Some people are so unfamiliar with water that it may take them weeks of lessons before they no longer panic when they are under water, says Stuart Gadd, the assistant aquatics manager at the University of Wollongong Swim School.
The university's multi-ethnic population has it perfectly placed for providing adult learn-to-swim classes.
Many overseas students have never had the chance to swim so there is constant demand for the classes, which have been operating for 18 months.
And the classes are open to everyone in the Illawarra, not just university students.
"We get a massive range of ability, and for some people after five weeks it's a big achievement to be able to simply submerge and not panic," Gadd says.
Participants range in age from 19 to those in their 60s.
"It's rewarding to see the guys getting more familiar with the water and getting more confident."
Jichao "Jimmy" Zhang has been studying at the university for two years and says he's pleased with his progress in the lessons.
"I'm learning to do freestyle better and it's good that my coach has a lot of patience," he laughs.
"I'm very happy. It gives you the opportunity to enjoy life and to go to the beach."
With summer nearing, there have been repeated calls from organisations such as the Royal Life Saving Society for people to be safe in the water, whether it's at the swimming pool, at the beach or while rockfishing.
The UOW program runs over five weeks, with three 30-minute sessions a week. Participants can also include five weeks of swimming outside session times.
There is a maximum of five participants to each session, and Gadd says it seems people who are unfamiliar with water are more comfortable learning in a group situation than a one-on-one basis.
"We find they're much more inclined to continue swimming when they're learning in a group - it's perhaps the pressure of one-on-one," Gadd says.
"But with the weather [warming up] there is massive incentive for them to learn."
Familiarisation with the pool layout and depths and first aid come before students are taught to move in water, regulate breathing and get used to floating.
"Once they've found that buoyancy, they can move on to kicking," Gadd says.
"They just need to feel safe in a body of water, to manage themselves and save themselves."
The five-week courses coincide with school terms.
Sessions run on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.
The Swim Centre also runs stroke-correction courses, aqua jogging, swim for fitness - popular with triathletes and ocean swimmers - and swim-for-fun groups.
For more details on the adult learn-to-swim course, contact the Swim School on 4221 4194.