Studying Abroad in Australia from America: 10 Culture Shocking Differences

The most asked question I’ve gotten since studying abroad is about the differences between Australia and the United States. You may think that moving to Australia was easy-peasy, as they still spoke English, so there was not language barrier. However, there were so many random cultural differences that I didn’t realize until I was right there living it.

1. Everything that was right, is now left.


This is perhaps the most obvious difference between the two countries. People in Australia drive on the opposite side of the road, with the drivers seat being where the passenger seat normally is. This means you’ll also spend a few weeks running into people on the sidewalk, as you’ll have to go left to get around them rather than right.

2. Facebook is superior to Instagram.


Every time you meet someone new, they’ll ask you to add them on Facebook……Facebook! What is this, 2010? Instagram is not nearly as important as Facebook when you get to Australia.

3. Their slang will take some time to get used to.


The first time someone asked me, “How are you going?” I had to say, “What?” three times. Do you mean, “How am I doing?” Apparently not, okay, got it. Some other fun ones are ‘heaps’ instead of ‘a lot’, ‘keen’ instead of ‘excited’, ‘go for a boogie’ instead of ‘go out’ and ‘tomato sauce’ instead of ‘ketchup’. You’ll hear all of these words on the daily, I promise.

4. Paying with card will never be easier.


In Australia, they have the tap machines, where you simply tap your card for half of a second and boom, you’re done. I really wish that the United States would get on this train because the chip just simply isn’t fast enough for our lifestyles.

Note: Since writing this post, the United States has now joined the train. Let’s go!

5. You can’t forget your reusable shopping bag.


In Victoria, if you want a plastic bag from the grocery store, you will need to purchase each and every one. By the end of 5 months in Australia, I think I had only bought about 3 bags the entire year. #TeamEarth

Note: Coming from Wisconsin, this was a huge difference for me. However, if you live in another state, like California, for example, you may notice the same plastic bag culture.

6. You’ll slowly but surely become a ‘green freak’.


From the plastic bag ban and the paper straws to the water-saving toilets and sustainability signs posted all over the city, you can’t not think about how your actions will be affecting the environment with every move you make. This is a thought process that I’m very proud to have brought back with me to America.

7. You’ll have more time to study for exams.


In America (or Wisconsin, at least), you normally have one study day and then all of your exams run through the next week. Or, if you’re really unlucky, you may even have your final exam before that study day! In Australia, we had an entire study week and then exams running through until the end of the month. We had a lot more time to prepare rather than cramming months of knowledge from four classes into one day.

8. Get ready to dance to throwback music & edm nonstop.


Pretty much everywhere you go (and everyone you know) will be playing 2000 music nonstop, or edm. The latest pop and rap culture that we see in America is non-existent there. In fact, if you even so much as request it, you will get boo-ed off the aux cord.

9. You will not want to buy a drink at the bar.


Drinks in Australia are much more expensive. For instance, in Wisconsin, you can get two doubles for $5 on student nights. In Australia, you can get one single for $6 on student nights. This is why all the uni students resort to drinking Goon (the cheapest box wine you’ll ever lay your eyes on) before heading out for a boogie.

Note: Again, if you’re from a different state *cough*cough* California, these drink prices may unfortunately feel right at home.

10. There’s no tipping.


Even though the drinks may be more expensive, you can at least compensate your spending by factoring in the non-tipping part. Tipping culture is huge in America, but is non-existent (besides the few naive tourists) in Australia. However, what I’ve noticed is that this sometimes leads to worse service, as people aren’t depending on tips from happy customers for their livelihood. It’s a double-sided sword.

Though I could probably go on and on about the tiny differences between Australia and the United States, these are the 10 main points that I have come across in my time abroad. Despite these facts, I don’t think it would be very easy to decide who does it best!

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  1. Love your analysis! And you are so right about those stark differences!! Btw have you visited the US West Coast? Interestingly: One kool similarity is between the cities of San Francisco & Sydney!! They have (almost) the same city structure, bridge, windy roads, steep hilly suburbs and FLORA!! I found plants in Sydney I have only seen in San Fran & LA before! So kool.

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