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uni-life 4 min read

Culture shock: 3 major cultural differences I've experienced since moving to Australia

By Pilar 29 Jul 2019
3 international students sit and chat together in R Block at USQ Toowoomba.

When I first decided to study at USQ, I knew I was moving to the other side of the world – literally!

The first thing that came to my mind was, ‘I need to start practising my English’. I was scared of not being able to communicate with people, or worse, not understanding lectures. But what I didn’t consider was how different our cultures are, as there are many things that we do differently.

When you are trying to learn about another country, you do heaps of research, but when you are actually there, your mind can go blank, and everything you had been preparing for is gone! This happened to me during my first weeks here in Australia and, honestly, sometimes it still happens. But if this happens to you, too, relax – this is normal!

Here are some of the cultural lessons that I’ve learnt since moving to Australia to study.

1. Australians drive on the wrong … I mean right side of the road

When I first landed at Brisbane International Airport, I went to get in the wrong side of the airport collection service! The driver thought I wanted to drive! Oopsy! This is because in Argentina the driver sits on the left side on the car. I still have to remind myself of this whenever my friends pick me up. I simply stop and think for two seconds: ‘Which side has the passenger seat?’

It is a strange feeling travelling along a highway, watching oncoming cars, and mistakenly thinking that a child is driving! But then I remind myself that in Australia, people drive from the right-hand seat of the car. More than once I have almost been run over by cars because I was looking the wrong way while crossing the street. I learned pretty quickly to start looking both ways before crossing the road. It would be so embarrassing to cause an accident because of that rookie mistake.

2. Friendly greetings can be taken as a little too friendly

I learned my second cultural lesson within the first two months of being here but, between us, I still do it sometimes. In Argentina, a friendly greeting involves saying ‘hi’ and giving a kiss on the cheek. If you don’t greet someone in this manner, it usually means that either the other person doesn’t like you, or you don’t like them.

In Australia, this isn’t such a common practice, and so when I have gone to greet someone like this, they think I’m trying to kiss them! You can imagine how embarrassing it was for me when I realised that what is considered a normal practice in my home country may not be the case here.

3. The battle of the BBQs (or Asado in my culture)

My third cultural lesson: food. In Argentina, we have something called asado. Asado is similar to a BBQ in Australia, usually involving a social gathering. It involves cooking meat, usually steak, on charcoal or an open fire, instead of gas. The meat tastes soooo good! It is a tradition we have in Argentina. Everyone eats Asado.

So, when I was invited to a BBQ in Australia, I was so happy that I was going to eat a good slice of meat. The thought alone was enough to make my mouth water! I entered my friends’ house with a smile from ear to ear but, when I looked at the BBQ, I saw sausages instead! I was so heartbroken that I almost dropped a tear in the middle of the party.

Traditional Argentinian BBQ that Pilar is used to

These stories are just a taste of my Aussie adventures. We don’t realise just how different cultures are until we move to another country. Most of the time we think it’s just the language that will be different, but there is so much more than that. Living in Australia has been like living in a whole new world for me, and I am sure that most other international students feel the same. That’s why it is important to not only learn a new culture, but also keep connected with our own, so we can feel ‘at home’ in our new home.

There will be plenty of things that will surprise you about studying overseas in a country with a culture different to your own. To find out how other international students have adjusted to life in their new home, check out Choman’s blog 6 awesome ways to overcome homesickness or Peng’s blog 10 things that surprised me about studying in Australia.

Author profile picture of Pilar