chinese wellness students
Mental health rates are increasing in students: these international students want to help. Source: Shutterstock.

As mental health problems grow on campuses all over the world, one group of Chinese students at Western University, Canada, formed a ‘wellness circle’ for their peers.

Together, students from Western’s Wellness Education Centre and the Chinese Students and Scholars Association set up weekly wellness sessions for Chinese international students who may be struggling with adjusting to life in Canada.

The sessions each have a different focus, such as self-identity, leadership and self-care to improve students’ lives. As the program comes to an end, participants are offered the chance to work on a wellness project which incorporates the skills they accumulated over the course of their sessions.

“We want participants to experience the joy of wellness as well as have a place where they could come in, chat about their everyday lives and support each other,” Ben Khoo, co-organizer and fourth-year psychology student, told The Western Gazette.

Chinese students made up around 40 percent of Western’s international student body, according to 2014 data. The group predominately targets these students while they are in their first and second years at university to enable them to get the most out of the experience.

Navigating the culture shock, language barriers and homesickness alongside the usual student problems can be overwhelming for some – and, with an environment of shame in Chinese culture surrounding mental health problems, the students recognised a need to help.

Family can often be dismissive of mental health problems, conditioning Chinese international students into suppressing their feelings. If they reached out, students found family would shrug off problems with phrases such as “just don’t think about it”.

Fourth-year management and organizational studies student Janice Chong had this in mind when she co-founded the group alongside Khoo and fourth-year human resources and psychology student Cassie Shen.

Many students find it difficult to open up at first. Source: GIPHY.

“In Chinese culture, they do not really encourage you to show your weaknesses to others,” Chong said. “They just want you to show your best face to the public.”

Shen told The Western Gazette many Chinese students have these attitudes internalised which stops them from attending sessions which could be incredibly beneficial to them. Keeping this in mind, the group aims to help change the mindset of these students by creating a welcoming environment in which students will feel more comfortable discussing their feelings.

“It’s a really slow process,” Shen admits. “We can see incremental changes, so we’re hoping they can be more open about it, but it’s going to take a while.”

Currently, around four or five students regularly attend the wellness circle which means organizers can build strong close relationships with them, Chong explained.

The trio are hoping in the future the group will be able to accommodate all international students as their struggles are not unique to the Chinese student market but are representative of many international students’ experiences.

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