The following information is compiled by a working group that exists within CGIS. Everything that has been created or curated was done so to encourage all travelers to consider their various identities as they pursue an international experience, but the research shouldn't end here. We do recognize that many of our quotes or examples have negative experiences or observations embedded within, even in the reflections that are mostly positive. We are acutely aware of how these comments can and have affected the perceptions and realities of other nations and wish to exercise caution and balance in providing an outlet for the perspectives and narratives of students and faculty. We are always available to discuss some of the narratives and examples discussed here with students or concerns they have during their pre-departure and on-site experience, and we encourage you to email CGIS should you have any questions, concerns, or would like an opportunity to contribute to the conversation.
“When staying in a hostel [in Australia], I met people from Europe who asked me many harshly-worded questions about Donald Trump, about obesity, and many mean stereotypes that the world associates with the US.” — CGIS Alumnx
American students often think that there will be avery little culture shock in Australia or New Zealand because of the lack of a language barrier. However, this is not necessarily the case. Australians do still have aspects of culture that can be an adjustment for American students. One major one is the “work-life” balance. While American students are often used to the hustle and bustle of work and school activities here in the U.S., the pace in this region is much more relaxed and less frenetic (Daily Mail Australia. 2020). Consumerism is not as prolific, so there is not the proliferation of “24-hour stores” or “one-stop shops” with many different options to choose from. This will affect how students purchase groceries, utilize the pharmacy, and a host of other activities.
There are many small details that differentiate student leisure life from what a student might expect in the U.S. Starbucks, a major cultural force in the U.S. is seen as inferior coffee in Australia, and as a result, there are not many Starbucks locations (Simkin, n.d.). There are many different cafes to choose from though, as Australia is seen as one of the coffee hubs of the world, especially Melbourne (Simkin, n.d.). Free wi-fi, which is almost omnipresent in the U.S. is much more rare in Australia (Simkin, n.d.). Tipping is not a common practice, and can actually be seen as disrespectful by some. Separating bills into“separate checks” is also uncommon (Simkin, n.d.). (Stevens, 2020) Uses of the words “sir” and ma'am” are seen as condescending. In general, the constant positive reinforcement loop of compliments that Americans are used to does not exist in Australia and New Zealand (Stevens, 2020). Compliments are not freely given, and it’s actually more common to be playfully insulted than complimented.
In terms of politics, Australia and New Zealand are generally more to the left than the U.S is as a whole. Students who identify as conservative may feel a bit more uncomfortable than students who identify as liberal, but as anywhere, there is much variety in the political spectrum, so this may not be the case depending on where students are located (Stevens, 2020)
“My time in Australia still ranks highly as an important period of my life. I established that independent long-distance travel for an extended time is well within my grasp and my disability is more of an inconvenience than a barricade in most instances. However, in the absence of barricades, I sometimes found hurdles over which I had to jump, as my disability was often treated as an unfamiliar entity. I was fortunate to study in a city that consistently receives exceptional marks for livability with all of its resources and conveniences. But in a different setting, I could have had a far tougher time.” — Kevin Cosgrove, DePaul University student
Australia has two major legislative pieces that govern disability around education. The Disability and Discrimination Act (1992) criminalized any discrimination towards disabled persons. The Disability Standards for Education Act (2005) – ensures that higher education providers meet specific standards in providing equitable educational opportunities for disabled students (Commonwealth Consolidated Acts, n.d). This law, and the standards it upholds, are reviewed every 5 years.
New Zealand utilizes a social model of disability. This perspective makes a distinction between impairments and disability. Impairments are particular characteristics of an individual, while disability is the marginalized experience of being excluded from participating in society (Briefing Papers, 2015) . New Zealand has looked to take a prominent role in advocating for disabled persons and actively participated in the signing and ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Disabled Persons (Briefing Papers, 2015). New Zealand also has an Office for Disability Issues, established in 2002, and has passed the New Zealand Sign Language Act in 2006, which made NZSL an official language (New Zealand Office for Disability Issues, 2016). NZSL is used by approximately 20,000 New Zealanders, with about 20% of those using it as their first or preferred language (New Zealand Office for Disability Issues. 2016),
Students studying at a university in Australia or New Zealand should feel comfortable that almost all of them have an extensive and growing infrastructure around accessibility and free movement (New Zealand Office for Disability Issues. 2019). Almost all universities also have some kind of Disability Support Services office integrated into their campus or at the bare minimum a Disability Adviser. It is highly recommended that students register with their University's office within the first week of arriving, so as to allow that office to put the necessary support services in place.
