Australia has a lot to offer: unique landscape, lively cities and top-notch schools. It goes without saying that studying in here is an incredible opportunity and an unforgettable experience. However, traveling here alone and starting a new school or university can feel a little overwhelming at the beginning. Don’t stress, there are resources set up for international students that will provide emotional, medical and academic support. There are also resources to help you manage your finances and will help you build friendships during your stay.
These services will help you feel safe, welcome, supported and allow your studies to go smoothly. In this blog we will explore important resources every international student should know about.
If you are completing a higher education course at a university or TAFE, there will be a student union. A student union is made of students and is there to protect the rights of students. Here are some of the services Australian student unions commonly offer:
They can help you with any disputes you may have with your university or with lodging a complaint about the university or college. They are experts on student rights and will guide you through the whole process, and often even provide legal advice about your rights if necessary
International student support
The student union will connect you with services within the university and can provide safe spaces for you. Usually there is an international department within the union specifically for overseas students. This is a support system just for you, and they will listen to any concerns or questions you may have. If you’re not confident with English, often they provide free courses and workshops for you to build your language skills. They also run social events to help you build friendships.
Female/LGBTQIA+ specific services
There will also be female only rooms that offer things like free sanitary products and regular events about issues affecting female students. Most institutions also have an established queer department for LGBTQIA+ students looking for community and a safe space.
Some unions also run food bank services. If you’re low on funds you can drop in for a meal, no questions asked. The joining fees are low-cost and it is worth the investment in the long run.
Clubs and social events
Being somewhere new and not knowing anybody can feel a little lonesome. When we are no longer surrounded by our friends it can feel daunting to reach out and make new friends. Don’t worry, you are not alone.
In any Australian educational institution, not only will there be a lot of international students going through the same things as you, but a lot of local students will also be starting school or university not knowing anybody. If you talk to people in your classes you will find that most people are open to new friendships, and enjoy engaging with fellow students.
Try and think of your educational institution as a small community. The best way to start becoming part of this community is going to orientation week and attending social events.
We understand that striking up a conversation with somebody new isn’t easy for everybody. You may find it easier to talk to people with similar interests or who are likeminded. If that is the case take a look at the clubs your institution has to offer. Joining a club will connect you with people who share the same interests and will make that initial conversation less awkward. Clubs will also have social events that will get you out on the weekend.
Building friendships during your stay is key to getting the most out of your educational experience in Australia. You will graduate will lifelong friends.
Australian culture guides
Australian culture can be a little baffling at the beginning. It can take a while to get used to our slang and our fascination with Bunnings sausages! Every culture has different customs and etiquette, which can sometimes lead to misunderstandings. In order to avoid awkward situations and to learn about Australian customs you can always look at guides.
There are an endless number of Australian cultural and language guides on the Internet. For example there are guides to everyday Australian slang, which will make it a little easier to communicate. If guides aren’t helpful, or if you want to educate yourself further, some places even offer short courses. As mentioned before some student unions offer free language courses that includes an overview of the local culture. If available, you should take one of these courses as culture may vary from state to state.
Tuition, accommodation and living expenses are not cheap. Of course, dwindling finances is a stress nobody needs. And when we struggle with money it affects our studies and our welfare. However, there are services that will help you keep on top of all your expenses.
It can take a while to get used to a new currency and it is easy to overspend during the first few weeks. You can prepare in advance with this free cost of living calculator to help you budget for your stay here.
While international students are not eligible for student loans, you may be eligible for scholarships that can help fund your studies. You can view a list of available scholarships through the Australian Government website.
Student union support
As mentioned above, check to see what your student union has to offer. They might be able to connect you with a service that can help you budget. They also may have a food bank that will give you free food, with no questions asked.
In order to make the most out of your education here, you should take care of you emotional and physical health. While you can’t avoid getting sick forever, you can make sure you get proper treatment.
Seeing a doctor
Don’t put off seeing a doctor because you’re not sure where to find one. As you are obliged to have health insurance on a student visa, your provider can usually help you find a medical practice close to where you are staying. If they don’t, then get in touch with your student welfare services (see below) and they will help you. Your Student Union may also offer a medical service.
