Inequality, racism, anxiety. These are some of the issues that international students go through every day as they pursue their studies in a country far different from theirs. Aside from that, many of these college students are still in transition to becoming an adult. This is a period of emotional instability as well as self-discovery, where they need to focus on their goals and start becoming independent.
There is a lot to balance as a student – academic, culture, social and emotional aspects, to name a few. To add to their plate, the COVID-19 pandemic has happened and started to magnify the various issues in the life of an international student.
Struggles in the Time of Coronavirus
The pandemic has etched a big impact in the lives of the international students. When borders started to close, some decided to just go home while some were stuck in their host countries. For those who stayed behind and got locked down in their dorms or studio apartments, mental health became a key concern. Even if they are staying in the country where the university is just a few blocks away, there are still no face to face classes. Everyone relied on virtual classes online and there was minimal interaction between other students.
A number of international students who once had part-time jobs got laid off because of businesses closing down. This led to struggles in finances, considering the need to pay their rent and have three square meals in a day. The pressure to survive financially became an everyday concern.
Time zone difference
Students who have managed to go home face a different set of challenges. Those who have 12 or more hours as a time zone difference may have found it very exhausting to be up and about during class. The fatigue and consequences on their sleep are not without effects on their mental and emotional wellness.
As for the online distance learning programs set by most institutions, non-native speakers may have difficulties keeping up with what is shown on the screen. Some need to translate or use other apps to better understand the lesson. Classes held online adds on to the stress piling up for international students who struggle with the language of instruction.
Major changes must be done
In year two of the pandemic, institutions and education partners need to step up and address the lasting impacts on students’ wellbeing.
Flexible policies need to be implemented
To lessen the stress and anxiety of students, policies regarding visa status processing and enrollment can be adjusted to the needs of the students. This is one of the major issues why some international students often choose to take a break and not finish their program until the pandemic is over.
As most international students are stuck in their dorms or apartments while their own families struggle economically, financial assistance is an important intervention. There are countries that have rolled out Covid 19 unemployment assistance to international students in the entire duration of the pandemic, enabling them to focus well on their studies with part of the financial burden off their shoulders.
Accommodate deadlines and schedules
Not all international students have easy access to the internet. Some go to a café just to connect and participate in online classes. To help international students attend their classes and do online coursework on time, it is best to give them ample time and consideration. As for schedules, there are some professors who make it a point to teach at night so their students in the other part of the world can attend the class in the day. Compromise helps a lot in lessening or averting mental crises due to desperate situations among learners.
Counseling is key
International students can greatly benefit from free and prompt mental health counseling. Institutions can have their professionals speak to one student at a time or set a schedule. This way, the student can voice out their thoughts and lend insight into what they are going through. Having someone to talk to about challenges in life is one way of lessening anxiety and stress, such as when help is coming from professionals and counselors with a solid program for intervention.