“Discrimination does not seem to be an issue here in Australia or in New Zealand due to the respect for women in both of these cultures. I have not faced gender discrimination in Australia. I do have helpful resources at my disposal, if needed, such as the student counseling center and a number of student groups, including Gender Equality, LBGTIQ, Parental Leave, Gender Pay Equality, In Your Hands, etc.” — Ally Bishop, IFSA-Butler student
“In my experience so far, Griffith University is one of the safest campuses to study abroad for a female student. Australians are super friendly, nice, safe people. Violence and crime in Australia is among the lowest in the world. Coming from [a city] where crime is very high, it is very different living on the Griffith University campus. For example, when I first got here I always carried my purse super close to me and would always check to see if somebody was following me at night. But after the first month of getting used to the Australian lifestyle, I realized that nobody is out to get you … The precautions I take abroad are also very similar to back at home. For example, I never travel alone and don’t trust everyone I meet right off the bat. Being a female, these precautions can apply anywhere in the world.” — Ally Bishop, IFSA-Butler student
Australia does not exhibit many of the blatantly obvious forms of patriarchy found in other parts of the world. However, there is certainly structural and systemic gender inequality embedded within it. Australia has fallen from as high as 15th in the early 2000s, to 44th on the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index (Coggan, 2020). Here are a few statistics that highlight this reality:
1 in 3 women in Australia has experienced violence since the age of 15.
1 in 3 women has been sexually harassed since the age of 15.
Women are more likely to live below the poverty line.
On average, women retire with approximately half the level of retirement savings of men.
Women spend twice as much time on unpaid work as men.
Women make up 32% of all Federal Parliamentarians.
Women account for just 21% of sources directly quoted in news articles.
Feminist movements are critical drivers of social transformation for equality.
These gendered inequalities are also evident in housing. Women are much more vulnerable to housing stress and homelessness, and domestic and family violence also negatively affect women’s experiences with housing. (Equality Rights Alliance, 2020). Here are other stats that highlight the housing stress that women in Australia face:
Women make up 52% of people in rental stress (paying more than 30% of their income on rent).
38 % of people approaching Specialist Homelessness Services do so as a result of domestic and family violence. And 92% of this group are women and children.
56% of women reported experiencing discrimination in the rental market (compared with 42% of men).
This gendered inequality intersects with other marginalized identities as well. Women with disabilities are discriminated against in the private rental market. Aboriginal women are 2.2 times more likely than non-Aboriginal women to be homeless at some point in their life. Overall disabled women, low-income women, and women of color face even more inequity than their white counterparts do.
In New Zealand, much the same is true. While New Zealand is doing well compared to many other nations (7th among 149 countries ranked in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report; 11th out of 129 countries in The 2019 Equal Measures 2030 SDG Gender Index ), there is still much work to be done. Women in New Zealand suffer from a serious assault at a rate 3 times higher than men (Borrowdale, 2018) According to a 2016 survey, while 77% of men felt comfortable walking alone in their neighborhood after dark, only 44 % of women felt the same (Borrowdale, 2018). The gender gap for pay inequity is about 9 % (Borrowdale, 2018). New Zealand recently passed the Equal Pay Amendment bill that strives to ensure that gender is not a determining factor in pay discrepancy. It actually goes past ensuring that women are paid the same for the same work (that has been a law in New Zealand since 1972). It actually focuses on ensuring that historically underpaid, female-dominated industries received similar pay as men in different but equal-value work. (Sanchez, 2020)
Pay inequity is also an issue in Australia. The national gender pay gap has been stuck between 15 and 19% for the last two decades and on average, women take home $251.20 less per week than men (Australian Human Rights Commission, n.d.). Australian women have to work an extra 56 days a year to mitigate this pay gap (Australian Human Rights Commission, n.d.). The Australian workforce is highly segregated by gender, with the industries with predominantly more women being historically undervalued and overworked. Australian women are highly concentrated in fields like aged care, child care, and health and community services. They are underrepresented in leadership roles in the public and private sector (Australian Human Rights Commission, n.d.).
Many of these things do not specifically apply to students studying in Australia or New Zealand, however, this will hopefully provide students with more insight and provide a foundation for observation when in-country. Many of the issues highlighted here are also problems in the U.S., and seeing how another country deals with these issues may add depth to a student’s experience abroad.
“I would have to say all around Australia isn't very diverse or queer. Both of those identities are central to my own, and It was challenging at some points to fit in and feel included in the community when there wasn't a lot of community. All around I had a great and inclusive experience.” — CGIS Alumnx
“Melbourne is a very LGBT-inclusive city, so prospective LGBT applicants to this program should be secure in knowing that they will feel safe and welcomed in Melbourne.” — CGIS Alumnx
As evidenced by the student responses above, the LGBT student experience in Oceania may vary based on the location in the region, but also may vary based on students’ expectation level. The legality and acceptance of homosexuality is fairly common in Australia and New Zealand, with the caveat being that urban regions, as expected, are more progressive than rural regions (Equaldex, n.d). Marriage equality was passed in 2017, which while a bit late compared to many of their peers across the world, did make some history by joining Ireland as the second nation to approve it via public vote (61%). (Smith, 2017). The Australian Human Rights Commission estimates that 11% of Australians have a diverse sexual or gender identity, or sexual orientation, which accounts for approximately 2.5 million Australians. Neighborhoods like Darlinghurst and Newtown in Sydney, St Kilda and Brunswick in Melbourne, and New Farm and Fortitude Valley in Brisbane are strong LGBTQ+ neighborhoods where you might be able to find community and LGBTQ+ events to support (Smith, 2017).