Mental health support
If you are feeling stressed or you just need somebody to talk to, don’t be afraid to reach out. Most Australian educational institutions have a student welfare service. They provide free counselling to help you manage your time and your stress levels. It’s also a good way to help you with your emotional wellbeing. And, if you have serious concerns for your mental health they can refer you to a specialist. Community based organisations like Headspace have centres around the country and offer online and phone services for young people (aged 12-25) based in Australia who need mental health support. Most services that Headspace provides are free or have a very low cost and everything is confidential.
Discussing and taking care of your sexual health can be awkward, especially if you come from a cultural background that does not support sexual education. Nonetheless, your sexual health plays an important role in your overall physical health and international students in particular often struggle to find information and support relating to sexual health. There are a number of community based sexual healthcare organisations such as the Melbourne Sexual Health Centre which provide free or low cost testing, treatment and referrals for everything related to sexual health. Once again, all services provided are confidential.
Support for secondary students
If you are completing secondary education, your school will have a guidance counsellor that is there to help you.
In Australia, there are support services for people with disabilities in all schools, colleges and universities. These are designed to make sure everybody has an equal learning experience. These support services are not only for learning disabilities but also physical impairments, injuries, chronic illnesses and mental illnesses.
Support if you have a pre-existing condition
If you do need support, contact the institution you are about to attend to see what your options are. It is best to do this early, because there might be testing and certificates that take time. Disability support can include anything from having extra time to complete exams and being allowed to take breaks, through to having a disability support worker to help get you through the day.
Support if an issue arises after you start your course
If you are going through a rough time, make sure you reach out for help. With higher education you can apply for extensions on your assignments, special consideration and adjustments to your exam conditions. Just make sure you read the conditions, have the correct paperwork, and get in touch with your teacher/tutor/subject co-ordinator as soon as possible.
While we know you will have an amazing time in Australia, it is important to prepare just in case there are a few bumps in the road. Here is a list of numbers you might want on your phone or written down in your planner.
Police, fire and Ambulance: For emergencies only.
Lifeline: A 24-hour crisis support service for suicide prevention and emotional support.
P: 13 11 14
Beyondblue: For information and support on depression and anxiety.
P: 1300 22 4636
Qlife: Support and counselling services or LGBTQIA+
P: 1800 184 527
Kids Helpline: Free 24 hour counselling services for ages between 5 and 25.
P: 1800 551 800
Poison Information Centre: A free phone service if you’re concerned about something you’ve swallowed. You can also call this line if you’ve been bitten by something you don’t recognise.
P: 131 126
Nurse on Call: A free phone service for after hours medical advice. This is perfect if you’re not sure if you should see a doctor.
P: 1800 022 222
State Emergency Services: For storm or flood related emergencies.
P: 132 500
Being away from family and our community can make you feel a little vulnerable. Be assured that you are never truly alone. There are great services that will protect your rights and support you if you do run into trouble.
If you think the teaching was poor quality or if a teacher or lecturer, or fellow student has made you feel uncomfortable it is within your rights to lodge a complaint.
If you are going to a high school and you want to make a complaint then you should first raise the issue with your school counsellor or principal. If you want to take it further you can then contact your local department of education and they will help you through the process.
If you are having trouble with a university or TAFE, contact your student union to review your case before you seek legal counsel. Most student unions have a legal service that is available to all students free of charge. This is perfect if you want to lodge a complaint and you need somebody to guide you through the process. Or, if you need help with a dispute with the university, for example, with respect to attendance or marks that may threaten your student visa. They can also give you pointers on how to strengthen your case. If you are worried about your grammar and syntax, they will gladly read over your claim.
While student unions are a great support network you may need the advice from a professional lawyer, if the Student Union does not provide a legal service.
AHWC also has some great resources for you to browse through. If you are considering studying in Australia and need help organising your student visa, contact AHWC on +613 9573 5200 for outside Australia and 1300 887 818 for inside Australia.