Thursday 31 March 2016

Mental Health as an International Student

Chloe talks about the difficulties of being an international student, and why its important to take extra care of yourself, or your friends around you, whilst you are away from home

- Chloe Lim

Moving to university is a huge change for anyone. A new environment, new people and the stresses of working on a degree without the familiarity of home and family, is a challenge in and of itself. For an international student however, these challenges may be amplified and take a toll on one’s mental health.

It cannot be overstated how much of a culture shock it can be going abroad for any period of time, much less for the duration of an undergraduate degree or more. If you’re like me and used to warmer skies and balmy equatorial heat, the novelty of England’s drippy drizzly weather can easily run out.

Throughout my first year, I was never a person to consider being away from home a challenge. In fact I relished the new-found independence that I had to do whatever I wanted, when I wanted. Going home in the summer felt like a chore instead of a welcome retreat. However, three years is a long time to be away and by my second year I was feeling the strain, and noticed similar experiences in the lives of other international students too. It was difficult watching my English friends easily find a way home when things got too stressful at university, knowing I didn’t have access to the same reprieve. Other times, all I really wanted was a good bowl of hot Singaporean food instead of yet another serving of chilli!

If you’re an international student, the first thing to recognise is that it is okay to struggle with missing home or with the extra effort of having to do more for yourself. It is not your fault for finding it more difficult to fit in, to deal with negative comments, to learn a new language if you must, or even to get over a bout of physical or mental illness. It is completely acceptable if you find that you have not adjusted as easily as the next person. Even if you do not consciously realise it, being in unfamiliar territory, possibly without a complete support system, can take a toll on your body and mind. Being surrounded with positive company, both from home and from anywhere else, and talking about how you feel, is so important to reduce feelings of isolation.

I found it helpful as well to create a safe and familiar domestic environment. Whether you live in college owned accommodation or you live out, small reminders of home are helpful in creating a comfortable space to rest and sleep well. Learning to make some of your favourite dishes is also a great reminder that things aren’t necessarily all that different! Taking the time to understand yourself and how you are reacting to your environment is a great help as you learn to adjust. Remember to also take some time off when you’re struggling and be aware of the support systems available to you at your university if necessary.

On the other hand, if you are friends with an international student, why not check in with them too and see how they’re doing? A kind word or a helpful conversation is sometimes all that is needed for a new place to feel a little bit more like home.

For more information on seeking support click here

For more information on understanding mental health itself, click here

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