Claudia Yañez, a #WeAreInternational Student Ambassador, reflects on wellbeing during the pandemic and provides tips for students.
Over the last year, I have read about how Covid-19 has affected the lives of people around the world. Prospective and current international students coming to the UK have gone through a plethora of particular experiences. From applying to study at a UK university, to adapting to new circumstances and making difficult decisions such as going back to their home country, moving to a different accommodation or even pausing/suspending their studies as the Covid-19 outbreak developed – it has been a challenging time for international students. Hence, it is important to highlight and acknowledge that ‘we are facing the same storm, but we are not on the same boat’. In this analogy, the storm would be Covid-19, which we have had to face and navigate since March 2020. Everyone is still facing some challenges and continuing to adapt to new conditions of work, study and recreation.
Talking about wellbeing during the pandemic has become more and more common, and in turn, also the ways in which we can look after ourselves, our wellbeing. A framework that caught my attention is one called ‘Five Ways to Wellbeing’ developed by the New Economics Foundation (NEF):
1) Connect with other people,
2) Be physically active
3) Keep learning new skills
4) Give to others
5) Take notice and be aware of the present moment
Although this may be a useful guide to make us reflect on our wellbeing, we should not feel obliged to do all of the activities proposed, but keep them in mind. Looking after our wellbeing should be a continuous process, a process of knowing ourselves and identifying our wellbeing needs. Therefore, it is vital to try to be aware of what we actually need and to start trying (or continue doing) activities that are important to us and make us feel well. Sometimes we might need someone (a friend or relative) to tell us to try out some activities (even taking a break!) for our wellbeing.
As an international student, building a community has been key to my wellbeing. I have seen how our friends, family and co-workers have played a key role in the process of looking after our own wellbeing and cultivating some activities (e.g. baking, cooking, hill walking, cycling, gardening - to mention a few of them) that perhaps were new to us before lockdown. Personally, I have started new hobbies such as growing succulents (a jade plant and a hawthornia), which are really good indoor plants. I also introduced myself to baking; it’s all about ‘trial and error’, but once you get some practice you feel more confident and start to create your own recipes. I don’t need to look at the list of ingredients because I can remember all of them, but I still have to double check on measurements!
Finally, my advice would be to take things slow but steady and do not give up the first time. Knowing what wellbeing activities interest us can take some time to find out, but it’s worth it. Be aware though that what works for some people may not work for you, in my case I tried mindfulness and wellness apps but these were just not working for me (the apps were becoming a burden since I frequently had to check on my phone!). However I like yoga, even though I do not practice it regularly, and have put it on my to-do-list. I believe it is also worthwhile to have a look at what initiatives and services are available at your university or college as there may be some that you are missing out on.
If you are struggling with your wellbeing or having a difficult time, you can contact your university’s Student Services or International Student Support team who will be able to support you. Your wellbeing is important so don’t be afraid to reach out for help if needed.