“I didn’t realise overseas study and life can be so challenging before I came to study in Australia,” says Maggie* (she didn’t want her full name used) who has been studying in Australia since 2012.
With the rapid development of the economy in China, overseas study has become an affordable option for more and more Chinese families. Given the more competitive job market in China, overseas study has been regarded as an effective way to increases students’ employment options.
However, most students planning to study abroad and their parents just put emphasis on the preparation of IELTS or TOEFL, and the selection of schools and majors. How to adapt to a totally strange environment is an issue that can be easily ignored. But being unable to quickly adapt to a new environment could negatively affects students’ psychological well-being.
Maggie* is one of the many Chinese overseas students. She describes her first several years in Australia as bitter, stressful and even miserable. She was sent to study in Australia at the age of 15. Unlike most Chinese teenage students studying in Sydney, Melbourne or other big cities, she spent her first three years in Wagga Wagga which is located midway between Sydney and Melbourne.
The reason why her mother selected Wagga Wagga for her is because she had a friend in Wagga Wagga who could help to take care of young Maggie*.
“My mom heard a lot of negative news about homestay. She heard that some homestay families even provide overseas students with expired milk and bread, so she does not trust homestay and sent me to Wagga Wagga,” Maggie* says.
She attended a local private middle school called The Riverina Anglican College. She said she could never forget her first day at school.
“I found I was the only foreign student in that school, all of my classmates kept staring at me after I walked into the classroom,”she says.
The language barrier made her first couple of months difficult. She was afraid of talking to her classmates. Even though her classmates tried to talk to her, she believes it was just out of curiosity. She said she didn’t even make one close friend while studying in Wagga Wagga which made her feel very lonely. She only felt happy when she called her mother or her grandparents on the phone.
What’s worse, her mom did not expect that her friend brought her daughter no warmth or [sense of] family. Young Maggie found it very difficult to get along well with her mother’s friend.
She has a very bad temper, maybe that’s why she’s been living alone for dozens of years. She often verbally abuse me and made me to admit mistakes which I didn’t even make. When I called my mom, she didn’t trust me at that time. So I felt very miserable and I often cried alone in my room.
Maggie* says her mom’s friend even forced her to prune bushes and small trees in the garden on a very hot day while she was sitting in an armchair and drinking iced water.
I was pessimistic, I often shut myself in my bedroom after school. I even wrote a suicide note at that time. I tried to cut my wrists with a knife on one night, but I gave up because I had promised to my grandparents I would go back to visit them after graduating from high school. This promise gave me strength and courage to overcome all the difficulties.
Things got better after her graduation from high school. Maggie* was admitted to La Trobe University Sydney Campus. Her mother decided to give up her job in China and came to Australia to take care of her.
“My mom hopes me to get the permanent visa, the best way to achieve this for me is to select an occupation that’s on the Skilled Occupation List (SOL). My mom and I couldn’t reached an agreement on the selection of my major at first because she wanted me to become a nurse in the future. However, I am totally not interested in being a nurse. Eventually, she compromised and agreed to let me choose accounting,” she says.
Studying and living in Sydney is not easy or cheap for many international students. Sydney has been ranked as the most expensive city in Australia and 15th most expensive city in the world this year. The tuition fees for international students is on the rise year by year.
Working part time can help students ease the financial burden on their parents. According to Australian student visa rules, international students are permitted to work a maximum of 40 hours per fortnight when the course is in session, and unlimited hours when the course is not in session.
Like many Chinese overseas students, Maggie* once worked in several Chinese restaurants. On April 26th, several mainstream Australian news media published horrific stories about international students being exploited. It’s reported that most of the international students working in Asian restaurants are paid below $10 per hour, some are even paid less than $6 an hour. When asked about her working experience in Chinese restaurants, Maggie* said she was paid no more than $10 an hour and she often suffered pay deductions due to minor mistakes.
“The owners only pay us cash, so there is no evidence to check. They don’t care about the national minimum wage. We work very hard but we are paid less than what we deserve ” she says. Fortunately, she has got a job now as a part time host in a Chinese TV station.
Maggie* is now in her second year at La Trobe University. When asked about her attitudes toward studying abroad, she says:“ Overseas study may not be suitable for everyone although it indeed makes people grow up faster. Parents are supposed to think twice about whether overseas study is a perfect choice for their children.”