Supporting international students in the US to navigate a changing world

Students walking through Baylor campus

Supporting international students in the US to navigate a changing world

International Education is a great opportunity but how can students be helped to face the challenges to their well-being?

A year after lockdown measures were introduced in most countries, the impact of social distancing and changes to the way we live, work, and interact with each other has taken a toll on our mental health.

But what do these changes mean for international students, many of whom are living and studying away from home for the first time?

On the one hand, international students currently studying in America or thinking about doing so have good reason to be optimistic. Under a new administration, the US is committed to warmly welcome students and to support the country’s excellent universities and colleges.

Furthermore, after a difficult start in fighting COVID-19, the vaccination roll-out has been very successful. As of Wednesday, April 7, 110 million Americans —roughly a third of the population, and 42.4% of adults, had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In good news for international students, overseas nationals will also be welcome to take the vaccine. There are hopes that this means life should begin to return to normal and that campuses will again be thriving communities of learning by the start of the next academic year.

Yet, the last year has not been easy and it is not surprising that many feel the cost on their well-being and confidence. Support services have often been strained and the World Health Organization (WHO) reports a 72% disruption to mental health services for children and adolescents across 130 countries.

In a higher education context, as recognized by Brunsting, Zachry, and Takeuchi:

"It is critical for college and university personnel, whether administration, faculty, or campus life, to appreciate the unique challenges facing international students".

International students may face specific challenges, but thankfully they are not alone. While navigating a world affected by COVID-19 and moving to another country, managing new academic, social, and cultural expectations, and assuming greater independence takes courage, for international students intending to study in the US this fall, specialist support is on hand.

As a leading international education provider, Study Group is acutely aware that good mental health is essential.

Joshua Rubin, Study Group’s Executive Vice-President for Higher Education in North America, shares his perspective:

“At Study Group, international student wellbeing and safety is our top priority. To help learners studying at our US partner universities, through our close connections to campus services, students can access friendly help and advice through:

  • International Student Support Services.
  • Diversity and Community Engagement programs.
  • Health and Wellness programs.
  • Student Engagement and Inclusion programs.
  • University Counseling Services.
  • University Health Centers.

Study Group supplements these critical university services for pathway students through providing even more personalized interactions with students. Our on-campus welfare staff meet with students one-to-one on a regular basis and advise on a variety of topics including academic, student life and mental well-being. We encourage a culture of honestly about common struggles. If any learner faces difficulties, they can raise their concerns openly so they can be assisted, and any problems sympathetically addressed.”

Students also appreciate this support to transition into a new environment and fulfil their academic potential, progressing to the university program of their choice. As well as personal support, helping students to create their own peer networks and friendship groups across cultural boundaries is especially welcome.

As the US international education organization NAFSA explains in this report:

“Roommates, friends, faculty members, staff, family, and religious/spiritual advisers all can be sources of support. It is important for the student to find a safe place to talk about what is happening.”

According to Chen Chen, an international student from China, studying at a Study Group US partner university, these kinds of connections are at the heart of international education and are a source of pleasure:

“You have a lot of opportunities to meet people from diverse cultural backgrounds and to make friends with people from other places around the world. It means you not only learn about American culture, but also other cultures.”

Joshua Rubin adds:

"Our university partners also provide classes and workshops for students to encourage diverse and inclusive interactions, and international learners offer peer support to one another as they share the common experience of studying overseas. This enables them to integrate effectively into life in the US and often becomes a bond of friendship that lasts far beyond graduation.”