Adjusting to college life can be challenging for any incoming freshman. When home is in another country, adjustment to college can be even more difficult. As a result, the social wellbeing of international students needs attention to improve student wellness, student health, and student retention.
Student wellness has become a top priority for all universities for the past year. International students have faced additional obstacles as borders closed and travel restrictions limited access to friends and families in their home countries. No matter how strong the student wellness and student retention initiatives have been, the social wellbeing of international students has been impacted.
As new initiatives are rolled out across colleges, specific attention to this student population will be important to ensure student retention post-pandemic.
Provide opportunities for connection
Whether on campus or not, students need to gather. While Zoom may not be the ideal setting, student wellness is supported through connecting with one another, regardless of location. The social wellbeing of international students is especially critical when many have been physically distanced from family and friends for a year or more. Providing opportunities for them to gather, speak the same language, and bond over their shared loss improves student health for this population.
Showcase their culture
Even while gatherings are limited, having a chance to showcase their heritage is an important part of social wellbeing of international students. The pandemic has broken down walls as we’ve shared a collective experience across the globe. Use this as an opportunity to highlight the unique cultures that have been impacted and the resilience of their home countries. Student retention can be a byproduct when students feel valued and appreciated, and equally connected to a community that cares about their experience.
Support mental health
A 2018 study reported that international students are at higher risk of poorer health and wellbeing generally, and specifically at risk for health compromising behaviors like alcohol and substance abuse and problematic gambling. In general, about one-third of this population self-evaluates their health as only fair. A sense of social isolation frequently contributes to these issues. Student wellness and student health efforts, therefore, need to address the mental health of international students to address the loneliness and isolation that can lead to some of these self-sabotaging behaviors. Social stigma is often a barrier that needs to be overcome for international students to use available mental health services since a western approach to mental health doesn’t resonate with many international students.
Unlike traditional mental health counseling, mindfulness is a more universally accepted practice across the globe. International students may be more familiar with these meditative and awareness practices and more accepting of them when their student health is at risk. Findings in a recent study report promising results in their research for the social wellbeing of international students to be positive impacted through mindfulness.
Much work has yet to be done in the work around social wellbeing of international students. Limited attention has been given to this population historically and more attention needs to be given to fully understand and address the social wellbeing of this important group of students.