News Article

The modern-day classroom: A recipe for solitude

Traveling a million miles to study in another country alone is hard. What’s harder is adapting to a dying classroom culture when easy, effortless, and abundant friendships are the only thing you need to get through it.


Content Warning: Discusses culture shock and loneliness.

Traveling a million miles to study in another country alone is hard. What’s harder is adapting to a dying classroom culture when easy, effortless, and abundant friendships are the only thing you need to get through it. 


Blame it on modern-day technology or the dystopian virus that flung our lives in a 180°, international students are finding it harder than ever to adapt to the nature of Australian classrooms. This stems from the lack of communication among peers and the independent nature of learning and interacting in Australia. Many international students tend to view this as a culture shock, especially those that enter university expecting to build most of their social circle within their classrooms. 


I landed in Melbourne three years ago with the same expectation. Coming from Singapore, I was too familiar with the dreadful ice-breaking session at the start of every module, and the days of “group work” that would follow afterward. Putting myself out there felt like a chore. Furthermore, I was eager to get away from the relentless nagging from teachers to practice exceptional teamwork. Little did I know how much I would grow to appreciate those snippets of attention when I entered my first class at the University of Melbourne. 


Everyone had their eyes glued to their screens as our professor ran through the module’s introductory content. A couple of words were exchanged between those sitting at my table during a short group discussion. By the end of the hour, everyone was ready to dash out without the minimum “bye” or “see you next week”. Half the class had barely mentioned a dozen words throughout the entirety of the class’ duration. I walked out of the room utterly perplexed and very alone.  


Classroom culture in Singapore is vastly different from that in Australia. For one, the use of digital devices is heavily monitored by teachers and using them outside of designated times can lead to serious penalisation.

This results in a solid foundation that promotes new connections. Working closely with your peers, without any distractions, is really the only choice that students have. 


In short, the system pushes for communication. Although online tools such as Zoom continue to stay implemented for meetings and classes post-pandemic, Singapore was one of the first countries to transition back to on-site learning. A holistic environment conducive to the personal development of their students is something Singapore’s education system holds itself accountable for. 


On the other hand, Australia prides itself on independence. Students are meant to take the initiative to put themselves out there. Although this is a perfectly acceptable route for universities to take, it may be a downside for international students that are more familiar with a system that does the work for them. 


Classrooms may not be socialising hubs, but universities do go the extra mile by organizing events such as O-week and bonding activities for “freshies”.  Furthermore, those living on campus accommodations may have a shot at forming even more friendships through meeting new roommates. The wide exposure students get to their peers through these events allows for communication that goes beyond a professional setting. Hence, international students should understand the importance of attending introductory events when aiming at building a thick social circle. 


What about those that don’t live on campus? To cater to the bulk of international students, Australian classrooms may benefit from taking inspiration from the Asian classroom. This could mean pushing for students to participate in ice-breaking activities and minimising the use of digital devices to give them a stronger sense of community and belonging within their classrooms.  

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