There are also massive LGBTQI+ events like the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras (February), the Melbourne’s Midsummar Festival (January), Brisbane Pride (September), PrideFest in Perth (October), and Adelaide’s Feast Festival (November), plus other smaller events around the country (Smith, 2017).
There is also a vibrant LGBTI media, most notably, the 40-year-old Star Observer, a monthly magazine and online newspaper. Brisbane’s Q Magazine — which is Australia’s only free monthly LGBTI magazine, as well as Melbourne-based Joy 94.9, the country’s first and only gay and lesbian radio station, are also available (Smith, 2017).
Students studying in Australia should be sure to do research on the different resources, neighborhoods, and communities they will be in during their time abroad. As mentioned earlier, while in more urban cities like Sydney, Melbourne, and Brisbane, your experience should be comparable to many of the major cities here in the US, and you should be able to freely display and live in your identity. It is recommended that students exercise caution and use good judgment in more rural areas or communities in order to best be safe.
“Coming into a foreign land where you don’t know many people, all the new faces and new areas put on extra stress on students [as well as] the anxiety of being a new person in the crowd or in the class, not very confident with the language and talking.” — Anonymous visiting student to Australia, ORYGEN June 2020 report
Students studying in a new country are at an increased risk of experiencing mental illnesses, most notably anxiety. Common triggers are social and cultural isolation from being in a new country, financial stress from funding your experience, adjusting to new academic expectations, as well as pressure to perform well academically. Compounding matters is that even once these triggers are identified, it can be difficult for students to get treatment and help. At times there is a stigma associated with mental health in that country as well as cost barriers or a lack of places to get services. These particular concerns about stigma are not so relevant in Australia and New Zealand, but potentially in the smaller islands of Oceania. What may in fact be a bigger issue is not having enough time or knowing exactly where to go to get the help needed. (Orygen, n.d)
Mental health in Australia is funded by a complex network of public and private systems. State and local governments, individuals, and private insurers all share the costs in different ways (Cook, 2019). Students obtaining a visa to study in Australia will have to get an Overseas Health Cover, which will fully ensure students, and cover mental health care.
According to a 2007 survey conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing (NSMHWB), 45% of Australians had experienced a mental disorder in their lifetime, with 20% experiencing a mental disorder in the previous year. (Cook, 2019). The most recent iteration of that survey (2018) estimated there were 4.8 million Australians (20.1 %) with a mental or behavioral condition.
In New Zealand, the situation has been a bit bleaker in terms of mental health. New Zealand has one of the highest rates of suicide in the world. (Roy, 2018) According to a 10 month, nationwide inquiry of mental health professionals conducted in 2018, 50-80% of New Zealanders experience mental distress or addiction challenges during their lifetime. Also in the report, was the revelation that each year, 20% of the population experiences mental illness or significant mental distress. (Roy, 2018). While they have robust services for patients in the most serious or critical need, their services for those “in the middle”, which is non-critical but still, life-altering mental illness, are limited. (Roy, 2018). The country has been working to diligently improve in these areas since the 2018 report that uncovered much of this and remains a work in progress.
It’s extremely important that students spend time at orientation to understand the support services their provider or University offers for mental health. Australia and New Zealand both offer systems that students have reasonable access to via their visas. However, students may want to familiarize themselves with resources and support services available before they are in crisis.
Religion & Spirituality
Overall, Australia is moderately religious and spiritual, but there is a strong secular undercurrent with a high degree of religious freedom and religious diversity (Cultural Atlas, n.d.). Generally, Australians tend to avoid overt displays of religion or even anti-religion. It’s a culture of religious tolerance and religious pluralism, but there is much separation between public religious identity and national identity (Cultural Atlas, n.d.). In fact, according to the 2016 census, the fastest-growing religious affiliation in the country is no religion, with 30.6 % of the population as of now (Cultural Atlas, n.d.). According to the Australia Talks National Survey, 66% of respondents believe Australia would not be better off if people were more religious, and 60% of respondents said religious Australians should keep their beliefs to themselves (Clark, 2019).
