There’s a mental health cost to studying abroad. Culture shock, being away from family and friends, and the demands of a foreign academic system can, individually or cumulatively, take a toll on young people during the biggest chapter of their life.
One Canadian association is trying to help make things during this tough time easier. Call it a support group specialising in the distinct troubles of an international student.
Speaking to CBC co-organizer Ben Khoo, who works with Western University’s Wellness Education Centre said: “I think what [international students] are experiencing is really different to what Canadian-born Chinese students are experiencing and to what the other people on campus are experiencing… That’s why we wanted to have this group.”
This wellness circle – a partnership between the Chinese Students and Scholars Association (CSSA) and Wellness Education Centre – lets student vent their troubles, learn that it’s okay to be struggling and find ways to cope with it. Group leaders can speak Mandarin, making it easier to translate when it comes to less familiar concepts.
“[We’re] just trying to make students have a strong mind, and trying to make them confident facing any problem,” said Shuwen Huang, president of the CSSA.
Huang himself struggled with his coursework last year and ended up changing programs – not the easiest thing to explain to parents who have banked their hopes and dreams on their child to do well in a foreign school.
The circle teaches a different skill each week from having difficult conversations to leadership, according to Khoo who is from Malaysia originally.
Although these lessons could be useful for any student, Khoo said it’s important that the group leaders understand where Chinese international students are coming from.
“We have the experiences that may resonate with the people who are coming here, so we do understand certain aspects of what they’re experiencing and we can share some of what’s going on in our lives as well,” Khoo said.
Canada is quickly gaining on the United States and United Kingdom as the preferred study destination choice among international students, according to a recent survey by international education thinktank Quacquarelli Symonds (QS).
While its immigration policies and welcoming attitudes make the Great White North highly attractive among this group of students, there have been several events that have marred the experience of current students in the country.
Last year, two students – Cara Ellen Soules, 19 and Brandon Papp, 21 – died suddenly within the space of two weeks, putting a spotlight on the importance of on-campus pastoral support for students dealing with stress and mental health issues.
“We don’t anticipate the need is going to go down,” said Rick Ezekiel, Western’s senior director of student experience. “The trend across the country is that this need is going to continue to grow.”
Western’s Wellness Centre website show they have been hosting talks by mental wellness advocate Mark Henic and activist Kevin Breel, who went viral with his TEDx talk, “Confessions of a Depressed Comic, as well as screening short films on the issue.