Surviving, not thriving: International students struggling with the increasing cost of living

A new report from the Monash Centre for Youth Policy and Education Practice (CYPEP) has found that international students are going hungry at an alarming rate and calls for better support and assistance for international university students.

Australia’s cost of living crisis and rising inflation rates are continuing to have an impact on many, including, international students. There are 182,000 international students from over 120 countries currently living in Melbourne and they represent almost 40 per cent of the entire university population in Victoria.

Food insecurity continues to be surrounded by the stigma and shame associated with not being able to access food. Students in particular are silently struggling with the consequences of food insecurity and often experience lower academic performance and wellbeing.

A survey of 64 international students and follow-up in-depth interviews with 22 survey participants, identified a number of socio-culturally appropriate solutions to address food insecurity among international university students in Melbourne.

Co-author of the report, Dr Beatriz Gallo Cordoba, said international students living in Australia need improved and better-informed support if they are to thrive during their time in Melbourne.

"Although each food insecurity experience is different, we identified three pillars for support: the connection with existing immigrant communities, the need to assist recent arrivals and the need for continuous support, including outside teaching terms," said Dr Gallo Cordoba.

"It’s important that we use the findings in this report to call for better support and assist universities and the broader community to get it right when offering support to these international students," added Dr Gallo Cordoba.

The report’s co-author, Professor Lucas Walsh, said that many students had to implement multiple coping strategies.

"I don’t choose what I want to eat. It’s my wallet that chooses what I want to eat," said a 27 year-old male survey participant who experienced low food security.

"International students are strategic and have already developed multiple coping strategies to avoid food insecurity, including adapting their budgets and developing tactics to mitigate the effects of food insecurity. When a crisis like COVID-19 or the cost of living crisis hits, many of these strategies stop working. That’s what we need to understand to better support these international students," said Professor Walsh.

"My relationship with food has changed a lot [since I came to Australia], and it’s at a really, really bad situation right now, where, as I told you, I just eat for the sake of eating. I don’t really enjoy eating’s directly showing on my body and my energy levels...[but] I feel I’ve lost the will to also put in so much effort to cook. And obviously, when you can’t have the home food, you miss home even more," said a 25-year-old female survey participant who was experiencing marginal food security.

Co-author and International Student Advocate, Agrata Mukherjee, said that food is more than a basic need, it is an emotion.

"Especially for international students who live far away from home, being able to eat familiar foods is like revisiting their memories - a connection to cultural roots. International students have the right to live a life of dignity without having to suffer due to food insecurity," said Agrate Mukherjee.

The report included a survey of 64 international students, along with follow-up in-depth interviews with 22 survey participants. The findings outline that the experiences of international students in Melbourne were varied, revolving around the positive and negative aspects related to making connections with other international students or expat communities in Melbourne, social isolation and the impacts of COVID lockdowns.

To view the Building Better Food Solution report, please visit:­tion/cypep

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