Leaving the nest
Having the opportunity to study overseas and pursue your degree is undoubtedly an exciting experience. However, leaving the little dot on the equator can be quite daunting, especially if you will be travelling there alone. This list will help you ease your way into the Aussie culture, and one day, you’ll be able to make it feel like a home away from home.
1. Your last name is no longer what you think it is
Every Singaporean will learn this lesson if their last name is Tan, Zhang, or Chan, just to name a few. So here is a quick English lesson:
The last name Tan is pronounced the same way as saying that you want to head to the beach to tan; NOT pronounced as ‘ton’. Similarly for Chan, just replace the ‘t’ in Tan with ‘ch’, and you’ll get the Western pronunciation down. For Zhang, the ‘h’ seems to be ignored and is pronounced as Zang. So as the first day of classes dawn upon you and your lecturer or tutor asks for you name, keep this pronunciation crash course in mind.
2. Know your flour and flower
The English lesson (Aussie edition) has not come to an end. It is important to make sure that you correctly pronounce everyday words in a manner that the Aussies understand. For example, flour is pronounced as ‘flower’. So don’t get confused and shocked when they mention that the main ingredient for a cake is flour. A more subtle word pronunciation is that the ‘l’ in salmon and almond is silent.
3. Asian grocers are your best cure for homesickness
True Singaporeans will crave some authentic curry fish head or chicken rice. Head over to your local Asian grocer and you wouldn’t feel like you’re in Australia. Some recommended sauces and pastes that you should get to add authentic flavours into your cooking is the A1 curry paste or the Prima Taste brands. You can also find durian in the grocer, and its distinct taste is guaranteed to bring back memories of home.
4. Always have insect spray (or a flamethrower)
Here’s a fun fact: there are over 2000 species of spiders in Australia. Still think owning a flamethrower is a ridiculous idea? Yes you have the cute and cuddly koalas, and the bopping kangaroos, but don’t forget about the vast range of creepy crawlies that are spread all over Australia. You would know summer is on its way when you are greeted with Christmas beetles flying around your home. If you see a beetle flying around, there is bound to be a whole troop nearby. Rather than emptying your can of insect spray or getting your flamethrower ready, simply leave a container of water on the floor and in the morning, you’ll find the beetles floating at the top of the water, unable to get out.
5. Cut down on the Singlish
Using ‘la’, ‘lo’, or ‘leh’ at the end of your sentences tends to confuse locals, just as Singaporeans are confused when Aussies use their slang. It is hard to explain why it is necessary for you to use those expressions, and how it can add some sort of enhancement to the sentence. If you are having a conversation to your lecturer or professor, it is better if you try to supress your budding familiarity with adding ‘la’, ‘lo’, and ‘leh’ at the end of your sentences to avoid the weird looks.
6. Be prepared to give a Geography lesson
“So which part of Singapore do you come from?”
“Wow you speak very good English, do you also speak Singaporean?”
“What is the capital of Singapore?”
Be prepared to field some of these questions. Bet you wish you paid attention during Geography class in secondary school.
7. Buy food during happy hour
Who doesn’t love a good bargain? Shops in Australia typically close at 5pm, with the exception of restaurants, grocery stores, and department stores. For smaller food businesses or chains and food courts, they usually sell their food at a discounted price during the happy hour times of around 4-5pm. Here, you can usually get good quality foods for a fraction of its normal price. This is ideal for uni students who have just finished classes and would like to take away something for dinner.
8. Do NOT befriend the birds
They might seem harmless and somewhat clueless, but little do you know they are just waiting for the perfect opportunity to strike if you have food near you. The ibis, or commonly referred to by its scientific name ‘the ugliest bird in Australia’, has no fear of creeping up to you in its attempt to steal your food. Be careful and do not provoke them in any way. It might not look like it, but they can attack, and fly. Seagulls are also a common enemy with their persistent and somewhat irritating calls when food is in their line of sight. Once you offer them food, they will keep coming back for more, along with a bunch of their friends.
9. Read up on your Aussie lingo
Aussies love abbreviating their words into something that requires very little effort to say. One of the most common slangs Aussies use is ‘arvo’, which means afternoon. McDonald’s is always referred to as Maccas, and is a best friend to many when they crave a midnight meal. Who has time to say three syllables, right? You will hear “thanks love” and “no worries” very often, which exemplifies the laid-back nature of Aussies.
10. Join the Singaporean society at your campus
Ultimately, there will be other like minded Singaporeans in a similar boat as you, trying to grasp, understand, and appreciate the Aussie culture. You can never go wrong with joining a society where you feel culturally accepted and where you can use as much Singlish as you want without the fear of being questioned or judged.
Singaporeans in Australia
Hopefully these tips are somewhat practical, and will equip you before going down under. Don’t worry too much about trying to fit into the Australian culture. It is guaranteed that you will enjoy your university experience, and be grateful for the opportunity you have. Don’t neglect your studies, but also loosen up and have fun!