Living in a foreign country can be challenging.

You leave your country, home, family and friends to start over in a totally new environment. This is a journey starting from the very first time you set foot on the new land. It’s a journey full of excitements, but at the same time fears and challenges.

First comes the struggles to settle. Then comes the culture shock and, finally, the adaptation to your new environment.

My arrival in Australia was very much like this.

I first came here to accompany my partner who was about to start a PhD here in Melbourne. Like many other international students, we came with heavy suitcases, hopes and fears. We did not know much about Australia or our new home city.

Sareh welcoming newly arrived international students at GSA’s Warm Winter Welcome 2017.

The first few weeks of our stay in Melbourne were times full of excitements, but at the same time unknowns and uncertainties. We were so excited about starting a new life in such a beautiful city, but our joy could easily be affected by the struggle to overcome the unknowns.  We would easily get lost in streets, or search for a place or a person for hours.

We eventually discovered resources to help us overcome our difficulties, but I wish I had known about a lot of them sooner.

A year later, when I started my studies at the University of Melbourne, I experienced new challenges.

I found it quite hard to interact and communicate with people from different backgrounds. At first, I used to observe and try to be careful when talking to people. Most of the time I preferred to stay silent because I was afraid of making mistakes, or I simply preferred to talk to someone of the same nationality as mine. I knew that this type of communication is not natural, and this is not how the societies are supposed to be. Later, I could overcome my fears and found friends from many different backgrounds.

There are some facts that I wish I knew before coming to Australia. I know that most of us gain this knowledge by experience, but maybe new students can benefit from a few tips from a more experienced international student.

Sareh at GSA’s 2017 Art Prize.

Here’s what I wish I knew when I got started.

The University supports you

Our university provides various services to help with international students’ adaptation to their new environment. You don’t have to do everything on your own. There are services provided for you to make this process easier. Click here to find out more.

Start a conversation!

When we first arrived in Melbourne, our plan was to spend the first few nights in a hotel before we could find a place to rent. Soon enough we realised that the process of settling is much more complicated than we thought.

I remember sitting in the lobby of one of the buildings in University waiting for my partner. I was feeling lonely and scared. I knew that we could not stay in a hotel forever, and all our efforts to find a place of our own had failed.

At that moment I realised there was a girl sitting next to me. I decided to talk to her. I asked her a few questions and told her about myself. This conversation went surprisingly well.

She told us about a place where we could find accommodation. We rented an apartment the very same day! That was when I realised a very interesting fact: sometimes starting a simple conversation can go a long way!

International students make friends at a GSA speed friending event.

Embrace the differences

I had heard about the multiculturalism, but I only could realise the meaning of this word here in Melbourne. Here, it is valuable to be different because we learn from each other’s differences. In my personal experience, my life was never the same after I started discovering the new perspectives, cultures and opinions.

I was surprised by how amazingly different cultures, beliefs and backgrounds can co-exist as long as there is respect for differences. We learn from each other and that adds value to us as individuals and to our society.

It is absolutely good to have some friends of your own nationality. However, if you want to experience something amazing, be friends with someone of different background. You will find it extremely rewarding. Every single individual has a story to tell. Don’t be afraid to share your story. People will love it!

Be a member of GSA and Grad Groups

GSA provides representation as well as services and facilities to support graduate students. GSA’s regular social events are good opportunities to meet other students and develop new friendships.

Also, there are many active Grad Groups here, running different types of activities. Joining these groups or their events can help you meet diverse groups of people, improve your communication skills while having fun.

Through the active Grad groups, you also can find out about different activities and events in the University. If you are passionate about a specific activity, you can start your own graduate group find out more.

Sareh and other international students at a GSA mixer.

Being an international student is an amazing experience. If you embrace this opportunity, at the end of the day, everything you’ve encountered will form an incredibly positive experience of learning and growing.  International students arrive with a luggage full of hopes and fears and return full of knowledge, experience and satisfaction.