Top Tips: Students from Different Linguistic and Cultural Backgrounds

Western Sydney University has students from more than 160 different countries and cultures. International students bring the world to Greater Western Sydney with global perspectives, multi-lingual skills, enthusiasm and a spirit of adventure.

Adding to the richness of cultural and linguistic diversity are the many of our students who may be second or third generation Australians but who have grown up with a range of cultural understanding and insights from families who migrated to Australia years or even decades before.

It is never easy to transplant your life and study, either temporarily or permanently, into another country or culture. Challenges of language, culture-shock or homesickness can undermine your confidence and resolve.

This guide has a collection of tips and hints from students, like you, who have struggled with similar difficulties. These experienced students have survived and succeeded in adapting to life and study in a new culture. At Western Sydney University many students speak two or more languages and bring valuable insight, experience and understanding to share in their classes and with fellow students.

Prepare in Advance

Before you come to Western Sydney University, or even before you get to Australia, you can start to become familiar with the University, the culture and the physical surroundings.

Online preparation before the teaching session starts can give you some confidence as you navigate your way through your new surroundings.

  • Use the Western Sydney U YouTube Channel and Google Maps to familiarise yourself with the campuses, features and surroundings. It will help you to feel like you’re in familiar surroundings.
  • If you are unsure about what you want to study, choose something like a Bachelor of Arts where you get to experience a range of subjects – but if you are an International student you must make careful course choices or it could affect your Visa status.
  • Make sure you understand the meanings of terminology and jargon. Get a dictionary of terms used in your course. Bookmark the University glossary of terms on your computer – you can find lots of useful services and information on this site.
  • Plan ahead and attend the pre-session academic skills programs. There are wonderful free programs to help you improve your academic writing skills and other programs to help make your time at university less stressful.

Studying in English

If English is not your first language it can be challenging to study and make friends while trying to understand the differences in language, humour or culture.

Adjustment will take time and effort, but it will be worth it. As you gain confidence and experience, you will find that the insights you bring from understanding multiple cultures will add value to your educational qualifications, your social and academic life and to the wider Australian community.

  • Use Google Translate but be careful because it is not always right.
  • Compare translation software – Bing Translate appears to be more accurate in sentence structure.
  • Use songs for the things you want to remember in English. Make up a tune or use one you are familiar with. Songs, rhymes and music are all good memory tools.
  • Observe facial expressions and body language. These might be different from your customs and they can help you understand what is being said or if you are saying anything that is strange to others.
  • Turn on the transcripts or closed captions on videos. Reading English as you hear it helps with pronunciation and understanding accents. But be careful, not all captioning is accurate – you will soon work out which ones don’t make sense.
  • Conversation with English speakers helps to sharpen your understanding and to get used to the speed and tempo of language.
  • Ask about strange sayings or jokes. If you hear something you don’t understand, don’t be afraid to ask someone to explain it.
  • Use an audio recorder (ask for permission first), then review later in your own time with a dictionary.
  • Make sure to read the course material from vUWS readings and references before the lectures and tutorials. This can make it easier to understand. (First language – Mandarin Chinese)
  • Listen to the news in English. Watch movies to understand the flow of English. Speak English to people at home – it doesn’t matter if it’s not perfect, you need to practise to improve.
  • Learning to be more relaxed helps, because when you’re not focused on how scared or anxious you are, you can listen better and are not too shy to make your voice heard.
  • Surround yourself in the English language. Listen to English. Speak English. Study in English. Practise this as much as you can. It becomes much easier and faster if you do this. (First language - Sinhalese)
  • If you take photos of the lecture presentation remember to ask the lecturer for permission first. Also you can look for the lecture video or slides on your vUWS site for the Unit. (First language - Mandarin)
  • Spend time learning with other Western Sydney University students.

Cultural Adjustments - You Are Not Alone

It’s really common to find the challenges of studying in another language, foreign country, or different culture unexpectedly difficult and emotional.

Culture shock is a natural reaction and is something most students experience at some time. Even many Englishspeaking students feel awkward and overwhelmed as they make the transition to university life.

  • Expect some culture shock. Even if you think you know what it will be like in a new culture there will always be surprises and challenges. Don’t panic – it’s temporary and you will get through it. (First language - Korean)
  • Remember everyone is human and have their own struggles. Even if other students look confident they have probably been just as scared as you feel right now.
  • Exercise helps with stress. I had severe homesickness and also muscle pains from sitting and studying too long. I got better when I joined other students for regular basketball games on the campus basketball courts. (First language - Japanese)
  • Homesickness is normal – it is not a weakness. Try not to think about it too much, if you distract yourself it will help it pass.
  • Stay active. Walking is free but make sure you walk in safe areas. Ask local students where is safer. You can also walk with friends or have walking study groups to make you fit and smart.
  • Attend as many events and activities as you can and create friendships. It may not be easy to break the barriers, but it is worth trying. You have to initiate conversation sometimes and be more proactive about getting involved. It is the best way to make friends and be part of the community – which then makes your experience a thousand times better.
  • When you feel overwhelmed, find someone to talk to. Even if you feel shy, it’s worth the effort. Even if they can’t help you, they might know someone who can.