So you know you want to study abroad and you’ve chosen Australia as your destination! Great — now what? It can be overwhelming to mentally and emotionally prepare for life in a new country but we are here to help! With over 20 years experience dedicated to the region, we have compiled a list of tips to ensure your experience Down Under is nothing short of extraordinary.

Do your research

If you’re going to dedicate months of your life to living in a different country, it’s a good idea to do some research beforehand.

You may be headed to Australia for the world-renowned beaches but did you also know that Australia is home to the world’s oldest rainforest?  You’ll actually have the opportunity to walk through this ancient forest on your TEAN orientation.

Also, learning historical facts about a place before visiting enhances your experience once there. A good place to start is to learn about the First Australians, the indigenous Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. You’ll not only feel more enlightened about your home away from home but will gain respect from locals for taking the time to learn about Australian culture.

Indigenous Australian cultural experience
Learning about Indigenous Australian culture during the TEAN Orientation Excursion in Cairns.

Pack less

We’ve never heard a student say they wished they’d packed more than what they came with.  You’re bound to go home with more after a semester abroad, so pack less knowing that you’re going to acquire new clothes and goodies along the way! Check out our Australia Packing List post for more tips on what and what not to pack.

Know what to expect weather-wise

Australia is located in the Southern Hemisphere which means seasons are opposite from the United States. While some parts of the country, like the Gold Coast, are always warm – even during the winter! – other areas like Sydney do see cooler temperatures and changing seasons. This is a great resource for seeing different regions’ estimated temperatures and rainfall  complete with the ability to change the temperatures over to Fahrenheit.

Surfing lesson at Bondi, Sydney
Winter surfing lessons in Sydney with TEAN!

Start saving

The cost of living in Australia is typically higher than what we are used to in the States. In order to avoid financial stress during your semester abroad, it’s important to plan ahead. Yes, you will most likely need to utilize public transit in your host city. Yes, food and drinks will be more expensive than your college town. None of this is to say you cannot afford to experience your semester to the fullest, however.  The key is budgeting ahead of time and managing your expectations. Take a look at our blog on 8 Ways to Save While Studying Abroad in Australia for specific tips on how to enjoy your time abroad without cringing when looking at your bank account.

Explore study abroad programs in Australia


Get ready for a different academic structure

One of the biggest adjustments you’ll experience is the difference in the Australian academic structure vs. the U.S. structure. This might come as a shock, but your grade for a course may just consist of a midterm and final exam. Just two grades. Don’t expect the same amount of papers, weekly quizzes, etc. that you may have at your U.S. institution.

You may read this and think, “Oh, great! Less work and more play!” but, beware, this structure can be deceiving. You will be expected to be self-motivated when it comes to staying on top of your courses. Aussie students are used to this independent style but Americans can find it a bit of a challenge, especially when there are just so many exciting things to do and places to explore! It might seem that locals are constantly hitting the beach when not in class but, believe us, the Aussies are still finding time to dedicate to their studies. Don’t wait until midterms to start hitting the books. You’ll want to stay on top of everything and ensure you’re prepared for those few assignments that will make or break your grade.

Another difference you’ll need to get used to is that in the U.S. we are used to having points deducted, but in Australia you begin the class at 0 and then earn points with assignments. This means that a passing grade starts at 50% (translates to a letter grade of C), because you’ve earned your way up from a 0% to a 50% with assignments and/or exams. Students with a 75%-84% will receive a Distinction (A), which means a “superior performance” in Australia. You’ll have to retrain your brain when it comes to understanding your grades.

UNSW quad in Sydney
“Somehow I managed to finagle only going to campus two days a week. My favorite part of each visit was walking down the stairs towards the Quadrangle Lawn. This was a great place to relax in between classes and grab some lunch to eat with friends.” Allie Shuman, Columbia College Chicago

Take an Australia-specific course

Studying abroad is the perfect time to take a course specific to the region as you’ll gain unique insight to Australia that you couldn’t get anywhere else. Most universities offer courses designed for study abroad students with a range of topics from Aboriginal Studies to Marine Ecology to Crime and Deviance in Australia. No matter your academic focus, you’re sure to find at least one course that provides a unique perspective that you could only receive while studying in Australia.

Manage Your Time

Just as you have to manage your time at your home university, you’ll need to create a balance during your time abroad in order to stay mentally, emotionally and physically healthy. While we encourage you to take advantage of every opportunity that interests you, don’t feel the need to go along with activities that don’t necessarily speak to you. It is okay to say no and have a little “me time” every once in awhile.

Your social life in Australia is no doubt going to provide you with some of your best memories.  Remember, though, that you are first and foremost on a study abroad program.

Our biggest tip for time management is staying organized but still leaving a little room in your schedule for spontaneity.

Also, don’t forget to plan what to do with your semester break and weekends while abroad. If you like the idea of a pre-planned excursion where all the details are taken care of for you, we suggest taking a look at our optional TEAN excursions that are organized during school breaks to the South Island of New Zealand and to Thailand, as well as a weekend trip to Melbourne, Australia.

Street art in Melbourne
Exploring the street art in Melbourne during TEAN’s Melbourne Weekend.

Ask an alum

There’s no better way to get your questions answered than going straight to the source.  Students who have already studied abroad in Australia understand exactly what you’re going through with the added benefit of hindsight. Reach out to one of our TEAN Global Ambassadors to speak with a student who’s already done what you’re about to do. Our Ambassadors can answer any questions you have about the study abroad process, love talking about their experiences abroad and are eager to share their insider tips!

Meet the Locals

Of course, you’re going to make new friends who happen to be American and it will take some effort to integrate into the local culture and make Aussie friends, but it is possible!

Within the first few weeks of the semester, get involved in your host campus. Are there any university clubs or extracurriculars you’d be interested in joining? This is a great way to meet the local students. If you aren’t sure where to start, head to your university’s study abroad office. They are there to support you and can suggest clubs or volunteer groups that align with your interests.

TEAN staff are always happy to assist you in acclimating to your new city – just ask! Your Resident Director can also provide you with the information that you’re looking for; after all, they are locals themselves. Find out where the locals hang out, where they eat, etc. For example, Aussies love their sports! Learn where the popular places are to watch and play various sports and your new city will start feeling like home in no time.

Student activities on the JCU campus
“James Cook University’s Uni Hall (student accommodation) proved to be a place in this world unlike any other. The social life was all inclusive, where international students and locals would join sports teams together, adventure together, and celebrate together. In this picture, the dorm and the on-campus bar collaborated on a party where games were played and the mic was open to anyone who dared.” Brady Clarke, University of New Hampshire

Keep an open mind

No matter which city you chose to study abroad in, it will initially be foreign to you. While this can be incredibly exciting, prepare yourself for the possibility that some aspects might not live up to the grand expectations you’ve mentally concocted. This is 100% normal and unavoidable.  Nothing will ever be exactly as we imagined. Some aspects of your new life might be exponentially better than you could’ve hoped for, but some might be different in a way that you aren’t initially prepared for.

At TEAN we follow the mantra of, “It’s not weird, it’s just different” and we cannot emphasize enough how important it is to keep an open mind throughout the entire experience. Taking the leap to study abroad is a risk but one that is highly rewarding if you allow yourself to grow in ways you never expected. Don’t fight against the unknown… embrace it!

Have questions about studying abroad in Australia? Get in touch for more help and guidance from the TEAN team!