After attending my International Media lecture this week I was surprised to discover just how big of an industry International Education is here in Australia. Did you know that International Education is Australia’s third largest export and that it stands to bring millions into the Economy? There are approximately 630,000 full fee paying overseas students in Australia, possibly the highest in the world as a proportion of the total population. Just this year alone we had 55 thousand Indian students migrate here for university.
However the thing that surprised me most of all, was not the prevalence of International Education in this country but rather the treatment of the International students themselves. With more than one quarter of of the Australian population being born overseas, you would think that Australia would be a land of extreme diversity and tolerance but in actual fact it is still a very Ethnocentric country and as a result of this many international students find it hard to have as valuable a culturally enriching experience as they deserve. Perhaps Ethnocentric is too harsh a word, while I’m not going to sit here and say racism doesn’t exist in this country (ahem the Cronulla riots), I would like to think that MOST Australians are not overtly discriminative. A more appropriate word might be Parochialism in the sense that we Australians are very limited in the scope of how we see the world.
Children In China are learning the English Language as early on as kindergarten and many parents who can afford it are sending their children, as young as two, to private lessons in the hope that they will become fluent at an early age. Here in Australia however our attempts to learn the language of other cultures is limited. Most of us don’t even get the option to study another language until high school and even then, most of the time, it is an elective subject, not a compulsory one. ‘Nowadays the English language is subject to commodification, characterized as a marketable product that provides opportunities to economic, educational and immigration opportunities’.
Australia is such a diverse and globalized nation and yet it’s citizens know very little about the outside world. This is why when International Students come to study in Australia we expect them to act Australian and if they don’t, we feel that they don’t belong. There is a direct correlation between the level of assimilation an international student makes and the level of acceptance they receive socially here in Australia. The more ‘Australian’ an international student is the easier it is for them to make friends. Why is it that we have this belief that assimilation is the best possible outcome? We have this strange ideology that our way is the right way. Do we think that all international students came here to experience Australia and therefore must adapt into ‘our’ culture?
I, myself am not exempt from this attitude, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been put into a group activity at Uni with an international student and thought ‘aww man, how am I supposed to work with them when they can’t even speak english?, I’m going to have to do this whole assignment on my own’. That is exactly the narrow minded attitude I am speaking of, that exist within Australia and even I am guilty of it. International students have just as much culturally enriching information to share with us as we have to give to them. With the global world we live in, it is in the best interest for Australians to to learn more about other nations. For a multicultural country we need to become more tolerant.