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I left the US for Australia. Here are the differences I've spotted in the culture and job market.

Charissa Cheong   

I left the US for Australia. Here are the differences I've spotted in the culture and job market.
  • When Aolin Xu's parents offered to pay her tuition if she moved to Australia, she obliged.
  • Xu has noticed that Australians are more open to travel, but are less political.

This as-told-to essay is based on a transcribed conversation with Aolin Xu, 22, about moving to Australia for college. The following has been edited for length and clarity.

I was born in Australia but grew up in Washington. When I was five, my parents moved our family to Canada and then to America.

My older brother moved back to Australia in 2013 for university. The fees were much cheaper for him than for an international student because of our dual citizenship.

My parents, who still live in the US, always talked about how much we could save if I went to university in Australia. They even offered to pay my tuition fees, which was a huge motivator for me as it would allow me to graduate debt-free.

In Australia, I've benefited from financial support from my parents and partner. I've secured a job at a big four firm starting next year. I've found opportunities to be successful in Australia, with less competition than I'd have in America.

I'm graduating debt-free because of my parents' support

I moved to Australia in January 2020 to study a four-year course in education and science at the University of New South Wales. I switched subjects to computer science and am on track to graduate next year.

US tuition currently averages around $11,000 a year for in-state and $24,000 for out-of-state fees, while private university fees jump to $42,000. Meanwhile, my parents paid around 6,530 AUD, in 2023 for me to study at UNSW on domestic fees, which is around $4,345.

The Australian government partially subsidizes my fees, on what is called a Commonwealth Supported Place. Most domestic undergrad students at public universities are entitled to this subsidy.

In the US, people are expected to live on campus their first year of college. In Sydney, domestic students mainly live at home, so there are no boarding costs.

I'm grateful for my parents and my situation. Because they pay my fees, I get to graduate debt-free.

If I went to college in the US and had to pay my own fees, I would probably have to rely on student loans. I have friends in the US who are tens of thousands of dollars in debt, and for many people, they're in debt until middle age.

Sydney is expensive, but I still think I'm saving money

Another motivator for me to study in Australia was that my parents owned an apartment in Sydney where I could stay for free. I don't pay rent or utilities except for WiFi.

When I first came to Australia, I worked a couple of minimum wage jobs to earn some extra spending money. I've now accumulated savings that I can chip away at, and I live with my partner, who supports me financially, too. I acknowledge that not everyone has the same kind of support I've had, and without it, I think I'd struggle a lot more.

Sydney is an expensive city to live in, but I personally feel I'm spending less on certain things compared to the US, like food and my phone bill.

Growing up in my parent's house in the US, I didn't pay bills, but they both complained about excruciatingly expensive healthcare. Australia has a universal healthcare system called Medicare. Many services are subsidized and I don't have to pay out of pocket for any of my health bills.

Australians can sometimes be too chill

Australian culture can be very chill, but at times, it's a little too chill. There's a phrase here, "tall poppy syndrome," when people with driven, strong personalities are looked down on.

When I first came here, my American personality shone through. I'm very talkative, opinionated, and political, and this made me feel like a bit of an outsider.

In Australia, some people pride themselves on being non-political. Australian culture as I've experienced it is rooted in being humble and neutral – which is mostly positive – but there are things you need to take a strong stance on.

I've noticed other cultural differences between the US and Australia

In the US, most people drove, and our public transport system wasn't efficient. In Sydney, public transport is part of my daily life, and I enjoy taking the trains.

The weather here is much better than in Washington, and the beaches are beautiful.

I've found people here are more open to traveling overseas than in the US. I don't have many friends back in the US who've been overseas, but in Australia, my friends and I spend most of our money on travel. I've been to Bali and Malaysia since living here because they're really close.

Gun laws are very different in Australia compared to the US. When I was in high school, shootings were happening around the country. I was anxious in class. Living in Australia, I have almost no fear of guns.

One hesitation about moving to Australia was that I'd feel FOMO by missing out on the US college experience. Growing up, my friends and I were excited by the idea of these extravagant parties and sororities.

Australia doesn't have as many crazy parties, but you're allowed to go clubs at 18. Being in a controlled environment means things don't tend to get as wild, but you can still have fun.

I also think that this culture has allowed me to feel less pressure to go out and I've performed better academically.

I've been able to secure a good job and think it's easier to get into the Australian job market

Next year, I have a job at Ernst & Young as a technical consultant lined up. It pays 73,500 AUD a year. I got the job after doing an internship there in December 2023.

I have some high school friends in the US who are also at EY now. I considered them to be really, really, smart, but I wouldn't have considered myself to be as smart.

I don't think my job outcome would have been as good if I were in the US. America is filled with opportunities but also with fierce competition. Lots of Americans are driven by hustle culture, but that doesn't necessarily guarantee success.

Australia isn't the hub for the FAANG companies or Hollywood, but it's an amazing place to live for many people who want to live a good life with good pay. I personally feel it's easier to get into the job market here than in the US.

I miss my family and friends in the US a lot. My parents plan on coming back to Australia when they retire, so I am very much looking forward to that. I could see myself settling in Australia, but I also want to explore the world, so I don't have any concrete plans yet.


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