As an international student, one of the most exciting things about studying abroad is experiencing life in a new country. While making a big move overseas is a lot of fun, it can also be overwhelming, leading you to experience what is known as culture shock.

While these feelings are completely normal, it’s important to understand them and get familiar with the support available to you. Here’s what you need to know about culture shock and how you can conquer it.

What is culture shock?

Culture shock refers to the sense of disorientation that one may experience when being exposed to an unfamiliar culture, way of life or set of attitudes.

Although culture shock is often associated with negative feelings, such as frustration and disorientation, it can also be a positive experience. The feeling of encountering new things in a foreign country is often enlightening and exhilarating.

However, you can mitigate the severity of culture shock by knowing what to expect when you arrive in Australia and adopting coping certain strategies.

Understanding cultural differences and how to manage them

There are certain areas in which you’ll notice cultural variations, which can lead to feelings of culture shock. Below, we outline these differences and how you can handle them.


Australians have a relaxed and friendly approach to life, often using humour and sarcasm in conversations to connect with others. They also tend to value personal space and privacy.

Adapting to these customs may take time, but newcomers can integrate into the local community and build relationships by respecting personal space, greeting others with a smile and a friendly tone, and focusing on appropriate topics of conversation.

Appropriate topics could include your course, things you find interesting about Australia or even the weather. When you’re first getting to know someone, you’ll want to avoid sensitive or highly personal topics, such as political affiliation, sexual orientation, and income.


Although English is the official language, Australians have their unique slang and pronunciation, which may be challenging for non-native English speakers to understand. Additionally, different regions in Australia may have distinctive accents and colloquialisms.

Some examples of Australian slang include:

  • Arvo - Afternoon
  • G'day - Hello
  • Mate - Friend or acquaintance

When you first arrive you may find it challenging to communicate, especially in informal settings. If you’re ever unsure of what a word or phrase means, don’t hesitate to ask. In doing so, you’ll not only gain a better understanding of Australian slang but of Australia’s overall culture. With time and guidance, you will become more familiar with Australian English and its nuances.


If you’re planning to work while you study, it’s important to understand that Australian workplace culture may differ quite significantly from that of your home country.

Australians often avoid formalities and strict hierarchical systems. For instance, it’s very common to address superiors by their first name rather than a more formal term like sir or madam.

There is also a significant focus on work-life balance in Australia. Staff are generally encouraged to work only within their assigned hours and to relax during their time off.

To better understand Australian workplace culture - including what is and isn’t acceptable - consult our employment resources or the Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) website.

Coffee and food

Australian cuisine is diverse, influenced by its history and multiculturalism. Some iconic dishes include meat pies, sausage rolls, and fish and chips.

Brunch (the combination of breakfast and lunch) is a popular weekend activity, often enjoyed with friends and family in cafes. It's a chance to indulge in delicious food, catch up with loved ones, and take a break from the usual routine.

The coffee culture in Australia is also extremely vibrant, so if you’re a coffee lover, you’re in for a treat. Alternatively, you can try a range of other delicious beverages such as hot chocolate, chai, matcha, tea or juice.

While it’s a great idea to test out Australian food and drinks during your stay, a taste of home is never far. Melbourne is home to an extremely multicultural dining scene as well as numerous international supermarkets. At these restaurants, cafes and shops, you may be able to find dishes, ingredients and food items from your home country. Oftentimes, small comforts like these can help you manage the feelings of unfamiliarity that come with culture shock.


Sports are a big deal in Australia. Australians are passionate about their teams - particularly in Australian Rules Football (AFL), rugby and cricket - which means attending a live event can be a raucous experience. For newcomers, the intensity of the fandom may come as a bit of a shock.

However, sports are also a great way to connect with others and immerse yourself in the local culture. Whether you watch a game at your local pub or attend a live event, it’s worth embracing Australian sports culture with an open mind and a willingness to learn.

If playing sports interests you, consider joining a local sporting club, team or gym. This is another excellent strategy for familiarising yourself with Australian sports culture and meeting new people.

What to do if you’re struggling with culture shock

If you’re having trouble adjusting to life in Australia, get in touch with your education provider as it can provide support and resources to assist you.

It’s also worth exploring community groups as a means of connecting with people from your culture. You can typically find these groups through your education provider or via the Victorian Multicultural Commission.

We also recommend immersing yourself in your international study experience and meeting new people at Study Melbourne events. For extra support, visit the Study Melbourne Hub or check out the Wellbeing and Mental Health page.