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Counseling Across Cultures:

Helping International Students Find Their Way

October 4, 2023

There are over 1 million international students studying in the U.S., and they face unique challenges when it comes to living and studying abroad. From dealing with homesickness and social isolation to knowing when and how to seek help, these barriers can significantly impact a student’s overall well-being and academic success. To overcome these challenges, it’s essential for international students to have access to counseling services specifically tailored to their needs.

In this blog, we’ll be covering:

  • Dealing With Homesickness & Isolation
  • Providing Access to High-Quality Counseling
  • Building a Support System for International Students

Dealing with Homesickness and Social Isolation

One of the most common struggles that international students face is homesickness. A survey from HSBC found that 74% of international students say it’s the sounds of home they miss the most. Being away from family and friends, adjusting to a new culture and language, and feeling isolated can take a toll on their mental health. Counseling services play a crucial role in helping students navigate these emotions and provide a safe space for them to express their thoughts and concerns.

College counseling centers provide a safe and confidential space for students to express their emotions and work through their feelings of homesickness or loneliness. Through active listening and empathy, counselors can help students explore the root causes of their emotions and develop coping strategies to manage them.

In addition to individual counseling, group therapy can also be beneficial for international students. Support groups specifically tailored for international students can create a sense of community and understanding. Sharing experiences and emotions with others who are going through similar challenges can provide a sense of validation and comfort. Group therapy sessions can also provide practical tips and advice on how to cope with adjusting to studying abroad, such as maintaining regular communication with loved ones back home or engaging in activities that provide a sense of familiarity.

Furthermore, counseling services can collaborate with other campus organizations to create a welcoming and inclusive environment for international students. By working together with student clubs, academic departments, and residence life staff, counseling services can ensure that international students have access to a wide range of resources and support systems. This collaborative approach can help address the multifaceted challenges of homesickness and social isolation.

Providing Access to High-Quality Counseling

Seeking help can be an intimidating task for international students, especially if they are unfamiliar with the available resources or hesitant to reach out due to cultural differences. For instance, a study by the Journal of American College Health found that only 33% of international students considered using mental health services versus 56% of domestic students. Counseling services need to actively promote awareness and educate students about the importance of seeking help when needed.

One effective approach is to provide workshops or orientation sessions at the beginning of the academic year, where international students can learn about the counseling services offered on campus. By equipping students with information about the counseling process, insurance/billing, and debunking any misconceptions, they can feel more empowered to seek help when necessary.

In addition to workshops, counseling services can also collaborate with international student organizations to host events that focus on mental health and well-being. These events can include guest speakers, panel discussions, and interactive activities that encourage open conversations about seeking help. By creating a supportive and inclusive environment, international students will feel more comfortable reaching out for assistance.

Furthermore, it’s also crucial for counseling services to have a visible and easily accessible presence on campus. This can be achieved by setting up counseling booths during orientation events, international student fairs, and other campus-wide activities. By being present in these settings, counselors can engage with international students, answer their questions, and provide them with the necessary information to seek help when required.

Overall, it’s essential for counseling services to take proactive measures to educate and empower international students to seek help when needed. By providing workshops, collaborating with student organizations, offering informational materials in multiple languages, and having a visible presence on campus, counseling services can ensure that international students have the support they need to thrive academically and emotionally.

Building a Support System for International Students

In addition to counseling services, colleges and universities have a responsibility to offer comprehensive support to international students. This includes cultural orientation programs, language assistance, academic tutoring, and career counseling tailored to the unique needs of international students.

Monica Thiagarajan, liaison for the international students at the Counseling and Mental Health Center at the University of Texas-Austin, provides several tips for how counseling centers can better serve international students. This is what she suggests:

  • Hire a designated psychologist to serve as a liaison for international students
  • Partner with different academic departments
  • Provide mental health services in languages that international students are most comfortable using
  • Collaborate with medical staff to integrate mental health treatment with primary care
  • Offer virtual care for students who may not be comfortable requesting in-person services

Colleges should also create a welcoming and inclusive campus environment by organizing cultural events, promoting diversity awareness, and providing spaces for international students to connect with their peers. By fostering a sense of belonging and inclusion, colleges can help international students thrive both academically and personally.

Key Takeaways

In conclusion, counseling services tailored to the needs of international students are essential in overcoming cultural barriers. By addressing homesickness, social isolation, and providing support in seeking help, counseling services play a crucial role in ensuring the success of these students. Additionally, creating a support system at the institutional level is vital in helping international students navigate the challenges of studying abroad through their academic journey and beyond.

Learn how you can help your counseling center run more efficiently and better support your students.