How Counseling Promotes International Students’ Well-Being

Jeff Foot | 2-11-2019

You know the student. The one who has just arrived in the United States with limited knowledge of the culture and is apprehensive of what awaits. English may not be his or her first language and he or she may have trouble expressing their thoughts and concerns. The student may even break down right there at your desk from the stress of trying to juggle everything as he or she seeks an education in our country.

Hexiang Dong, a Chinese international student at the University of Missouri-Columbia, shared details of her battle with serious depression. “When I have problems…I just force myself to deal with it, but sometimes it’s just beyond my emotion ability,” Dong said in an interview with CGTN America, an international language news channel based in Washington, D.C.

Many students like Dong benefit greatly from having professional counselors readily available to them while they are attending college in the U.S.

 

Having someone an international student can talk to

The international student population experiences an array of challenges including language barriers, difficulty making American friends, academics, social distractions, and difficulties in psychological and sociological adjustment to their new environment.

It is important to make international students feel welcome and to do that we must understand their needs. These needs could include anything from navigating student debt to feeling homesick because the food they enjoyed at home is not available.

Some international students cope extremely well right out of the airport gate while others may require a little more support during their transition to a new culture.

As a longtime international student advocate, LewerMark understands the complex feelings these students endure and develops alternatives to help them adapt to their adopted surroundings. For instance, our exclusive partnership with Morneau Shepell’s My Student Support Program (My SSP) is designed to help international students who are having trouble acclimating to life in America by matching students with support in their own, native language and culture.

“With a significant number of students choosing to study outside of their home country, this offering is increasingly important for schools to extend to their students,” said Matthew McEvoy, Senior Director of Morneau Shepell said. “By encouraging international students to seek support in times of need, together we can decrease the stigma and enhance the overall student experience.”

 

Expressing Concerns to Native Speakers Who Understand

International students seeking support want to hear a familiar language because it is much easier for them to express themselves in their native language—as it is for all of us.

Morneau Shepell easily integrates with existing campus resources and connects students to licensed, professional counselors who speak their native languages and understand the obstacles that come with being immersed in a new culture. The multidisciplinary network of expert counselors can identify presenting problems or needs as they arise.

Immediate support is available in six core languages and ongoing support is provided in more than 60 languages via app, chat, web, telephone and video 24/7. This is beneficial to you as an international advisor because chances are, you do not speak all of the languages that your international students do.

 

Expanding Social Networks and Avoiding Cultural Loneliness

“Cultural loneliness” occurs from the loss of native culture and language. Oftentimes cultural loneliness is not eased by social support in the target country, which may be why international students often lean on and form friendships primarily with those who know their native culture and language for consolation  Patron, M. (2014). Loss and loneliness among international students. Psychology Journal, 11(1), 24-26

Getting help from a professional, licensed counselor who knows the international student’s culture and fluently speaks his or her language can help a student combat cultural loneliness. The counselor can encourage the student to expand their social circle and interact with other students who are not from their country of origin. This social interaction can help keep the student from drifting into isolation from others and avoiding student activities.

 

Reducing the Effects of Homesickness

If homesickness is not addressed, it could snowball into larger forms of depression that can affect the student’s performance. Homesickness can arise from something as simple as missing the food or music from back home.

Although some colleges are trying to incorporate more familiar food choices and diverse cultural events on their campuses, some students still do not feel comfortable in their new environment and feel homesick.

We believe that international students should not have to handle their struggle with homesickness alone and it is an issue that needs to be addressed. Click here to learn more about how homesickness affects international students.

 

Professional Counseling and International Student Health Insurance

“Many health insurance plans offer mental health benefits with meaningful coverage, but the real value to an international student is having the ability to speak with a provider in that student’s native language and when the need is immediate,” said Mike Lewer, President and CEO of LewerMark. “LewerMark’s focus has always been to protect international students with meaningful insurance coverage and high-quality service. Morneau Shepell’s focus on preventative support to foster student wellbeing makes this a perfect fit. We are pleased to provide this robust offering to our student population and to continue to improve the lives of students studying at our partner institutions.”

The Morneau Shepell My SSP program addresses mental health challenges that are not found in traditional health insurance packages for international students, such as:

  • Struggling with peer pressure, loneliness, stress, depression, and/or anxiety
  • Dealing with financial stress that can occur from tuition and other expenses while in school including debt advice and management
  • Balancing important responsibilities while experiencing a new culture
  • Coping with bereavement, harassment, eating disorders, substance abuse, gambling, domestic violence, and gay/lesbian/gender issues
  • Dealing with pregnancy and childcare issues

 

If you are interested in learning more about My SSP and other features of LewerMark’s international student insurance plan, you can contact: Jeff Foot, Ed.D, Executive Director of LewerMark, 800.821.7715, ext. 112 or via email at jfoot@lewer.com.

Author: Jeff Foot

Jeff Foot is the Executive Director at LewerMark and is responsible for developing new client relationships. He joined LewerMark after spending 17 years at Northwest Missouri State University where he served as Director of Admissions and International Affairs. While at the university he also served as International Affairs Director and Data Specialist for the Intercultural International Center. He has a doctoral degree in Educational Leadership and Administration from the University of Missouri, a Master of Science degree in Educational Leadership and Administration from NMSU and a Bachelor of Arts Sociology from the University of New Brunswick in Canada. Foot also led the English as a Second Language Program at Byuk Sung College in South Korea from 1998 to 2000.