International education is Australia’s fourth largest export industry, with the majority of international students studying in the Higher Education, and Vocational Education and Training (VET) sectors. Whilst international education is a money making business, it is also a social, as well as educational, experience, with the potential to increase Australia’s cultural competence.
But what is cultural competence?
Cultural competence is about being respectful and open towards different cultural perspectives. It is about our actions towards people of different ethnicity, religions and cultures and how we build understanding of each other’s expectations and attitudes, subsequently strengthening each other’s knowledge, building a more cohesive, respectful community.
Photo Credit: Beth Cullor
In Australia the potential of international education is undermined by the parochial stereotype that international students are weak and or stupid, especially if they do not or cannot speak English well, but this simply is not true and this attitude needs to change. Whilst coming to a foreign country is an enriching experience, the experience can be riddled with uncertainty, and the disorientation of trying to negotiate their way around an unfamiliar culture with different social expectations, especially if you are still learning the dialect of the country. Because of this, international students are eventually formed into expert cultural negotiators, with high levels of motivation and determination.
Most international students want more interaction with the local students, but most local students are not interested, have their own close-knit peer group, not enough time or have prejudices stopping them from doing so. But these attitudes also need to change for the benefit of both local and international students, to enrich their knowledge of the world. This is a huge loss of cultural enrichment for the local students if they do not socialise with international students.
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Learning about different cultures, values, beliefs and etiquette and applying them where appropriate gives one the ability to become culturally competent and prepares students for life outside of study, as well as giving them a distinct advantage over other job applicants when it comes to hiring.
They say variety is the spice of life, so be encouraged to make friends with international students and diversify your peer group, or even better: become an international student yourself.