Exploring what defines the typical Australian university experience, and how this work-hard-play-hard lifestyle is different to the rest of the world.
Australia is a country that is admittedly oversaturated with media from its Western counterparts like the UK and the United States, and most of what is shown on TV about Western university life involved the sprawling, cult-ish, sorority-and-fraternity-dominated experience of studying in the USA, for example, or the high-tone, super-studious, super-wealthy, maybe even magical wizardry of student life at Oxford or Cambridge – or Hogwarts – in England. Studying at an Australian university, however, is completely unique, and a beast of its own. There’s no Greek Life, hazing is ridiculed on most campuses, and there are no wizards in sight (unfortunately). It may be that most of our movies and music and TV shows are imported, but student life here is true-blue and distinctly Aussie – and we wouldn’t have it any other way.
Quality of Life
The quality of life in Australia is comparable to none. 236 days of sunshine a year with gorgeous summers and barely-chilly winters, the beach is always right on your doorstep, and city life is abound with cultural hubs like museums, city markets, entertainment venues and festivals. There’s limitless opportunities for socialising, nightlife, cafes, shopping destinations, sporting facilities and of course, the outdoors, with incredible trails, hikes and reefs all over the country. From the iconic landmarks of Sydney, the arts and entertainment sprawl of Melbourne, the beaches and amusement parks of the Gold Coast, the small-town feel of Canberra, the food and wine of Adelaide, the incredible forests and landscapes of Perth…. Every Australian city has something for every kind of student.
Even campuses in smaller, rural or lesser-known towns like Bathurst or Wollongong have spectacular facilities, gorgeous sceneries, and are dedicated typically around the university, making up for lack of city life by turning an entire town into a university student’s playground.
Australian campuses can be gothic and reminiscent of a castle or museum, but are right next to a fast food joint, a surf shop, and overpopulated with bugs and unique Australian critters (look out for your campus possums!). It’s this combination between world-class education and top-tier rankings, right next to all the trademarks of bogan culture that truly defines the Australian student experience. Students here can have supreme quality of life while on a budget thanks to their chosen country of study – you can spend hours in pristine libraries powering through your studies, then put your books back in your backpack and head right to the beach on our uber-cheap public transport. There’s a certain degree of freedom to Australian university life, in that you can come in, do your class, and just go home after the hour and do whatever you please – it’s not what you’d expect of university, which sometimes feels all-encompassing and inescapable. Additionally, many universities provide housing options that would be fit for uber-elite professionals let alone students on a budget, and there are plenty of neighbourhoods around even notoriously expensive Sydney and Melbourne universities that can make living off-campus affordable and beyond comfortable.
A big part of an Australian university campus is the variety of student activities on offer. While we don’t have the fraternities or sororities you may be used to seeing in movies, there are plenty of far less exclusive clubs and societies you can join that are the cornerstone of Aussie student life. These clubs and societies throw almost weekly events like trivia, bar nights, study groups, parties – and considering how many clubs there are, this means there’s always something happening on campus. The bigger, older, Group of Eight universities – University of Western Australia, Monash University, Australian National University, University of Adelaide, University of Melbourne, UNSW Sydney, University of Queensland and University of Sydney – tend to have a bigger, richer campus life with more clubs and societies over the likes of technology universities or niche universities on city campuses – such as UTS, RMIT, QUT – but student life and socialisation is a dominant part of the Australian university experience you will find wherever you go.
The Aussies Themselves
Part of what makes studying in Australia so unique is the Australians themselves. The humour, the laidback personalities, the casual drinking and informalities… it could be the people that represent the biggest culture shock of all. You wouldn’t be hard-pressed to find people showing up to class in flip flops, or guys getting around campus on hot days without shirts on like they were on the beach. Australian’s are relaxed above all else, consider being “chill” the highest compliment, and treat just about everything with a playfulness and refusal to take things too seriously.
Australians also love to shorten words, and the slang may be a bit frustrating to understand at first. For example, McDonalds is ‘Maccas’, Afternoon is ‘arvo’, Barbeque is ‘barbie’ and so on. We call each other ‘mate,’ sometimes, which means friend. It can be a bit jarring at first, but as Australians are so friendly, I’m sure anyone you ask would love to break down our weird little version of the English language – besides, you’ll catch on quickly!
Australian students, however, definitely appreciate and take advantage of their state-of-the-art educational resources. It’s no secret that Australian universities are world-ranking and some of the best in the world, and Australian students, while definitely being laidback, definitely emulate the attitude of ‘work-hard-play-hard.’ There are plenty of late nights hitting the books and the workloads are massive – come finals week, the university bars will be deserted, there won’t be a soul on the local beach, and instead you’ll struggle to find a desk to study in the library because everyone will be there instead. But the second the last exam is done? You can bet all the Australians will be firing up the barbecues and singing some silly song.
Australia is also incredibly diverse and a total multicultural melting pot, and you may be surprised to find how many different shops, cinemas, festivals or cafes remind you of home. The most popular languages in Australia aside from English include Mandarin, Arabic, Cantonese, Vietnamese and Italian. The average Australian, while likely being relaxed and friendly and loving the beach, probably won’t be the blonde, tanned, Steve Irwin-type that you might be expecting. In fact, the average Australian is likely to be someone who celebrates and embraces diversity in all aspects of their identity, whether that be Race, gender, class, and sexual orientation… Australia is an increasingly more and more inclusive and diverse society, filled with all kinds of wonderful people from all over the world. And it’s the people that are going to truly define your Australian university experience.
All in all, there aren’t too many movies or TV shows about what it’s like to have the Australian University Experience, but maybe this will give you more of an idea about what to expect. It’s an experience unlike any other, defined by laidback attitudes, academic vigour and incredible quality of life. So don’t come here if you’re expecting hazing or weird secret societies or a homecoming dance – come if you’re looking for amazing landscapes, endless things to do, and some of the coolest people you’re likely to meet.