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Original Articles

Negotiating everyday life in Australia: unpacking the parallel society inhabited by Asian international students through their social networks and entertainment media use

Pages 515-536 | Received 13 Mar 2014, Accepted 10 Oct 2014, Published online: 24 Dec 2014


Work on the experiences of international students in Australia often point out that these students do not successfully integrate into Australian society with many international students counting very few or no Australians as friends by the time they complete their studies. Through in-depth interviews with 47 Melbourne-based higher education international students from Asia – the source of Australia's largest export education market – this study explores the ways in which international students navigate their everyday experiences in their host nation. The findings suggest that Asian international students live in a parallel society almost exclusively made up of fellow international students who primarily come from the home nation and the Asian region. This parallel society allows them to create both a sense of belonging in Australia yet not to Australia due to disengagement from local society and culture. By investigating their social networks (society) together with their consumption of entertainment media (culture), this study presents an indirect yet creative way of understanding how international students negotiate everyday life as transient migrants in the Australian city of Melbourne. Doing so, this research highlights the ways in which international students make use of social networks and entertainment media to feel a sense of belonging in a foreign country.


I would like to thank the three anonymous reviewers for their time and valuable feedback.

Disclosure statement

No potential conflict of interest was reported by the authors.


1. While Australia is also host to students on exchange/study abroad, this paper does not include them under the banner of ‘international students'. International students in this paper are full-fee paying students. In other words, their education in Australia is not subsidised by the Australian government as it is for local students. Largely international students fund their education in Australia through private means. Some students might be funded by scholarships from their home nations or by Australian programmes such as the Australian Agency for International Development and International Postgraduate Research Scholarships.

2. The term ‘overseas student’ was used more frequently in the 1980s and 1990s before the current term ‘international student’.

3. There are official organisations such as AEI and International Education Association Inc. committed to improving the welfare of international students through policy and research together with sectors of local government dedicated to ‘enhanc[ing] the wellbeing and experience of life for international students in Melbourne’ (City of Melbourne Citation2013).

4. Australia famously abolished its White Australia Policy in 1973. This policy dictated a preference for migration from certain European countries, particularly Britain.

5. Since the late 2000s, these discussions have increasingly included asylum seekers.

6. All English-language courses are aimed at international students where English is not their primary language.

7. Both Malaysia and Singapore are similar multicultural nations which support Chinese, Malay and Indian ethnic groups as well as a shared British colonial history.

8. The terms are derived from Mandarin and Cantonese, respectively, and are often used in other places which support a Chinese diaspora such as Malaysia, Taiwan and Hong Kong. However, the terms are not limited in use to ethnic Chinese but as in Singapore are part of everyday usage by the different ethnicities in these places.

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