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Being the Outsider reflects on the isolation and disconnection that many experience when they move into a new culture. Students participating in this project share the challenges of assimilation and the cultural shocks they’ve encountered during their course of study in Perth.

Arun Baby George is pursuing his Master’s in Creative Practice majoring in Screen Arts from Curtin University. Arun enjoys watching NBA games and playing badminton. He aspires to work in the film and design industry in the near future.

I met Arun during an international orientation session organised by the Department of Humanities at Curtin University in 2018. Over the past two years, Arun and I have shared multiple units together and have been mutually helping each other out in group activities and discussions. His timely observations and inputs have played a vital role in helping me to improve my performance in many subjects. In this interview, he talks about the initial struggles and difficulties he faced while assimilating into a new culture.


Can you begin by explaining how you assimilated into a new culture?

I started out by collecting information about Australia, and the city of Perth, primarily through YouTube, various articles and blogs, and social media platforms like Instagram and Facebook. I wanted to know more about the general etiquettes of the culture, its history and other general facts about the place. I also took the help of my uncle and aunt who live here.

What were the stark culture shocks you encountered whilst settling into Australia?

Even though I was pretty familiar with the accent, certain unique usages of words such as ‘arvo’ instead of ‘afternoon’; ‘sunnies’ for sunglasses; greetings like ‘How you going’ and so on, was definitely something I did not know existed. It took a while for me to get used to these terms/phrases. Also, the education system in general was a major change for me. The freedom of choice for the units meant I would be studying with different groups of people for each of them. While I knew this system existed, the experience was interesting to say the least.

What role has the university played in assisting you in this assimilation process?

The orientation week before uni started was pretty helpful with the assimilation process. There were separate sessions for international students during the week and they were helpful in laying out necessary information. These sessions also helped in meeting fellow students who were going through similar things that I was going through. Apart from these, I don’t believe the uni has made any conscious efforts with the adjustment process.

I believe studying abroad can give you experiences you normally wouldn’t get in your own country. However, the most important factor to be considered is the financial viability as the experience can be an expensive one. Studying in Perth has broadened my worldview and the understanding of Australian culture and its people.

A photograph of Arun sitting beside a bed of tulips and smiling at the camera.

How far did this cultural shift take a toll on your mental health?

My ethnicity and the manner I speak are factors which makes me stand out.

In group interactions at uni and elsewhere, there have been numerous situations where I’ve struggled to blend into the crowd by finding common interests and topics to discuss, without much efforts from people who’ve been a part of Australian culture for a long time. These incidents have affected my confidence to an extent.

How did you cope with homesickness?

I have been away from home before, but living in a different cultural atmosphere is something else. The first semester of the course was definitely the hardest because of the daunting process of blending in with the culture without much of a support system or social life. However, my relatives being around definitely helped the situation. I made sure I called my friends and family once in a while and kept in touch with the current affairs of my home city and country.

How did you develop your own community after moving here?

I was able to impart practical knowledge on how to live in the country; primarily the do’s and don’ts to people in my community who wanted to study in Australia.

What hardships did you face in establishing communication with your peers?

While there was not much of a language barrier, the fact that I could not bond well due to lesser common factors and topics to talk about made it difficult to establish communication with my peers. The low confidence that cultivated did not help the situation. This issue is slowly fading away.

How has COVID-19 impacted your living/studying situation?

I was not somebody who liked studying at one location for longer periods of time. COVID-19 has indeed affected the time efficiency in terms of the work I do. My financial and living situations weren’t much of an issue because I live with my uncle. The university has taken measures to help the students to cope with the situation and granting deadline extensions for assessments whenever the students needed them.

However, the hardships of the international students, who pay at least three times the fee domestic residents pay for their university tuition, is evident enough to prove that the government simply wants monetary benefits from us, and neglect to see the larger picture of the humanitarian crisis.

What does your future in Australia look like?

Yes, I intend to gain experience in my chosen field simply because the working experience at organisations or companies here is unique and different compared from companies back home, in terms of the way they function. I believe a lot can be learned from this experience. The university has been helpful in shaping my resume and guiding me into the right path. I intend to seek more help in this aspect.

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