Studying abroad – One step but a million stories to tell

There are currently 534. 189.000 international students who are enrolled in Australia as statistics of the department of education and training reveals. This is already a rise of 12 % compared to 2017. Sydney is one of the most popular cities to study abroad with up to 75,000 foreign students from 2017, as the Sydney Morning Herald has recently reported. The oversea university students in Sydney had a rise in 13, 784 students from 2005 till 2015.  Until 2017 Sydney again broke the record with a rise of more than 20.000 international enrolments.

(source: report Sydney Morning Herald)


The most of Sydney’s international students are studying at the University of Sydney, which doubled the number of its international students in just four years as one can see on the graphs below:

number of students at sydney’s universities (source: sydney morning herald report)

Adequate to the numbers, the University of Sydney also provides a lot of international student services around campus. The Student Representative Council (SRC) is one of them. ‘We help students in academic, but also in financial or legal matters. International students often have the same range of issues. We see a few more in relation to tenancies’, says James Campbell, caseworker and policy manager of the SRC. ‘We try to help the people by advising them what their rights are’. The SRC also has experience with international students who are facing loneliness. For Campbell, this is connected to isolation: ‘It is because they are new to the city, new to the uni, and if they are not making good social contacts, that effects their studies as well’. In cases like that, the caseworkers make suggestions and can forward the students to persons, groups and clubs who help them to socialise. ‘Basically, we help anybody who walks through the door and says “Hi, I have a problem”. Even if it is out of our range , we always try to help’.

But what is it like to study in Sydney as an international student? And why do students leave their home country to study at the University of Sydney?


A lot of students coming from abroad chose the university because of its high international ranking.  Also, a lot of students come to Sydney University to undertake a postgraduate degree after they did their first degree in their home country. Guanje Wang from Beijing is one of these students. He came to Sydney in 2017 to study a master-degree in ‘International relations’. Back home in China he did his Bachelor in Arabic and Islamic culture.

Guanje Wang, 25, studies ‘international relations’ in his master-degree at the USYD.

‘I wanted to change my major, so I decided to study international relations here and I know that the University of Sydney is one of the best universities in Australia. I was lucky that it is possible in

Sydney to study international relations without background, so this was a big chance for me’.

Guanje recognizes a few differences between the study methods in China and at the UYSD:  ‘At my home university the focus was to require a huge amount of knowledge and practice, together with the teachers in class. Here it is more about theories and research. I feel like my studies here depend more on myself rather than on just reading and citing books from others. I am more responsible for my work’.

Like for the most international students, English is not Guanje’s first language. ‘Of course, it is more stressful for me to study in Sydney than in China. I have to use my second language to finish my essays, reports and important assignments. It is absolutely a challenge’, he admits.

Vivian He, 23 years old, from Tianjin in China, is a postgraduate media student at the University of Sydney.


Vivian from Tianjin also struggled from studying in a non-native language when she started her postgraduate-degree in July 2017: ‘Before I came to Australia I was really anxious because you do not know what assessments you will face and because I never did academic writing in English before’. Also participating in class was not easy for Vivian at first: ‘I was afraid that other people could not understand what I say. But after being in class, I think you just have to be brave. You have to speak. This is always a good way to practice. I could gain a lot of courage from this, also from my failures’.

Studying in a foreign language is part of going abroad for every international student. Also learning for assignments and managing time is not always easy and often different to what foreign students are used to from home. ‘The most difficulty for me was getting used to the process of handling assessments here. In China, we have final exams and just need do study in the end of semester but here in Sydney we have to hand in assessments every week, so it is much busier. If I am honest, I can only relax after the semester ends’, Vivian says. But one method which really helps her to manage busy times in her studies is scheduling her time accurately: ‘I always write a detailed schedule of all my upcoming assignments in the beginning of the semester. I look at it every time and I try to start two weeks till one month earlier with the preparation for an assignment, depending how difficult it is’.

But all this is worth the effort for Vivian in the end. ‘I came to Sydney because I wanted to get to know another culture and to improve my English. One thing I really like about studying here is the atmosphere in class which I would describe as familiar and openminded. I think the teachers and students are really friendly. They can have a chat like friends. We do not have such a gap here. In China, many students are more afraid of talking to teachers’.

Yannik Weese, 22 years ol from Germany, is an exchange student and studies pioano education at the University of Sydney.

Yannik came as an exchange-student to Sydney and is studying piano education at the USYD. ‘I am in the 10th semester of my degree in Germany and it was my last opportunity to go away and study abroad. I chose Sydney because I am very interested in the country and nature’, he explains. As he has never been so far away from home for so long, Yannik was a bit nervous before he came to Australia.  Looking back now, he knows it was the right choice for him: ‘I could definitely grow during my time abroad. You learn how to handle stressful situations or that you need to be flexible about spontaneous changes in your plans’.

As the best experience of his exchange-semester, Yannik would name the great time he spent with his friends: ‘I have met so many lovely people I will miss very much when I go back. The experience of your semester abroad might not be about the country you go, but about the people you meet, I think’. One advice Yannik would give other international students is to participate in every event which can be found on campus, through the university or social media: ‘And when you go there, just be open and friendly and you will find so many friends that you cannot even keep track of them in the end’.

Maria Jose Zegarra, 22,  comes from Bolivia, South America. She already studied 2 years in Canada before she came to Sydney.

Maria has a wide experience of studying abroad. She comes from Bolivia, South America and started her bachelor-degree in humanities in Vancouver, Canada in 2016. In the beginning of 2018 she came to the University of Sydney to change her major and restart her bachelor-degree in architecture. ‘It was during my second year in Canada when I realized that I did not feel a 100% sure about graduating in social justice’, Maria remembers. As the girl has always fallen for design and architecture beside here interests in humanities, she decided to look for other options. She tried summer courses in architecture at her University. ‘This helped me to realize that I really want to work with design’, she explains. So, Maria decided to change her major and move to another country, again, after having already studied two years in Canada. She admits: ‘This decision was the hardest thing for me during my studies abroad. Most of the people look at you like you are going crazy when you tell them you break up your studies and change it. But sometimes you have to trust your feelings and believe in yourself, because in the end you have to finish with a degree you are 100 % sure you like’.

From February on, Maria has settled down in Sydney very easily and loves her new home and university: ‘The people here are really welcoming to international students. I would recommend to study abroad to everyone because you are able to grow as a person. That’s something I really like about studying abroad. Because when you are at home, everything is comfortable and familiar to you, you don’t have to worry that much. But here you have to do it yourself – If not, who is going to do it, right?’.




About Nina Wuttke 4 Articles
My name is Nina Wuttke, I am 23 years old and I come from Germany. I am an exchange-student at the University of Sydney and I will stay here for one semester. I am studying "Media Culture" at the USYD and I am really enyoing my units of study. What I like the most about my studies here is that they are far more practical than my studies in Germany. I can learn a lot about journalism and have the chance to improve my technical,-and my creative writing skills in my units.

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