Monday 21 January is Blue Monday, a day with the unenviable status of ‘most depressing day of the year’. After a long festive break it’s no surprise that the beginning of a new year can be a struggle for many. For those of us working in the sector it is important to remember the additional issues that international students may be facing.
UKCISA’s grant scheme has funded a number of research studies and pilot projects into international students’ wellbeing over the past few years, from mental health to raising awareness of importance of nutrition and impact of living at a distance from family.
Created by our member institutions and students’ unions, these resources have a wealth of useful information and feature practical recommendations for you to implement in your institutions. Here’s a taster of some of the findings. We’ll be focusing on some of the reports and findings over the next few weeks so make sure you’re subscribed to our enews if you’re not already!
1. ‘It’s odd to think that if I missed a lecture, the lecturer noticed because simply there’s no black person in the room.’
The University of Edinburgh ran an investigation into the mental health and wellbeing of MasterCard Foundation Scholars. The most prominent overarching theme that emerged from the study is that being part of a minority group was an unfamiliar experience; encountered for the first time when students moved to study in the UK. As the participants disclosed, while they ‘never had to think about race before’, their transition into the University of Edinburgh entailed ‘recognising their race in relation to other peoples’ races’.
The report gives recommendations for other institutions to learn from their research, including raising intercultural awareness among university staff, to ensure that they are sensitive to the particular challenges faced by BME students.
2. The University of Sunderland ran a project to increase access to wellbeing services for international students having noticed that only 9% of all referrals to their wellbeing services were coming from international students
The Student Wellbeing Service used a series of workshops to support international students with their transition into university life and culture in the UK. Read their recommendations to implement similar initiatives in your institution or students’ union ukcisa.org.uk/Bounce-Back
3. ‘I feel a sense of expectation; that they so want me to succeed and that can make me feel very stressed at times. I can’t fail.’
Sheffield Hallam University researched the importance of family in enhancing UK students’ retention and success. One of the things they highlighted was that for some students, the pressure to support the family at home was compounded by the expectation of carving out a more prosperous future for their family by being successful in their international studies. The team has provided a range of recommendations at university and policy level. For example, that academic staff and personal tutors should consider the whole picture of the learner, and be pastoral in approach, asking basic questions which can help the student to feel a sense of trust and confidence. Read the set of recommendations and the full report at ukcisa.org.uk/Mobilising-family-support
4. ‘A tendency to wait until it’s too late, so only when it gets really bad then I do something…’
University of Plymouth’s research highlighted that students believed they were responsible for resolving difficulties themselves and mentioned feeling that it was a sign of failing to seek support. There was no sense from the students interviewed that they viewed talking about dilemmas, problems or difficulties to a counsellor could be helpful. The report provides practical recommendations from students who took part in the project groups and semi-structured interviews for you to overcome this in your own institution. Visit ukcisa.org.uk/Reaching-out-to-enhance-wellbeing
5. ‘I always believe that food draws people together. By being able to appreciate food, we can easily create a community.’
‘Having familiar foods helps settle you in and combat homesickness, while trying local foods is part of the experience of being here.’
Food plays a significant, but sometimes unacknowledged, role in the wellbeing of international students. The University of Reading developed a ‘food induction toolkit’ – an online resource to support international students in adjusting to shopping, cooking and eating in the UK. Their project found that 95% of respondents (students already in the UK) feel that food is important to the transition experience of international students. Read the full report at ukcisa.org.uk/The-international-student-food-project
The University of Reading will be sharing their findings from this project at our Members’ Seminar in London on 13 February.
See all of our wellbeing resources in our resource bank. You can also read or share our mental health information for students.