The basics
Australia: Before you leave

Student life in Australia

Learn what student life in Australia is really all about

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When weighing up your options to study abroad, Australia is likely to register as simply a dazzling collection of harsh-yet-beautiful natural landscapes. What many fail to consider is that most of the nation’s universities are located in cities that trace its coast, each with a unique character, quirks and slightly different climate. Thinking of studying abroad in Australia? Let our basic breakdown of student life in Australia help give you a more realistic idea of what you might expect.



Whilst Australians definitely speak English, the nation’s unique take on their mother tongue might leave some international students confused: what’s a ‘bottle-o,’ and why do they keep adding an ‘a’ to the end of my name? (For the record, a ‘bottle-o’ is slang for a liquor store, and it’s common in Australia to give people nick-names by adding an ‘a’ or ‘o’ to the end of their name.)

Australian humour is dry and conversation often favours use of sarcasm and irony. Coupled with seemingly abrupt clusters of shortened words, it can be difficult to understand what’s going on. Australian social convention hinges upon national values of openness and directness, and so may seem a bit confronting to those who aren’t used to it. Do not be discouraged by this apparent shortness.  It’s not that Australians are being crude, excluding you or being rude on purpose; they’re just using language in their unique way, and are most likely just trying to make you laugh. 

Once you have a few Australian friends, you’ll pick up the slang in no time, and might even find yourself commandeering irony to crack a few dry jokes.


University culture  

Unlike many other nations, most university students in Australia do not live on campus. In fact, unless they need to travel to another state to study, most students do not live in student accommodation at all: they live at home. Whilst this might seem a confusing concept to those where an ‘on-campus’ feel is integral to the experience, in Australia the whole idea of student life is different, and to embrace it you need to forget your expectations in regards to what you’re used to. As students are not distinctly tied to campus in the same way, they exercise unique control over ways they choose to engage with their university experience.

In Australia, your engagement with university is completely up to you. Whether you choose to float in and attend your lectures in silence or make the effort to get to know your peers, everyone will assume that you know what you’re doing and that your university experience is wrought entirely from your own choices. This applies to your academic standard, too: if you don’t hand in an assignment you will lose a given percentage of the grade you would have obtained until a cut-off date, after which you will simply fail. At university in Australia you are treated like an adult who takes full responsibility for their social and academic efforts.  This might sound intimidating or even cold, but instead comes from a place of respect for your personal space and maturity.

If you need help, do not be afraid to ask: thanks to a number of national quality assurance measures, Australian universities protect the interests and needs of international students to the highest standard in the world. Australians are friendly and will always help you, but will not impinge upon you if you don’t appear to need it.  


Campus life

Just because most students do not live on campus, it doesn’t mean that there’s no such thing as campus life. Each Australian university, particularly bigger ones located in capital cities, has a selection of clubs and societies that are almost always completely student managed. These clubs receive a small budget from the university that they use to put on events and services for its members, such as barbeques, concerts and daytime picnics. Many clubs host trips and events open to local and international students alike, and often charge a subsidised fee for a weekend that will cover your accommodation, some activity costs and sometimes meals.

For example, each faculty in the University of Melbourne has its own society that at the start of each academic year runs an Orientation camp. These camps are student-run and typically geared towards first years, but are very popular amongst local students seeking to make new friends. If you can, these sorts of camps are a great way to throw yourself into the thick of Australian university culture, and meet plenty of new people in a similar position to you. Remember: local students starting university are just as nervous about making new friends, too.  


Café culture 

Eating out is a big part of Australian culture, but doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll break the bank. Australian café culture, particularly in Melbourne and Sydney has travelled overseas and inspired a spate of new cafés in big cities such as New York, London and Paris. Whilst Australians are incredibly proud of the quality of their coffee and have no scruples forking out for the day’s special blend, the accompanying food culture that follows is equally as rewarding. Mixing hearty, rich flavours with fresh local produce, Australian brunch culture is very much a big deal. As well as home-made cakes and pastries, any trendy Australian café worth its salt will have some kind of egg-based specialty gracing its lunch menu. Expect innovations with avocado, chorizo, feta cheese, thick field mushrooms and fresh tomatoes, as well as the odd surprise that seems confusing until you taste it.


As locals do

Whilst Australia’s stunning landscapes are a must-see for any international student, 89% of Australians live in urban areas, and so do not travel through unruly deserts or bushlands on their way to class. Aside from selected landmarks and the odd tourist trap, most people aren’t privy to the local hot-spots and hidden pulls of Australian metropolises. Whether a pop-up restaurant of newly-converted warehouse space, you never quite know what you might discover down a spindly city alleyway.

Australian cities are known for being quite expensive, and so it might seem impossible to imagine how students can afford to enjoy thriving social lives. Whilst it’s true that the places you see featured in guidebooks are quite expensive, they tend to overshadow the multitude of more modest places to eat, drink and be merry. Modest, unassuming and usually unadvertised, all Australian cities have a spate of student bars and restaurants where most Aussies flock for a Friday afternoon beer or a Thursday night boogie. Similarly, each city will have a number of cheaper places that are unadvertised and shy beneath the shadow of more famed and polished eateries. These places do exist, but you’ll need someone that knows where they’re going to show them to you.


Now that you’ve got a clearer idea of student life in Australia, why not browse courses in Australia now and start planning your study abroad adventure?


Useful links:

Why study in Australia?

Cultural misconceptions about Australia

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About Author

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Monica Karpinski received her BA (Media and Communications) and Diploma in Modern Languages (French) from the University of Melbourne, Australia. An art and culture aficionado, in her spare time Monica enjoys film, reading and writing about art.


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