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School spirit across oceans: Differences between university cultures

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APRIL 13, 2017

It’s now the midpoint of the semester (our break is next week, thank goodness for that) and I’ve been here long enough to notice just how different the American and Australian tertiary systems are. While students everywhere share similar stressors about schoolwork, many other bits of university culture differ.

School pride

There’s no denying that American students have A LOT of school pride for their university and sports teams. Let’s be completely honest here — UC Berkeley students set the bar pretty high on this one. It may be cold, windy or rainy (or all of the above), but it would still be an absolute sin to not go out to the Big Game and support the Golden Bears regardless of the outcome. However, universities here don’t really have an official mascot, school colors or sporting events to the same extent that we do. There isn’t much school pride since university here is more a place of study that students travel to, rather than a home away from home for four straight years. I was also talking to a student at the Exchange Expo I was at last week and she was telling me that it’s highly unlikely that students will even wear attire sporting their school name or logo. This was so bizarre to me as a UC Berkeley hoodie is pretty much every student’s wardrobe staple. But considering that uniforms are compulsory at all Australian primary and secondary schools, it makes sense that students just want to wear clothes that aren’t associated with their education for once.


It’s a big deal in the United States for a student who has graduated high school to move out and onto their college campus. It’s the first step to adulting in the real world, but it can be a pretty big and scary responsibility at the mere age of 18. However, the great majority of students here commute to campus from home. The only people who live on campus are usually international or out-of-state students. Because of this, most students are still close friends with their peers from high school. Since there aren’t as many universities here as there are in the United States, it’s also likely that their friends go to the same college and can, therefore, commute to and fro together. This is in great contrast to the states where the majority of students make new friends at college. Usually, this begins in the dorms, but Greek life, extracurriculars and classes are other ways to meet new people. Here in Australia, you can be friends with someone in class, but it’s harder to follow through with plans since you likely live quite far from each other. In comparison, I’ve stayed good friends with many people I’ve met through activities and classes at UC Berkeley, especially since we’re all so close by to one another and can easily grab coffee on a whim.


Well, the great news here is you can drink at 18! Plus, Australia itself has such a relaxed and open drinking culture that it’s really not that big of a deal to grab some drinks with mates after class any (or every) day of the week. Believe it or not, my host university has more than one bar on campus that advertises its menu and events to everyone. And during orientation week, there were even coupons to a brand new bar that just opened — “unibar.” Saying this though, 21st birthdays obviously don’t get the same hype as they do in the United States and, by that age, people are already well seasoned in bar/club outings. The only bad news about this is that you have to buy all your drinks! There’s an organization that represents the student body and clubs on campus and they throw huge parties throughout the semester. Unlike fraternities that often require you “to know someone,” though, these parties require paid tickets for admission and booze is definitely not free at all.

Whether you call it college or university, it’s interesting to notice and take part in different cultures from across the world. I’m really enjoying university life here in Sydney, but I also can’t wait to celebrate my 21st once I get back to the United States. Plus, I got flyered in the face yesterday, so how different is it, really?!

Contact Jenisha Sabaratnam at [email protected].

APRIL 13, 2017