and UNSW has (in our biased opinion) an incredibly friendly and welcoming student-life vibe. To help give you advice about settling in, making friends, and navigating a brand new world, we've gathered 4 international students to help answer some tough questions you might have.
Being an International Student at UNSW
Kaiqi Liang, Jarvis Wang, Livia Wijayanti, and Ally Que
Why did you choose to come to UNSW?
Kaiqi: In year 12 I'd already narrowed it down to UNSW and USyd, so I went to the Open Day for both. Turns out the engineering stream at UNSW was way more interesting than at USyd, and that's how I ended up here!
Jarvis: First of all, I already knew I was going to do an engineering degree and UNSW had a really good engineering faculty. The location is rather convenient. Plus, UNSW has probably the most active on-campus student societies.
Ally: I chose to come to UNSW since it offers good double degrees, options for majors and supportive scholarships. I also met student ambassadors and school representatives who shared experiences of studying at UNSW during my visits to the campus in high school. I was particularly interested in the welcoming and encouraging learning environment.
How have you met people/made new friends at UNSW?
Livia: I met most of my (coolest) friends through CSESoc events and programs 😉 😉 and classes in uni. UNSW is generous with the number of societies they have. There are all different sorts of clubs that you can join to meet people outside of your faculty.
Kaiqi: Short story you make friends through your friends, I actually met one of my best friends through another one of my best friends. During my first term of uni I didn't know how things really worked. I showed up to my first Physics Lab and turns out I had to have completed an online training module beforehand which I hadn’t done, so I got called to a room with a bunch of others who didn't either (detention if you will). That's where I made my first friend. He then introduced me to his friend who introduced me to a bunch of his CSE mates at a CSESoc ice skating event.
"UNSW is generous with the number of societies they have. There are all different sorts of clubs that you can join to meet people outside of your faculty."
What’s the hardest thing about being international?
Jarvis: Some might assume studying for a degree in your second language is the hardest thing. That was also my initial assumption since I studied all my subjects in my first language; besides, I had never lived in an English speaking country on my own. Honestly, I find it quite the opposite. Learning a whole set of new knowledge in your second language is probably the easiest thing compared to trying to fit in a new culture.
To my surprise, cultural differences are the main hindrance you need to work out. "Duh. No problem. I have been watching Netflix, listening to western music, and paying attention to international news for most of my life," you might think.
This is the type of hindrance I had never expected before I came to Australia. You have to live in a whole system that is not built for you, the health services, the education system, the employment system, or even as insignificant as where you could buy a specific product or get a certain service. You have to accommodate this system by making some sacrifices, such as you might not have the freedom to change your degree as you want since that degree offers little or no job opening for international students. On top of that, most vocational training and intern programs or even some competitions are limited to Australian citizens. You will almost feel like you have to take whatever offer is on the table even though the job description or the company seems dodgy. So if you miss this one, you will never know when the next one will present itself. What I would recommend is trying your best to network and learn from others' experiences. This will save you a lot of time and avoid a lot of frustration. Most importantly, you have the option to say no sometimes. Do not burn yourself down and ruin your reputation before you could truly showcase your value. Instead, focusing on your personal growth and being patient will help you in the long run.
Is it easy to get involved with the social and society events?
Kaiqi: Yes and it is absolutely way easier than writing code. Just follow any society on Facebook and when they post events you'll get notified. After reading the description if it suits your interest just turn up! Keep in mind that some events are not free and some require registration, but most of them don't which means you can just show up!
Jarvis: It highly depends on your communication skills and interpersonal skills. I would say it is not hard if you try to put yourself out there.
Being genuine and passionate will be your best strategy.
The hard things will be the causal conversation with your peers or teammates. Since you are from quite a different culture, you will start realizing how much difference there is in the day-to-day conversation. The humour, the topics, the issues, or even the word convention, are all different. It takes a lot more time for you to build a deeper connection with your friends in societies. Reach out actively while observing how the conversation flows and understand the dynamics among people.
"Since you are from quite a different culture, you will start realizing how much difference there is in the day-to-day conversation. The humour, the topics, the issues, or even the word convention, are all different. It takes a lot more time for you to build a deeper connection with your friends in societies."
Did you experience any culture shock? What was that experience like?
- Oz's Tim tams game is a whole new level 🤤
- Everything closes after 5 🙁
- Maccas runs in between study sessions
- Everyone is so willing to help you and all you need to do is just reach out and ask for help if you’re struggling 🥺💕
Ally: The greatest cultural shock was the diversity of cultures that could be found in Sydney. I used to imagine Sydney as a Western, foreign city. But after I arrived in Sydney, I met people from many different cultural backgrounds. It was an insightful experience.
Favourite thing about Sydney? Least favourite?
- The people are cool
- I find that Sydney is very inclusive and they have all sorts of Asian food here
- Sydney's sunny weather and beachesMy least favourite things are:
- Spiders 🕷😭
- Sydney gets very windy in winter and very hot in summer, so be ready with the sunblock!
Ally: There are so many wonderful restaurants in Sydney and I would like to explore more of them (after the pandemic.) My least favourite thing about Sydney is the heat and the sunburn in summer. I choose to stay at home on those days.
What advice would you give to any international students in First Year?
Livia: Have fun!
Uni has so much more to offer than just the academic courses, in a few years time, your favourite memories will be the things you do outside of class (unless you like writing exams :,,)) so make sure to try different experiences in uni and take advantage of CSESoc’s awesome events.
Kaiqi: Definitely get involved in societies as early as possible, there're so many good things you'll miss out on if you don't. To name a few, CSESoc First Year Camp and the Peer Mentoring Program are just 2 examples of the perfect place to make life-long friends, which I didn't know about, no wonder I had to make friends through detention :(
Ally: Have an open mind to embrace the differences you will encounter at UNSW. I consider it as the most important state of mind to keep as an international student.
Jarvis: First, having a conversation with yourself is what I would suggest for every first-year student. We have been constantly told by society what is the definition of success. We have been chasing the expectations of society and our family.
However, what is your expectation for yourself?
- What do you want to achieve in 5 years?
- How would you define your own success?
- Are you doing this for yourself or because everyone else is doing it?
- Are you living up to your own expectation you had 5 months ago?
- Are you enjoying what you are doing?
These are the questions that help you revise what you have been working on and what is your current focus. We are all trying to pretend to become someone in different stages of our life.
Second, be careful about the way you communicate. The way you structure your sentences tells a lot about your personality. When you want to give feedback to someone, consider the feeling of the person in front of you. Here is an example. Today, you want your peer to grow up and take responsibility.
The worst-case scenario would be, "could you grow up and take responsibility?"
A bit better case could be, "I think you could grow up and take responsibility."
Or even better, "I wish you could grow up and take responsibility."Change your tone from a judging tone to a considerate one. People will not remember you in the future, but they will remember how you made them feel.
"Have an open mind to embrace the differences you will encounter at UNSW. I consider it as the most important state of mind to keep as an international student."
Choose your own adventure!
If there's a common piece of advice from our international students, it's that it's a great idea to get involved and meet all kinds of different people. Unsure of where to start, though? Check out these 5 Ways To Make Friends At Uni.
Or experience one of Ally's favourite parts of Sydney - the amazing food!
Don't like these options? Check out the full roadmap below!