Sai Deepesh Motwani came to Sydney from Mumbai to "find himself".
“I read that... you need to spend time where no one knows you, and you don’t know anyone, for at least two years," he explains.
So, he embarked on a postgraduate degree at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS).
The first three months were the most difficult, and despite being here for almost a year, he says he still feels lonely sometimes.
Sai describes Australians as “open and friendly” but two experiences have proven traumatic.
He says he experienced racism at one job and believes he was rejected from another because of his ethnicity.
“That was pretty bad because I never expected it to happen here.”
Sai nearly descended into depression as a result, but sought help.
If you start to feel lonely, you get all of these thoughts that are not supposed to come into your head...
"I was almost going [through that] but UTS counselling helped me.”
He says the experiences have made him stronger, but he still feels scared to sit with local students.
According to Swinburne University researcher Dr Michelle Lim, it's not unusual for students moving to Australia to experience loneliness.
“Being physically isolated from their community of origin is an additional barrier for international students,” she says.
18-year-old UTS communications student Alson Cai has struggled with being separated from her family in China. She finds making connections hard because of the language barrier.
“I come here and I couldn’t really make some friends. So I kind of feel lonely," she says. "Because we are not English speaker... sometimes it’s hard to understand what [people] are talking about.”
"Sometimes when I see families together happily on the street or in the restaurant or somewhere else, I will feel lonely too, 'cause my family are not with me."
Alson wants to meet local students to improve her English.
She says she avoids other Chinese students because: “most of them are really from a rich family and they don’t really care about study."
Manager of UTS International Student Centre Fiona Board, says that while international students have to meet English standards, “that doesn’t mean that everyone’s proficient when they arrive and that they’re confident using it.”
Ms Board says the language “requirements are pretty high” but confidence impacts students’ use of English in practice.
Ellie Ioannou is a master conversationalist; asking questions, telling stories and joking. Her Instagram feed is full of parties and girls’ nights out.
But even for Ellie, who's also studying at UTS, moving to a new country was a struggle.
“When I’m on my own, that’s when my mind plays tricks on me," she says "I miss my friends and family."
“A couple of times I actually did succumb to that feeling where I thought ‘no I’m just going to stay at home today, I can’t be bothered’ because I was actually really nervous, I was anxious.”
For Ellie, pushing herself “not [to be] afraid to say hello to people” and going to social events on her own, led to a strong social network.
“I came with the objective of making really true friends here, that I’m going to keep in contact with, and I have done [that] already."
Dr Lim reassures international students that loneliness is a normal feeling.
“Do not forget you may have to go through trial and error when you attempt to connect. Being ‘rejected’ is part of the process of finding meaningful connections,” she says.
Loneliness is a signal for you to do something different like seek new friendships.
Ms Board also reminds students that being socially connected improves academic results.
“A lot of international students are reluctant to socialise because they think it’s wasting time and they should be studying, but actually, most of the research shows that they are more successful if they do [socialise]," she said.
The students now have their own advice for fellow internationals.
Alson recommends joining clubs and societies and to continue to talk to English-speaking students, while Ellie believes the key is in finding balance.
“Get out, go to the library, go to the park and read a book. And go to social activities.. keep busy but when you feel tired... take some time out for yourself,” she offers.
And from Sai: “You should give yourself time... everything’s going to be fine.”
- Lanie Tindale @LanieT96
*If you or someone you know is in need of support, please contact Lifeline at 13 11 14. If you are a university student, you can make an appointment with your campus counselling service.