Adjusting to University

Adjusting to University

Starting university is a busy time, and handling all of the preparation and change can make it a little bit daunting. Especially if you're in a new country!

Getting to know an unfamiliar campus, adjusting to lectures and tutorials, learning new things and making new friends – all the while becoming familiar with "Aussie" culture – can get a little overwhelming.

You’re not alone in feeling like this. And while it’s a lot to take in, most of our international students do it wonderfully, learning from any challenges they are confronted with, and coming out the other side having had the experience of their lives.


There may be valuable learning in experiencing a way of life different from yours. You may understand things about your own culture you had not thought about before. Your travels may broaden your viewpoint, making you mature personally and understand yourself better.

As time goes on, you will become more familiar with your new environment, gain confidence, develop friendships, and manage social and professional interactions more comfortably while finding a rhythm in your studies.

Some students get to this point quite quickly. But regardless of how long it takes, there are strategies you can use to help you adjust. See our Student Services information for help and support.

Starting out at university is an exciting time, and it's easy to overlook some of the changes you will experience. Especially if you're travelling to a new country

We know there's a lot to get your head around, so we've outlined some basic differences to help you adjust to university life in Australia.

Lectures and tutorials

The academic year at UQ is divided into three semesters and is made up of a series of courses. Most courses are delivered via a mix of lectures and tutorials. They are assessed by exams, coursework or practical assignments. The exact method of delivery varies from course to course, much of which you will find out in your first week of classes.

But there's more to university than how and when courses are delivered. Academic learning at university is about taking responsibility for yourself, without anyone to hold your hand.

Independent learning

In high school, teachers provide quite a lot of guidance and help you find the information you need. At university, you’re expected to do all of this yourself.

Lecturers won’t be chasing you to do your homework like they did in high school. They will impart their knowledge and then you're responsible for your own learning – everything from keeping up-to-date with assigned readings, to knowing when exams or assessments are due.

Critical thinking

You’ll be given reading lists containing the names of textbooks you’re expected to borrow or buy. You’re also expected to do wider reading, seeking out material that will help you develop a wider understanding of your topic.

You’re expected to go much further in the way you learn and develop your critical thinking skills. This is a major part of your university learning experience: you should develop your own opinion about the topic, rather than just repeating what you’ve read.

Don’t worry too much though. During each of your courses, your lecturer will give you the knowledge framework to develop your own informed point of view. We are here to help wherever possible – not to corner you into "sink or swim" scenarios.

Personal study tips

Before your first semester begins, it’s a good idea to take the time to familiarise yourself with the academic expectations of UQ, your faculty, library and campus.

Take proactive steps in maximising your success at UQ by following the suggestions below.

Leaving home and travelling to study in a new country can be a stressful experience. Even though it may be something you have planned and prepared for, the extent of change and its effects may take you by surprise.

In your first few weeks and months in a new country it's common to experience some degree of culture shock. You will notice differences between the way things are done and what you are used to at home. These include the way people dress, speak and behave, teaching and learning styles, and food – potentially all aspects of life.

This can be frustrating and disorienting at first, as even something as simple as buying a bus ticket needs figuring out – can I buy it on the bus, or from a shop or kiosk? Do I have to validate it? Does it cover a single trip, or a set period of time?

Common signs that you may be experiencing culture shock include:

  • anxiety and loneliness
  • missing family and friends
  • avoiding people
  • unable to eat
  • problems sleeping
  • tired, not enough energy
  • disorganisation, with no routine
  • anger and confusion.

But remember, culture shock is a completely normal response to some big changes in your life and there are plenty of things you can do to help yourself settle in.

Tips to help you adjust

When coping with feelings of culture shock it’s very important to firstly remember you're not alone – there are entire networks of people around you who can help!

Here are some things you can try to help you relax:

  • remember your reactions are normal
  • stay in contact with family and friends
  • talk to international students for support
  • do some familiar activities, especially things you're good at
  • find students from your culture who have adjusted well
  • get involved in social and recreational activities that will help you to meet people and make new friends.
  • join a student or community group
  • join a study group
  • use the English language as much as possible
  • take advantage of UQ student services and orientation activities
  • introduce yourself to people around you, especially students in your courses
  • don't be afraid to ask questions
  • get plenty of exercise, eat well, and drink plenty of water.

Overall, thinking positively, being willing to learn, and maintaining an open mind and light-hearted attitude will make every day a bit easier. But don’t forget to allow yourself sufficient time to adjust.

Most importantly, keep your sense of humour and believe in yourself!

Learn to see the potential of the world. Gain the knowledge to make it better. 

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