Sunday, 10 July 2011

Further thoughts on conversations during International Induction

I  have been reflecting on some of the conversations I have had this week.  Some light-hearted, some very serious, arising from the session on similarities and differences between Australia and whereever home is, for you. 

The lecturer, Jim, made the observation that most countries have a national animal - often on their coat of arms.  For example, the UK has the lion and unicorn, China has the panda, and Australia has the kangaroo and emu.  He sagely observed that Australia is the only country that habitually eats its national animal!  China does not eat pandas, the UK does not eat lions (and unicorns are a mythical animal so we can't eat them) but Australia finds kangaroos and emus to be good eating! 

I have mentioned that Perth seems expensive to me as an international student.  However, another reason for the prices being high, could be because the main industry here is mining, which is a high earning workplace.  This would have parallels in Aberdeen in Scotland, where prices and the cost of living is high, supported by the oil field industry off the northeast coast.  Mining is the biggest industry here, followed by agriculture, particularly in the south west corner of Western Australia.  Finance follows quite a long way behind, and education for international students is another big earner in the city.  Apparently the student population accounts for about 2.1% of WA population, which seems quite a lot, especially when you consider that indigeneous Aboriginals are 2.3% of population.

At the bus station yesterday, I met a young man who I had talked to in one of the induction sessions.  He said that the most significant difference he found to his homeland, was that it was ok to be openly gay in Australia.  He came from Iran, was studying for a finance qualification, and spoke the most articulate English.  I was really impressed with his command of the language, when you consider it was not his mother tongue.  He said he had started learning English at primary school, and watched a lot of Hollywood movies, so his accent was slightly American.  He said that in Iran, because the country operated under Shariah law, homosexuality was an absolute sin and crime.  He said that the only way gay people can meet is on the internet, and even then, you don't really know who you are talking to, because the Shariah "police" frequent these places.  And if you and your partner are prosecuted, it is the absolute right of the Shariah judge to pronounce whatever sentence he wants, including the death penalty by any means deemed appropriate!  On the one hand, I found what he said very disturbing, but on the other, part of the reason I chose to study abroad, was to expand my knowledge of other cultures.  I'm certainly doing that.

I can see more similarities than differences in Australia, compared to England.  There is a lot on the news at present about the Carbon Tax.  There is a lot of opposition to the introduction of this tax and the full detail of the Bill is being broadcast today.  In England we have a big programme of environmentally friendly policies being introduced.  The rubbish collection in both countries promotes recycling. But the buildings that are occupied by other students and me seem to have ecological differences - in the UK we would have insulated houses, and double glazing.  In my flat, there is no double glazing, and more surprisingly, and there is no beading around the hinged windows, so you can see daylight through the crack (!).  I'm not sure whether this is poor finishing (yet the rest of the flat is well finished and immaculate), or if it is deemed to be normal ventilation in a very hot country.  It has been unseasonally cold for this region, with temperatures down to 5C at night.  Not cold by British standards, but I've been glad I brought a couple of cardigans - and have even worn them together in the evening.  It does seem strange to have the gas fire on in the evening, but to have gaps around the windows, as well as the ventilation bricks.

Another similarity during induction has been the equality policies.  It's not called that here - but there have been sessions on anti-bullying and harassment, and disability awareness and access.  There is a session next week for mature students and the potential issues they can have.  So it fits with my experience of considering the difficulties that different groups can have, and means of supporting them to successfully complete their education.  Same issues, different approach.

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