Control, cultural contrasts and cheerfulness

Last week I strongly urged you all to go on exchange or study abroad for at least one semester during your studies. Now I want to share some of my personal experiences and observations as an “outsider” and international student in another culture.

Even though the main purpose of a semester abroad is studying it doesn’t mean you haven’t got time to do some fun stuff and get to know the culture. It’s all about structuring your time and being efficient when you are at uni. This will give you more time to be adventurous and experience the country and the culture of the country where you are studying.

Before I arrived to Australia I tried to imagine how Australians are and to be honest I made up a stereotype of how Australians walk, talk and act. Simply based on commercials, TV-series like Home & Away and stories I’d heard from returning backpacker friends. Moreover, I assumed that all Australians would have a surf board attached on the roof of their car, talk like Steve Irwin, drink “goon” instead of water and have a cute little kangaroo bouncing around in their backyard. I thought that most Australians would be sun-tanned all year around, be the best swimmers of all times and that Aborigines would walk around the streets, telling ancient stories and playing on their didgeridoos.

The fact is that most Australians would never be sunbathing or “sun baking” as they call it, because the sun is much more dangerous here than elsewhere. If you do meet them on the beach you would be more likely to see them covered in zinc salve from top to toe. Goon (box wine) is mostly for tourists or backpackers to drink and sharks and crocodiles are not at all an issue every time you go swimming. One thing I have noticed as typical Australian is that they are extremely social people and they are World Champions in arranging a BBQ in no time. They just “chuck” it all in the “esky” (with wheels on, of cause) and trolley down to the nearest park in their “thongs“.

Before I arrived I knew that Australia is an amazing country regarding its magnificent nature, but I was wondering how the people are? Would all Australians be wild men like Crocodile Dundee or Steve Irwin? I’m sure some Aussies are but it’s most certainly not everyone. Majority have probably never been in a fight with a crocodile and don’t get paid to do stunts on a surf board. I guess what I’m trying to say is that this continent is massive and it’s very hard to describe a stereotypical Australian.

Another thing I think is typical Australian and VERY different to Scandinavians is their open-minded behaviour. Australians are extremely friendly, outgoing and helpful. They also LOVE to small-talk. In Denmark we would never approach someone we didn’t know in public spaces unless it is highly necessary. In Australia it’s just normal everyday behaviour to smile at people on the street or address people with the phrase: “Hi how are you?”

To begin with I didn’t know how to react when people in the shops asked me how I was doing. Should I take my time to answer their question and ask them how they were doing? Or should I simply just smile and reply shortly? I know now that they don’t expect a long and detailed reply but I still haven’t completely figured out how to reply correctly and most suited for different situations. My reply always sounds very uncool when someone surprises me with a -Hi how are you?

I love the fact that they do it but I think the introverted Dane inside me is still having a hard time getting used to this cultural contrast. Maybe we “outsiders” are just not meant to understand it. That’s one of the things that makes Australia and the Aussies so special. I am absolutely mad about this place and I will never regret choosing to study in this fantastic country.

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