In an alien academic terrain

If you are ready to board the flight to your dream educational programme at an Australian university, you may have memorised the exchange rate, planned to post selfies, perhaps even practised important phrases of the Australian slang. You would, most likely, have attended a useful pre-departure orientation by your university. Despite all this, you may not have had sufficient time or inputs to truly get to grips with the learning process that awaits you at the university.

Australia’s informal culture, which is comfortable with students addressing their lecturers by their first names, might surprise new students from India. Meeting many Asian students who speak Mandarin, Cantonese, Korean or Japanese on campus could be unexpected on an Australian campus, but there are real possibilities.

In my years of experience at Australian universities, academic under-preparedness of Indian and other non-Western students, a phenomenon I describe as “academic culture shock”, has always caught my attention.

Unfamiliar pedagogy, different assessment

This is caused when a student enters an academic environment entirely different from what he is used to in his home country. It is experienced from the very first day, when the student is exposed to an unfamiliar pedagogical practice such as a combination of lectures with tutorials, or to terms like ‘units’, ‘credits’, ‘electives’ and ‘shell units’. It may also take time and effort to comprehend the grading system.

However, the toughest culture shock is experienced in the context of assessments. These include diagnostic, summative and formative assessments and they are often undertaken at the beginning, during and at the end of the semester, respectively. There could be informal assessments too such as discussion-board contributions. These could be in written or oral forms, and could also include, on some occasions, a student-led evaluation. Academic honesty and integrity are important. Universities have a zero-tolerance policy towards plagiarism, which is equivalent to cheating but is more than just copying. Not giving due credit to the sources from which you have borrowed amounts to plagiarism. There are stipulated techniques to avoid inadvertent plagiarism. These include consistently citing the source of information and providing a relevant and complete list of sources you have used at the end of every assignment.

Academic culture shock can be very frustrating and could jeopardise your performance. A little bit of preparation before you catch the flight is a great way to pre-empt any potential disappointments.

The writer is a lecturer at Charles Darwin University in Australia, and an academic consultant at iQuery Australia

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