Australia’s national identity is one of multiculturalism, not dissimilar to many countries across the world. Globalisation has allowed people to choose their own place of residence and citizenship, meaning that one city can offer a wide array of cultural experiences from various nationalities. As a multicultural country, it is essential that Australia supports, embraces and celebrates its unique diversity.
Acceptance is something that must be taught from a young age and, with Australia’s diverse population, is something that is increasingly growing in importance. Global connections will continue to develop and are an integral part of the development of the workforce and economy. Of particular importance is the relationship between Australia and other countries within the Asia – Pacific, as the majority of our trade is undertaken within our local region and we consume so many imported products from Asian countries. Additionally, Australia has a strong history of immigration from Asia that contributed to the growth of our population.
Cultural competence begins at a young age, when children begin schooling and interact with others their age from different backgrounds. This does, however, depend on geographical location; children raised in Sydney will be much more exposed to multiculturalism than those raised in rural areas. Subjects such as geography and history teach children about understanding and empathising with different cultures and backgrounds, and learning other languages or undertaking cultural studies will further this education.
International exchange is becoming more available and accessible to students studying in high school or university. For students studying International Studies at the University of Technology in Sydney, a year studying abroad is a requirement of their degree. Representatives from exchange programmes talk to school students about the possibility of exchange and the benefits of the experience, and universities offer scholarships for students wishing to study a semester overseas.
Exchange offers multiple benefits and is highly encouraged as part of an individual gaining a broad education. Living in a different culture requires adaptability and learning within a new environment, a skill that is highly sought after in the workplace. It also provides a deeper understanding of another culture and broadens personal perspective. People that don’t often interact with other cultures can be parochial in their view of the world, while those who participate in new cultural experiences can see the ‘bigger picture’ and hold a more open mindset.
However, Australia has posed some difficulties to international students coming over to study. Integrating into resident life requires equal acceptance between international and local students. Whilst exchange students are more motivated and active in their involvement, local students have a lower interest in building relationships with international students.
“Most of the research on cross-cultural relations in international education has been shaped within psychology. In cross-cultural psychology international education is mostly understood as a process of externally mediated ‘adjustment’ or ‘acculturation’ to the requirements and habits of the host country. In this imagined world the ideal international student makes an orderly progression from home identity to host country identity. The host country culture is normalized without question. The international student is routinely seen as in deficit in relation to host country requirements.” (Marginson, 2012)
It is this mindset that international exchange assists in breaking. While Australia is a prominently diverse country, barriers are still faced when attempting to gain an authentic experience. Whilst Australia is certainly improving in its attitude and acceptance of other cultures, existing barriers prove that there is still room to improve in order for Australia to become an all-inclusive nation.