The 2016 census reported that there are 100 different religious affiliations in Australia. The main religions in Australia are Christianity (52.1%), Islam (2.6%), Buddhism (2.4%), Hinduism (1.9%), Sikhism (0.5%) and Judaism (0.4%) and the traditional religions of the First Australians. First Australians have a wide range of traditions and spiritual beliefs that vary across different regions. Many of these traditions involve ancestors, and a connection to the land. Christianity first came to Australia in 1788 with the arrival of the “First Fleet.” Australia was used as a penal colony around that time and both those who developed the system, and those who were transported by it came from either a Christian background or the secular Enlightenment background (Bouma, 2011). According to a recent 2018 Australian Community Survey, 20% of Australians were frequent attenders at religious services
(Pepper, 2018). 90% of Australia’s Jewish population resides in Melbourne and Sydney (Cultural Atlas, n.d.)
Students of Color
“We have a high level of low-level racism, but a low level of high-level racism. You can find plenty of Australians who have a grudge against some specific group or other. My father – a Hungarian refugee after World War II – always thought that the aborigines should go back to where they came from. You will find very, very few who demand that certain ethnicities sit in the back of the bus, or that they have separate schools, or clubs, or pubs. But you can always find truly offensive individual racists, I regret to say.” — Garry of archsoc.com
One thing for students to know about is that in Australia, the concept of race has a different construction than what many are used to in the U.S. Like many other places in the world, the concept of background or ethnicity tends to be much more salient than race. While racism and bigotry do occur, they tend to be more focused on ethnicity than skin-color related. The scope of racism also tends to differ from how it occurs in the US, at least in regards to immigrants. As the blogger above states, while racism tends to be more frequent, it also tends to be more localized and grudge-based, at least in relation to immigrants. Where many of the similarities to its Western cousins arrive is in its systemic persecution of “First Australians” (Stevens, 2020).
Australia’s history with race stems all the way back to its creation in 1901 as essentially a “Britain that had accidentally found itself on to the other side of the world” (Stevens, 2020). This is in reference to the massive migration of immigrants from the Uk to Australia in the 18th and 19th centuries. Australia essentially took the mantle from the U.S as the dumping ground for many British individuals found guilty of penal code violations (Stevens, 2020). Up until the late 1940s, Australia maintained the White Australia Policy. This policy restricted immigration into Australia initially to only the British, and then eventually over time to other Europeans, but no one else. There was also a decidedly anti-Asian sentiment in the country that peaked during WWII when Australia warred extensively with Japan. Luckily, much of this sentiment is out of the public discourse. However, students should be wary of these long-standing ill intentions that may be harbored by some members of the citizenry.
In terms of multiculturalism, Australia has the typical profile of many Western-Style nations: supportive of diversity in principle, but not as much in practice. In 1975, the Racial Discrimination Act was passed, making discrimination in different parts of public life illegal. This was extended in 1995 to make public acts of racial hatred also against the law (Australia Human Rights Commission. n.d). The Challenging Racism Project conducted a survey that found that 80% of respondents felt positive about cultural diversity (Jeyaratnam, 2018). However, in that same report:
Only 53 % of respondents supported a non-discriminatory immigration policy
Almost 50% of Australians thought that overseas arrivals should assimilate into Australian culture.
32% of respondents have negative feelings towards Muslim Australians and 22% said they have negative feelings towards Australians of Middle-Eastern heritage
The biggest issue though is the treatment of First Australians. Life expectancy is 10 years lower, unemployment is higher and students fare worse academically from this group. First Australian persons are also overrepresented in the Australian prison system as well. (Jeyaratnam, 2018)
Helpful tips for interacting and communicating with First Australians -
The terms ‘First Australians’ and ‘Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ (note the plural) include distinct and diverse cultural groups. These terms do not represent a homogenous group.
Aboriginals, Aborigine — these words are associated with colonization and assimilation and are distressing to many people
ATSI — never use the acronym ATSI as this is considered disrespectful
Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians
While it is Australian Government practice to refer to Indigenous Australians, this is not preferred by many First Australians.
Indigenous is the common term when referring to a business entity or business function.
Indigenous should always be capitalized.
Example of using Indigenous with care:
Indigenous Specialist Officer
Indigenous Services Branch
New Zealand also has issues with marginalized populations as well as original populations. Many people of color deal with systemic issues involving criminal justice and opportunities as evidenced in Australia and the rest of the “Western” world. (Collins, 2016) (Callister, 2018) New Zealand’s tumultuous relationship with the Maori peoples is similar to the issues Australia has gone through with First Australians. (Greaves, 2018) Overall Australia and New Zealand do have a complex relationship with race, and many citizens of color do bear the brunt of the country’s colonial history. Ironically, many students and modern immigrants of color, many sharing a similar ethnicity to the marginalized citizens, report feeling a bit more opportunity in Australia than they do from their home country (Barnette, 2018). And yet still there are those who feel targeted systemically. Students of color will experience many similarities to their experience here in America, where there is a public cry for diversity in most places, but there is a need to be careful, as racism is still pervasive.