‘I’m an international student in Australia. How do I tell my parents the pressure they put on me is too much?’


On behalf of student here from Hong Kong I am so worried to tell my parents that the work is too much. They want me to study hard and continue at an Australian university.

– Anonymous

Key points

  • first and foremost, look after yourself
  • try to talk to your parents, remembering they only want what’s best for you
  • find a trusted friend or counsellor you can talk to.

Hi, and thanks for your question. My answer to your question is quite long because there are a few ways you can approach this.

Coming to live in Australia on your own and studying in an unfamiliar education system is extremely hard. You may be struggling with the language barrier, making you more stressed and anxious. I imagine there are times when you might feel quite alone.

Having worked with many international students, I’ve seen firsthand how pressure from from parents can affect students’ stress levels and mental health – you are not alone. A recent report found due to culture, language and academic barriers international students are at a higher risk of mental ill-health than domestic students.

There aren’t any statistics around the mental health of Chinese international students, but recent news coverage has shed light on its prevalence.

It’s tough, but you should talk to your parents

Being an international student is a family project, not just an individual venture. Many Asian students who go overseas to study have financial and emotional support from their parents.

They carry their parents’ aspirations and dreams. They consider education extremely important to getting a good job. Sound familiar?

In particular, many people born in China believe academic success comes mainly from diligence, so many Chinese parents believe their child can make it if they work hard enough. Such value on education is a powerful influence of the Confucian tradition.

If you can, you should try to tell your parents how you feel. Being honest with your parents about what is happening can be extremely hard. This is because we are afraid we might be misunderstood by immediate family or we might bring shame to our parents when we let them know we are struggling.

Unfortunately there is no fixed way to approach a conversation with your parents as each parent-child relationship is unique. Remember, there is no shame in letting your parents know you are seeking their support in your present life in Australia.

Find a trusted friend to talk to

While you are in Australia, it is important to find someone you can relate to. There are more than 17,000 students from Hong Kong in Australia.

Often, international students like to socialise with other international students. Do you know of any other Hong Kong international students in your campus/school? Are there any international student friendship groups, clubs or social organisations you can attend? Have a look on Facebook or your university’s socials page.

You don’t necessarily have to make friends with someone of the same background as you. There are many people in the same situation, who feel stressed and alone in a different country.

Focus on you

Your ability to grow confident will strongly impact your well-being and mental health. And self-care is the first step towards battling, or helping to prevent, mental-health issues.

Here are some tips on how to do that:

    • Do you like food? What’s your favourite meal? It can be comforting to eat food you miss when you are homesick. If you don’t know how to cook meals you love, you could learn: YouTube channels on “how to cook Chinese food” can be handy.

  • hearing and reading about how other international students overcome their personal challenges can be another strategy – here’s a blog you might like
  • check out the Instagram account @internationalstudentsofaus. It offers advice, genuine experience and stories, which will show you are not alone
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  • if the language barrier is a persistent challenge for you, there are ways to improve your English. Try volunteering at local school or university events, or offer an hour or two per week of your time to volunteer for community organisations such as an aged care service or library. In this way, you can learn about Australian culture and develop confidence to communicate through experiences.

There are ALWAYS people to talk to

If you don’t feel comfortable speaking to your parents, family or friends, then please find a professional to talk to. If you’re in a capital city, a quick Google search of “Cantonese speaking psychologist” should bring up a list of results.

Or, here are some other options:

You are struggling because you care a lot about your parents. But they also want you to be happy with your stay and studies in Australia. Your personal aspiration is just as important as your parents’ hopes for you – remember that.

Author Bio: Hannah Soong is a Senior Lecturer in Teacher Education Practice, School of Education at the University of South Australia