Campus Culture Comparison: Murdoch and SDSU

Around this time of the year in California, classes are just beginning to kick into full swing. A new semester brings on new routines and for some — myself included — the cafe-hopping habit makes its return.

Now in Perth, Australia, it’s the end of Week 7 and mid-semester exams are here. My last two weeks consisted of writing a literature review for my abnormal psychology class as well as studying for a biomechanics midterm. Most of my days were spent in either the campus library or my bedroom. It seems my studying routine has not been so cafe friendly this semester (the weekend brunches are entirely their own thing, of course).

Coming to that realization, I began to rack my brain for some differences I’ve picked up on as a student here in Western Australia.

“As a whole, Australians don’t spend a lot of time on campus. Once classes are over, people have no other reason to stay. It’s odd the first time I witnessed it myself.”

  1. Minimal campus life.

A brief look at my Google Calendar will tell you how little time is dedicated to attending class — and no, it’s not because I skip them! Lectures and tutorials are spread apart throughout my week, leaving plenty of time in between each day to do what I have to do. Generally speaking, there isn’t a lot of emphasis on the in-class setting, especially since their style of teaching here relies on students being a lot more independent and self-sufficient.

Another part of campus life are the extracurriculars, clubs and organisations. If you ask me, there aren’t very many of them. They have the basics: student body council, local uni magazine, sports, colleges, hobbies, religious. But it doesn’t go much beyond that. Although it’s also important to keep in mind that SDSU is a really populated university.

As a whole, Australians don’t spend a lot of time on campus. Once classes are over, people have no other reason to stay. It’s odd the first time I witnessed it myself. Around 3 or 4pm, campus starts to quiet down and the number of people on campus are quickly dwindling. By 5pm, it’s virtually empty.


  1. A fairly separate work/school and personal life.

I heard a long time ago that Australians are very laid back — and that much is true. I think traits like those are easily reflected in their culture, just like a lot of other places. I mentioned earlier that my semesters in San Diego are increasingly filled with hours seated at a cafe somewhere, studying (much love to Brew Coffee Spot, one of my absolute favorites!). As I tour the city and nearby neighborhoods of Perth, I haven’t seen many students working on their laptops out and around.

And I know Aussies love a good brunch cafe. It’s understandable if their culture doesn’t put much thought into blending work space into personal space. Even as I asked a couple of Australian friends about this, they hardly list coffee shops when I ask where they study if it isn’t at home.

It’s an interesting contrast. Maybe in America there’s a tendency to (perhaps recklessly?) carry work or school with us to more places than we really should.

  1. Bigger focus towards working.

University doesn’t seem to be as heavily stressed about here as it is back home. An easy marker for this difference would be the typical course structure here lasting three years. The more rigorous degrees, such as law, are 4 years standard and some others have an optional fourth year which is more clinical or practicum based for their studies.

With less time in university, the general aim is to educate and train students to become employable in their vocational fields. I mean I know college as a whole is meant for that, but coming from my American-educated perspective, the process and structure here in Australia seems a lot more direct about it.

I spoke to a classmate of mine who heard of the general education classes we need to take and described to me how there really isn’t much of those in Australia. They have what are called “breadth units” which are classes that introduce students to information outside of their selected majors, but those are very few compared to all the GE’s listed in every student’s course requirement list.

It isn’t all sunshine and butterflies just because it’s a more career-direct path, of course. With less time on GE subjects, the select classes that they do take seem less intense about “basic knowledge” compared to the length that we seem to go about it in America. Take for example the two physics lecture and two labs, or the two chemistry lectures required for kinesiology majors. Or even the multitudes of GE categories themselves.

I mentioned in an earlier post that I was still in the learning curve process of transitioning to life abroad. At the time, I meant it as a temporary phase that would get over — that it was something that will eventually change and I’ll just know. But I want to clarify that statement now: Learning, relearning and even unlearning is a constant process in our lives. And I don’t think that should ever stop.

I only went over some simple (but hopefully interesting) things I’ve learned (and am still learning) during my time in Perth. But my sentiments from the last paragraph hold true about so many other things as well! I haven’t had the chance to fully sit down with these thoughts yet, but I know there’s a lot to unpack about everything I’ve discovered about myself too.

Something deeper and more interesting than just school.

Kat Hidalgo is a fourth-year kinesiology (physical therapy emphasis) major. She is studying at Murdoch University in Perth, Australia for the fall semester.

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