Finding your community as an international student

Wanting to make friends upon arrival, but not sure where to start? Don’t worry, we’ve got your sorted!

With expertise from the University of Newcastle’s International Engagement Manager, Lauren Miles, we discuss finding a connection to your roots and how to immerse yourself in the colourful culture of Newcastle, the University and beyond.

The main reason finding your community is such an important part of your life as an international student is to ward off social isolation. I cannot emphasise enough how important it is to find connection while abroad. Family is irreplaceable; however, true friendship will help you navigate and enjoy your time in Australia.

We international students find ourselves seeking a balance between comfort and immersion. On the one hand, it’s natural to seek familiarity amongst people from close to home. On the other, you probably also want to connect with this new, Australian culture.

Diving into your international community as well as the local Newcastle scene is a personal journey. I have found much satisfaction in different communities, depending on the situation.

Here are a few ways to connect with your fellow international students, the University of Newcastle community and the locals, which will help you make the most of your time here.

International Student Community

Social media should be one of your first ports of call when connecting to your international student community – there are plenty of societies, so find one that you relate the most to. I connected to my fellow Singaporean community even before arriving in Australia, which helped the transition. Seek out your squad under the ‘Cultural’ tab of the University’s ‘Find a club’ page.

Orientation is a great way to connect from your first day, where you can meet like-minded individuals and create strong friendships. Orientation also offers an International Welcome session for international students, where student clubs deliver local tips for living in Newcastle, giving you the chance to hear from students who were once in your shoes! Learn more at the University’s Global’s international orientation page.

Finally, get involved in a variety of international-related events offered by the University – from Cultural Awakenings to country-specific events, such as Newcastle China Week – to find the familiarity you desire.

Local Community

When asked how best to maximise your time here in Newcastle, Lauren Miles said to practise and get used to Australian culture. “Be open about sharing things about yourself. People want to know about you,” she says.

Still, connecting to the local community for the first time can be daunting. To begin with, there’s that distinct accent, as well as banter and Australian culture in general. That’s a lot to take in! But fear not, as there are many ways to connect.

Getting used to the culture begins the moment you arrive. Observe the chatter and mannerisms of the locals. Be open to the fact that they have experienced their entire life differently and as such have distinct traits of their own.

See how people interact on a day-to-day basis at the immigration counter, the grocery store and on the streets. Remember that one encounter is not enough to generalise the entire community. Each individual is unique, even if they all have that layer of Australian culture within them.

The best place to begin connecting is the University. Get involved in clubs and societies and bond over common interests from music, religion, sport and more! Find your niche on the University’s ‘Find a club’ page, then dive into the community surrounding it.

To get connected on a more professional platform, check out iLEAD Plus, a Uni Newcastle program that connects current students to professional alumni for career growth.

“I’d recommend iLEAD as I have had a lot of good feedback from International students,” Lauren says. “Going through it really increased their confidence.”

Finally, keep an eye out for events held around Newcastle to get involved beyond the University! A great start would be to have a look at the Newcastle City Council Website.

Final Thoughts

Within your first month here, you will experience a new culture and hopefully have found your feet in this foreign land. Don’t be afraid to put yourself ‘out there’ and make new friends in those first few months of studying at the University.

“There is always something we can learn from each other,” Lauren says. “Don’t underestimate what you are contributing to the [community].”

Start your learning journey in Australia with the right mindset and good things will follow!

“Newcastle is lucky to have you,” Lauren says. “Welcome to the community!”

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