Foreign Perspective: University Life in Australia

If you’ve ever studied abroad, then you know what it’s like to be submerged in an entirely foreign culture. But have you ever wondered what it’s like on the flip side of the experience – what it’s like for someone going abroad to America? Join columnists Amy Chilcott, of Australia, and Kasumi Hirokawa, of China, as they encounter all things American and Penn State – and tell it as they see it the way only one with a foreign perspective can.

3When I tell people that I’m from Australia I often get the reply, “Oh! I want to do study abroad there!”

Australian university life is incredibly different from here at Penn State. If you’re thinking about having a relaxing semester studying abroad in Australia, then you might want to take some of these things into consideration.


University in Australia is 99% academics. Exams are often 50-60% of your grade, and it’s harder to get points for participation. In many courses, you have lectures and tutorials. You don’t get points for attending lectures, so most people watch theirs online. Tutorials usually consist of 25 people, and you get points if you participate (so you can’t just turn up and sit there). Group projects and essays are sometimes worth 40-50% which can be stressful.

Campus Life

Campus life barely exists. There aren’t sororities or frats. There are a few clubs, but they don’t really do much. Some larger societies like the Arts or Science Students Societies have weekly barbeques, but that’s about it. There’s beer and other alcoholic beverages at these barbeques because our drinking age is 18. Since there’s nothing to do at university, most students just come in for their classes and then go home.

Living at university

Most students in Australia don’t live in dorms. In fact, it’s quite unusual for people to move away from home to go to university. Most of the people from my school are still at home, attending the local university. Around 2,400 people live at residential colleges at The University of Melbourne, out of its 38,000 students. The students who need to move to go to university usually live in apartments or houses close by.

This all sounds negative, but there are some upsides. Spending minimal hours at university allows you to spend more time with friends outside of university. You could also spend that extra time exploring the city you’re in, or participating in some typically Aussie activities like watching an AFL (Australian Rules Football) game or surfing. On top of that, the 50% essays mean that you don’t need to do quizzes and exams all the time – it’s easy to forget to do a quiz worth ten points, but not so easy to forget an essay worth half your grade. Different people prefer different things – maybe Australian university life is for you, maybe it isn’t, but you’ll never know unless you try it.

Photos courtesy of Amy Chilcott

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