University of Sydney Australia – an introduction for Stanford students

If Stanford is affectionately known as the “Farm”, the University of Sydney might earn a reputation as “Hogwarts”. Our bizarre gargoyles – think vampire kangaroos – have kept watch over the main quadrangle since 1850, though most teaching today takes place in newer buildings.

Sydney has about 50,000 students from 130 different countries. The students participating in the linkup with Stanford are enrolled in an introductory rhetoric and writing course with the Writing Hub (a new writing “center”, modeled on the Hume Writing Center, though much smaller at the moment). Our course – WRIT1001 – has about 400 students in it this semester, all busily working on their final short essay (1500 words) on a research topic of their own choosing.

To prepare for the linkup we’ve been using our course discussion board to discuss the cultural background of our cohort, the general educational values of Australian higher education, possible barriers to Sydney-Stanford communication and Australian-American similarities that might make crosscultural communication easier.

Here’s a list of some of the ‘cultural artifacts’ our students will bring in for the linkups:

  • Digital camera
  • Handbag
  • Quran (Islamic religious text)
  • Jeff Buckley’s Grace (CD)
  • Woomera (Indigenous Australian tool)
  • French cookbook
  • Country Australian cookbook
  • Chinese jade necklaces with zodiac symbols, Buddhist symbols and general symbols
  • JK Rowling’s Harry Potter (Book)
  • USB adapter

You can probably tell we’re a diverse lot (a ‘weird mob’ as a classic Aussie film title claims). Despite this, some general themes emerged as students described the importance of these artifacts. In no particular order, here’s a list of the values that these artifacts represent for students:

  • home (either a childhood house, a different country or a feeling)
  • technology
  • religion
  • history (British, Chinese, Indigenous, Philippine)
  • ancestry
  • memory
  • reading/writing
  • childhood
  • relationships
  • sharing

We also discussed the values of Australian universities. The result was almost unanimous: we value individual responsibility. Here’s how our students described learning at Sydney and what it suggests about educational values:

As part of my study at Sydney university, it is up to me to be on top of my subjects, whether it be attending lectures, tutorials or completing assessments. I think this is an important Australian educational value as it allows us as individuals to be in control over our own education. What we put into our education is what we will achieve at the end.

Compared to France, in Australia you have to do your readings each week and with these readings you build your own vision of the unit of study. The teacher can even seem unuseful. I think that this way of learning shows the importance of self reflection and the way individuals build knowledge in Australian education.

I think Australia needs to totally embrace education and post-university research.  What is the point of these wonderful brains if they spend their time  begging for grants and going offshore?  We should  acknowledge the “brains” behind our society.  Where’s the ticker-tape parade for Scientist’s making lifesaving breakthrough?

Something I do as part of the University of Sydney is learn to do everything by myself and not be pushed by anyone to learn; rather, learning is something you want and need to achieve on your own. I think Australian Education gives everyone a free choice and chance to make it on their own!

Finally, each student was asked to predict several challenges to crosscultural communication and several similarities between Stanford and Sydney students that might make crosscultual communication easier. Here is a list of the similarities between our cultures that we think will make communication easier:

  • We speak the same language (80% of responses mentioned this…)
  • We attend similar universities in similar education systems (50% of responses mentioned this)

    Sporting matches on campus don't attract the crowds you get for American college sports.

  • Information (news, opinions, popular culture etc) is easily shared via the internet, so we have a lot of shared experiences
  • We’re all studying a course on rhetoric and writing
  • We have some shared values (eg, freedom of speech, free thinking, originality)
  • “Common interests (beer, music, beer…)” [note – I don’t endorse this one, especially given that some Stanford students may be under the legal drinking age…]
  • Love of sport

Yet, contradictions started to emerge as we discussed the challenges to crosscultural communication. Here is a list of some of the potential barriers to Stanford-Sydney crosscultural communication:

  • Slang/jargon might be hard to follow (80% of responses mentioned this)
  • Accents might be hard to understand (70% of responses mentioned this)
  • We have different educational values (styles of argument, analysis, etc)
  • We have different general values (role of the media, style of government, etc)
  • Our knowledge of each other is based on stereotypes
  • We might have very different opinions about war in the Middle East
  • Australians speak too quickly
  • Students who don’t speak English as their first language might be disadvantaged
  • Americans have enough national media that they might not be aware of major events in smaller nations like Australia
  • We’re strangers trying to get to know each other in a limited time in a limited (online) space

It will be interesting to see how accurate our predictions are. We’re guessing some will be ‘spot-on’ (a nice Australianism) and some will be off track (Stanford students love their ‘track and field’, but ‘off track’ is probably not a Stanfordism).

While we’re answering the questions on your blog, here’s some questions we have for you:

What sort of high school did you go to? Do many of your high school friends go to Stanford?

What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever heard about Australia or Australians?

Do you guys really go on ‘spring break’ or to ‘frat parties’ (these are just movie scenes to us)? If so, what happens there?

What’s it like living on campus? How do you get your study done? Do you ever go out in the nearest city?

Thanks for reading. We’ll see you online soon.

This entry was posted in CCR Exchange: Stanford-Sydney, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to University of Sydney Australia – an introduction for Stanford students

  1. Arielle says:

    I went to a small public school in Los Angeles that was known for being really good at everything, which meant that there was a lot of pressure on us as students, athletes, and performers. However it also allowed for us to have a lot of opportunities, and I’m thankful for my time there. 11 other students from my high school came to Stanford with me, including my twin brother.
    The strangest thing I’ve ever heard about Australians is that you eat koala burgers, however I doubt the truthfulness of this.
    Frat parties aren’t exactly my idea of a good time, but they certainly happen a lot. It’s basically a lot of people in a small space who are all at least slightly inebriated dancing to really loud music. It’s fun if you aren’t completely aware of what’s going on, and it’s definitely instrumental as a social scene.
    I absolutely love living on campus, my dorm is nice and already feels like home. If I need to get serious studying done I just plug into an ipod and sit in a chair. If it’s really too disruptive at the dorm I’ll go to the library. But the kids on my floor feel like family. I go into Palo Alto a bit for groceries and such, and sometimes for dinner, but I could probably never go there and be fine.

  2. Arielle says:

    ^woops, meant private school

  3. Michael, Shirley and Tim :D says:

    The Aussies believe that the California tourism ad portrayed Americans as materialistic,
    but they know better than that. They also had preconceived notions about American college
    students based upon what they had seen in poor quality American movies such as “American
    Pie” that portray college students as sex-crazed, perpetually drunken party-goers.We
    noted that we used different vernaculars, for instance they use the words “mate” and
    “uni”,while we say dude and school. As for university life, the students typically do not live
    on campus. They live at home and most spend time out of school at jobs.
    As for the australia tourism ad, the students said that it doesn’t show everyday life,
    similar to how we felt about the California tourism ad. :[D

    From the interaction with the students from stanford we learned that the ad for California was a false portrayal of the
    Californian lifestyle. What we saw in the ad and what they said to us were two different things. They saw the Australian
    commercial as “dark” and “magical” through the use of the Aboriginal and the dust. We were able to hear about what they
    think the Aussie lifestyle is “put a shrimp on the barbie”. Differences in the Austrlian and American college/uni life
    was that they all live at college in dorms and college whereas we all live at home and travel via public transport.
    Every student at their college rides bikes everywhere, so when lectures end there are bikes everywhere! They
    were really intriuged by “tim tams” and they said they would research it. They were really friendly.

  4. Pingback: Performance English Offers Australian Education Specials for Students Looking for Permanent Residency - Virtual Student Agency - Study in Australia

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