What does it mean to be an International Student?


Hello, my name is Claudia Salazar and I am the Regional Marketing Manager for the Latin America region at Langports. Today, I would like to discuss what being an International Student really means.

I am from Valledupar – Colombia, a beautiful, small, colourful city in northern Colombia and I came to Brisbane 4 years ago as an International student to study English. In high school, we attended English classes however to be totally honest, English never was something that got my attention, as I was planning to live my whole life in Colombia. A few years after I finished high school, I decided to move to another city in Colombia and study University. Since I was studying Uni, I started to get involved with studies abroad and in helping students who were looking for schools and destinations to study English. Interestingly, I gained broad knowledge on destinations and overseas lifestyles whilst the whole time remaining in Colombia. I became more curious and developed an interest to help students realise this opportunity.


After working for a while in this area and when everything in my life seemed to be working out well, I started to investigate changes that would allow me to explore the idea of living abroad as an international student. My first thought was London as (7 years ago) England was the go to destination, what has today become Australia 🙂 but unfortunately just then, England significantly changed the rules for International students; so Australia became my next best option/destination. I planned my trip and layed out my goals to come to Australia. The plan was to go for 1 year and to study English, I have to admit my English at that time was terrible. It has improved remarkably but my accent sometimes throws people off.

I finally arrived in Australia!

I came to Australia when I was 27 years old and being a 27 year old person in South America means that most of us already have a professional degree and luckily a decent job. I was not the exception. So my point here is basically, the longer you delay your decision to “take off” the harder it will be. Why? Because as we are getting “older” we typically have more commitments, so there is more risk and decisions to make. As an international student, I can tell you it can be very difficult and tough when you arrive in Australia and you have to adapt yourself to a new culture, new friends, new food, different people and the hardest one… a new language!

So I have thought of some questions I would ask now having experienced that, and I have answered these questions for you from my experience as a student.

Here we go..

What is the best thing about being an international student in Australia?

We discover how different we are, the way we speak, the way we dance, the way we cook, the way we take challenges in our lives, but at the same time we learn to love our culture way more than before. I haven’t ever felt more proud of being Colombian and South American than now. It’s incredible to see how we learn to survive, yes! Survive in a foreign country where people don’t speak your language. To get used to a new “dollar”, to buy everything from a Supermarket Home Brand (Woolworths or Coles) when in Colombia you did not even think about that, so when you open your pantry, everything looks a certain way.

Avocados and mangoes are the most expensive things in Australia and yet the smallest expenses when back home. In Colombia you can buy 4 of them for the same price and as a big paw paw…

And the list goes on..

What was the first thing that impressed you as an international student?

We know that Australians and people living in Australia for a long time complain a lot about the public transport here but I truly believe that they haven’t realised how good it actually is, in my home town we don’t even have a public transport time table.

What is the worst thing about being an International student in Australia?

Being away from home and learning how to live with that homesickness, however Australia is such a wonderful country, and I have made amazing friends from around the world. Additionally, I have discussed this with some Colombian friends, and they miss the food, however I think that what we really miss is the food from the Hotel Mama.


What things did you struggle with as an international student?

I used to get very upset when people made fun of my Colombian background, yes, Pablo Escobar, yes, the narcotraficker, yes, yes all those things that we already know. But one day I realised that getting upset was not going to change anything and I decided to laugh with them, wait until the fun was over, explain to them how sensitive these topics could be for us and teach them that there is more to Colombia than just that. For example, I always tell people that in South America we have more than 1400 different types of potatoes and I have eaten all of them. So they look at me like saying: you are a “weirdo”. I recommend you do this as I am pretty sure they won’t forget you and will start to associate other facts when someone says: Colombia.

What is the most difficult part of learning English?

I have a long list on this one, it’s incredible! I have been in Australia 4 years and I’m still learning. I think one of the hardest things of learning English is when you have to make a phone call in ENGLISH!! And the funny part is what you do before that call, you practice so many times what are you going to say and when you are ready, you prefer to make the phone call from your room without anyone around, and go somewhere alone. Apart from being nervous to make a phone call, we don’t like to make mistakes in front of people even more so when they are from our own country.

What is the best advice for an international student ?

This experience can simply be as good as you allow it to be. I know it’s hard to study, to do homework, to work and work really hard and for long hours, to cook for yourself when you are very tired and even more when you have to do all these things in English but make the most of it, time flies and this experience won’t last forever, sooner than later you will have to make a decision of going back home or start to look for professional options like I did. So by the time that you make a decision, my best advice for you is live, love and learn.

Live this experience to the fullest and with responsibility, Love every single day in Australia and what you are doing here and Learn English “Learning is like rowing upstream, not to advance is to drop back” – Chinese Proverb

As I mentioned in my first paragraph, I am the Regional Marketing Manager for South America and my role is to be the main point of contact between Agents, Prospective Students and Langports. I am here to answer questions and show the international student life is full of challenges, sad and happy moments. I am not a student anymore, I remain a South American at heart; there is a long way to go but at this point, we are at an advantage compared to anyone else who has chosen to stay at home. We have gained skills, values, qualifications, cultures, different point of views and many other things, things that your future employer will look at. Being an international student shows how committed we are with ourselves, shows we are brave to leave our families and survive being away from them. We take care of you at Langports because we have a huge social responsibility with you and with your family, we understand where you come from.

Thank you!

Claudia Salazar.

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