BCM 111

Ditch the Deficit Model

International students in Australia, particularly at UOW, make up a large number of the student body and they contribute a huge amount to the country’s economy. However, despite contributing so much to Australia, these international students don’t always feel like they can enjoy this experience.

One of the factors of this is generally that international students feel that the locals don’t want to get to know them (Kell & Vogl, 2006). They feel that Australia’s culture is significantly different to their own from at home. Because of this, it can be hard for students to pick up on different cultural and social cues in their new environment. A case study undertaken by Hellstén (2002) shows this, as international students’ commentary indicated that there were “unfamiliar cultural assumptions” which may contribute towards a “perceived culture shock”.

However, Marginson (2012) notes that despite many stereotypes of international students being lazy, weak and helpless – known as the ‘deficit model‘ – he believes that they are experts in cultural navigation and actually have high levels of determination and motivation. He claims that they do this through the use of multiplicity and hybridity. This allows the students to have more or less of one identity depending on the circumstantial contexts (multiplicity), and allows them to merge the cultural influences that affect them (hybridity).

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Although I’m an international student myself, I didn’t necessarily face certain issues that others face given that my first language is English. However I do agree with Marginson in that we need to escape from the deficit model, as it makes international students like myself to seem less than we are, particularly those who speak little or no English. It’s easy to see that many people think me to be helpless coming from the other side of the world by myself at 18. But the truth is, I wouldn’t have travelled all this way if I wasn’t planning on becoming independent and motivated to work and do well.

Marginson’s idea of multiplicity and hybridity is one that I’ve found to have become accustomed with in the nine months I’ve been here. There are certain words that I will use with my English friends that I won’t use with my Australian friends and vice versa. For example, when talking to friends from home I tend to use words and phrases that I would as if I were there, whereas talking to friends I’ve made over here I’ve found myself using local slang more and more. Another thing that I’ve noticed is that I’ve picked up the ‘Australian twang’ as my family from home call it. That is, the high-rising intonation that is used in speak over here. Even though I’ve only been here just over half a year, I’ve already managed to find my hybrid identity within this new environment.


Hellenstén, M, 2o02, ‘Students in transition: Needs and experiences of international students in Australia’, paper presented at the 16th Australian International Education Conference, Hobart, Tasmania, 30 September – 4 October, viewed 12 August 2016,<http://www.fyecd2009.qut.edu.au/resources/SPE_VincentTinto_5Feb09.pdf&gt;

Kell, P and Vogel G  2006, ‘International Students: Negotiating life and study in Australia through Australian Englishes’ in Everyday Multiculturalism Conference 2006 Proceedings, Macquarie University, Sydney, 28-29 September, viewed 12 August 2016.

Marginson, S, 2012, ‘International education as self-formation’, lecture notes, BCM111, University of Wollongong, viewed 12 August 2016.

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