Student Stories

What I’ve Learned Working Down Under

It’s funny how a deadline suddenly makes you realize how little time you have and how much you still need to accomplish. My time in Australia is ending—literally, my visa expires soon— and I am just hitting my stride here. My life is pretty hectic with two jobs and holding down an internship, but that’s how I like it.

Living in Sydney for almost nine months now has made me notice huge differences in the way Australians and Americans operate in the workplace. Besides the accents, there are several big contrasts between an internship in Australia versus in America.

Know Your Rights
As I’ve lived and worked in America my whole life, I’ve never given much thought to my working rights. However, in Sydney, my visa limits who I can work for, where I can work, and what I can do. Understanding this is definitely crucial to anyone’s success in a different country.

For example, I have a work/holiday visa which is intended for people who want to work a casual job for six months then travel around Australia for the rest of the year. Casual jobs lasting only several months are super common in Australia, unlike America.

I was so clueless about visas that I didn’t even know I needed one to move to overseas, spurring a panicked rush to apply right before I left.

So learn from my mistakes before you jump on a plane across the world; research your chosen country and their visas. Make sure you know what is required, what working limitations are in place, and if you need a sponsor to work.

Work/Surf Balance
Australians are famously known for being laid back and always being at the beach, but does that translate over to the corporate world too?

While working at my internship, I was surprised when I was asked every day to lunch with the whole office. The whole office packs up, walks to a cafe in the area and spends an hour or more eating together. It actually turns into a great bonding experience, connecting the different departments. During the day my boss and other co-workers often leave to get food or coffee, take personal calls or just leave in general.

Australians also holiday (in American terms: vacation) regularly and extensively. It’s normal to have a co-worker gone for weeks while they backpack around Europe or visit Thailand.

In America, I’ve had to dress formally and business casually during my internships. No matter what, I’ve always erred on the side of dressing conservatively.

However in Australia, the attitudes and constantly beautiful weather affect the general work wear. Women generally wear flats and sandals, short skirts and dresses, and I rarely see a sleeve in the office. The men in my workplace usually sport jeans, shorts, and sneakers.

In the end…
Compared to my other internships, this Aussie internship was the most easygoing and flexible I’ve ever had. In the past, I would never leave to go get coffee without permission first or wear a see-through blouse like I am today.

The trust of the company and the carefree attitude is amazingly refreshing, and I actually get more work done because I’m not wondering when I can take my next bathroom break or if my skirt is long enough.

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Meredith Whye

Meredith Whye just graduated and is currently based in Sydney, Australia. She doesn’t use Twitter, but check out her site