International Education: Breaking the Cultural Barriers

I have always dreamed of being an international student studying in an exciting but foreign country. I’ve imagined learning a new language, embracing the cultural delights and of course eating a variety of traditional foods. But never did I realise the challenges numerous international students face when making their way to “multicultural, multiracial and multi religious” Australia. (Kell & Vogl, 2007, p.8).

Communication barriers are just one of the primary challenges faced by international students struggling for acceptance in any new country, Australia included. Kell and Vogl examine the reasons why international students have trouble adapting to the English-Australian language, atributing this challenge to the “wide range of inventive and colourful slang and colloquialisms” (Angelo et al., 1994 in Kell & Vogl, 2007, p.1). Moreover, the pair note variations in culture and the values and prinples upheld that commonly confuse international visitors. Imagine sitting with a group of people who are shortening just about every single word as they discuss ‘uni‘, the ‘Gong‘ and a ‘getty‘ they went to last night- as an international student all this would be daunting and make no sense whatsoever. As a result, Kell and Vogl’s work aims to stress the importance of being aware and accepting of cultural differences and it moreover encourages members of the Australian community to better engage in the international experience.

To further expand on the argument that has been raised by Kell and Vogl which seeks to explain communication barriers and elements of cultural expectation, Simon Marginson lists key concepts and ideas that essentially identify what makes an international students’ experience. Marginson dicusses how the international experience can in turn impact upon human identity, and even suggests that students from foreign countries may develop hybrid identities as they take bits and pieces of the cultures they experience to form a new “transformed self” (Marginson, 2012, p.8). He concludes that in order for the international experience to be as fulfilling as possible, “we need to empathise with the Other, without forcing the Other to be the same as Us” (Marginson, 2012, p.10). In other words, all members of society need to be accepting of cultural difference and in turn create a safe and happy environment to be enjoyed by all people of all places and experiences. We need to be more aware of the potential struggles faced by our international students and in consequence address the issues of cultural bias to move towards a system of cultural relativism. The international experience is thus a learning curve for all involved, students and hosts alike, and it is this type of intercultural encounter that we ought to aim for.

– Kell, P. and Vogl, G., 2007, ‘International Students: Negotiating Life and Study in Australia Through Australian Englishes’, Everyday Multiculturalism Conference Proceedings, Macquarie University, 28-29 September 2006, pp. 1-10.
– Marginson S., 2012, ‘International Education as Self-Formation: Morphing a Profit Making Business into an Intercultural Experience’, Lecture, University of Wollongong, 21 February 2012, Available online at <;
– Image courtesy of <;


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