This research project addresses the social and academic experiences that Arabic international students (AIS) have in transitioning to tertiary study in Australia. This study
investigated (1) how these students experienced studying in the Australian tertiary education system, (2) to what extent they integrated academically and socially, and (3)
how they can be supported when they choose to study in Australia. The conceptual framework was built on sociocultural, social identity and Hofstede’s (1980) four
dimensions of culture (power distance, individualism, uncertainty avoidance and masculinity) theories with the need for effective intercultural communication at the
centre. A mixed methods design was used. Data were collected through a parallel survey of students (69) and teachers (32) across Australia and follow-up, in-depth interviews with sub-samples of six students and seven teachers. The statistical data analysis of the survey results compared students’ and teachers’ views about the challenges of studying in Australia. The qualitative data were analysed on the basis of emergent themes. The
research findings highlighted the need for these students’ journey to be conceptualised as a transitional pathway that begins in their home country, so that the different challenges at each stage of their journey can be clarified and so better supported. In raising the importance of both students and teachers becoming interculturally literate, the research illuminates students’ English language difficulties in relation to cross-cultural communication, the nature of their culture shock, and the need to reconceptualise teaching and learning and the notion of being independent learners. The study makes a significant and original contribution to extending current theoretical knowledge with regards to the nature, scope and depth of intercultural literacy necessary to allow AIS to
transit more smoothly into study in Western society. It highlights the significant social, cultural and pedagogical challenges they face, while trying to maintain their social
identity and simultaneously acculturate into Australian society and the academic context. The study uncovers the complexity of the English language demands these students face, showing that in spite of meeting gate keeping test requirements they are challenged academically in the use of Standard Australian English, and the language and concepts
required to learn through constructivist pedagogical approaches, including digital technologies as well as the Australian colloquial English to communicate locally.
Major challenges for AIS were found to be the need to reconceptualise their beliefs about teaching and learning and make a cognitive shift from the teacher-centred environment they experience in their home country to the student-centred approach at the centre of constructivist pedagogy found in Australian tertiary education contexts that requires independence in learning, and living in Australia with a completely different culture and
language. To help AIS more effectively in this shift, the study provides advice to enable review of current policy and practice, making recommendations in the form of support
keys for each stage of their journey that apply to both students and Australian tertiary educators to make these students’ transitional pathways easier and more likely to enhance their academic success.