One of the biggest challenges for a new student from another country is to take that first, daunting step towards adapting to a different culture and making friends in a city as large as Sydney. Making connections early isn’t just key to making that transition easier, the rewards of belonging to a community of students, staff and alumni from all over the world last well beyond graduation.
Xuyang Wang moved from China in July to study electrical engineering and was immediately attracted by Sydney’s outdoorsy lifestyle.
“Sydney is a quite unique international large city. Unlike Shanghai, Sydney is more like a combination of busy financial centre and lovely relaxing courtyards.”
“Studying abroad is one of my dreams. It lets me experience a different education and culture,” she said.
To help students like Xuyang realise their dream, the University runs a huge number of programs to help new students settle in – and most important is forging lasting connections between our students.
Hundreds of welcome events and activities take place in the Orientation period a couple of weeks before classes start each semester.
“I signed up for all the school and faculty introductions I am qualified to attend and, of course, the welcome party,” said Xuyang. “I met a lot of students and teachers. Communicating with them comforted me in a new unfamiliar campus.”
On 3 August 2018, the University capped off Semester 2 Orientation with its first ever Great Australian Welcome, where new students from overseas were invited to meet one another and mingle with University leaders and alumni over dinner and entertainment. The Great Hall was decked out with iconic Australian flourishes, including a huge Opera House backdrop, native flora and tables named after local suburbs.
It wasn’t just about seeing traditional Aboriginal dance or sampling some damper, though. Vice Chancellor Dr Michael Spence – who shared a table with a new students - said that the event also celebrated the global nature of the University community.
“International students are not a new add-on to the University. They’re a part of the DNA of the place, they’re a part of our founding vision,” said the Vice-Chancellor.
“Sometimes being an international student is tough, but the opportunities, the intellectual and social resources of this place are simply extraordinary, and the journey is just so exciting.”
One of the Welcome’s guests was Arthi Baliga, who had recently arrived from India to complete a Master of Commerce degree. She said any opportunity to meet other students from different backgrounds was not to be missed.
“Meeting and networking with many people from different cultures – it might sound cliché – but I think it’s the most important part. It opens your mind up to a variety of different things,” she said.
Our commencing international students give their advice on making connections at the University of Sydney.
Xuyang Wang was also thrilled to be at the Welcome.
“The Great Australia Welcome is the first dinner party I have attended in my university life. Being in the Great Hall it was just like the welcome from Hogwarts!” she said. “I met lots of postgraduates who already have working experience. I learned how to social network with others, and even had a small chat with Chancellor.”
Xuyang’s chat with the University’s Chancellor, Belinda Hutchinson, may well have been about why making these connections lasts longer than our time on campus.
“When you do graduate from here, you have an extraordinary network of alumni that you can connect with,” the Chancellor said to guests at the Welcome.
The event was an upscaled version of the University’s popular Welcome to Sydney program. Through it, University alumni and staff personally host newly arrived students for a relaxed introduction to life in the city, be it with a casual backyard BBQ, or a tour of Sydney’s sights.
Student-led organisations also play a key role in helping new students find their feet in an increasingly global campus.
The Students’ Representative Council (SRC) and the Sydney University Postgraduate Representative Association (SUPRA) provide additional support, and there are hundreds of clubs and societies run by the University of Sydney Union (USU) which bring together people with the same interests or hobbies. Plus, students can join them at any time, not just at Orientation.
“I’ve joined a lot of clubs”, said Harsh Modi, an engineering student from India. “The Management society, the Business Club… it’s multicultural, you have people to network with, and build your career."
"We had a beautiful icebreaker session where we got to introduce ourselves to each other. They had very interesting games, and we had a good chat,” he said.
Xuyang was also a big fan of the club and society scene.
“I love meeting new friends – I’ve met them through lectures, labs and mostly through the clubs. I joined the Bushwalk Society and Debating Society, "she said. "I think joining a club you like is the most important way to meet friends.”
Xuyang is already loving being part of the community, and her new home city.
“Because there are a lot of international students on the campus, I am not lonely. I love meeting new friends,” she said.
“I want to visit a new place in Sydney every week, and hopefully I can travel around this city at the end of the semester.”
On the first Friday in August this year, hundreds of students, staff and alumni gathered in the Great Hall for the Great Australian Welcome, where many of our new international students got their first taste of University life.