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Australia: 30% of international students find it “difficult” to make local friends

Educational institutions should do more to bridge the social gaps between domestic and international students both in and outside the classroom, a survey from the Council of International Students Australia has concluded.

Dion Jeremy Lee and Saba Nabi present the results of CISA's survey at AIEC. Photo: The PIE News

Over half said they are more likely to make friends with international students at social events

The survey, which received responses from 700 international and domestic students in Australia, found that there is a significant communication gap between the two groups. Thirty-three percent of international student respondents said they find it “difficult” to make friends with domestic students.

And just over two thirds of international respondents don’t think that domestic students are aware of the issues and problems they face.

“We can see that friendships with their own international peers tend to go a long way”

Domestic student responses showed that over half said they are more likely to make friends with international students at social events, while close to 30% said a tutorial setting was where they were more likely to start friendships with them.

However, in lectures was the least likely place for friendships to begin, according to responses from both groups.

The research was presented at the 2016 Australian International Education Conference in Melbourne.

Suggesting approaches that could work to help bridge the gap, Dion Jeremy Lee, national postgraduate officer at CISA, said, “We need to look at examples where there is a more international focus as well as assessments and projects that actually encourage, or have an element of requirement for international and domestic students to work together.”

Just over a quarter (26%) of international student respondents said their friendships with domestic students last over 12 months. However, the same amount of international respondents said their friendships with domestic students only last up to three months.

One reason for this could be the fact that when a collaborative project has finished, they don’t maintain the interaction, suggested Lee.

“We can certainly do more to try and take the friendships out of the classroom, to a level that’s beyond supervision,” he said.

“On average, we can see that friendships with their own international peers tend to go a long way.”

Fostering collaboration on university projects and drawing attention to an international student voice on campus are some of areas to improve to curate better domestic and international student relations, the research says.

CISA has also recommended that institutions help foster interactions on campus in the way funding is provided to student unions and societies.

“We can go a step further by providing the guidance that students need as well to maximise the use of the funds,” said Lee.

“I think international students presume a lot of things”

“A lot of instances, the funds are not used the right way that will actually create opportunities for international and domestic students to interact.”

Lee used the example of student groups organising alcohol-related activities, which “can be a major turn off” for international students.

However, the survey also found that despite the barriers, there is a willingness from both domestic and international students to come together.

On a scale of one to 10, international students rated their level of interest in making friends with domestic students 8.1, while for domestic students, they said their level of interest in befriending international students was 7.6.

“I think international students presume a lot of things,” Saba Nabi, former equity officer and acting education officer at CISA, told The PIE News.

“They always think domestic students don’t want to indulge with them or interact with them, but it’s not the case.”

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