Ozyonum, an international student from Turkey and a doctoral candidate at Concordia University in Montreal, argued that international students have experienced physically, financially and emotionally challenging obstacles during this pandemic.
International student mental health has declined due to the uncertainty and disruption caused by Covid.
“Some were forced to fly home with little notice, were unable to re-enter Canada and had to take classes online in different time zones,” she said.
All of these difficulties are taking a toll. Ozyonum recommended colleges and universities establish peer support groups of domestic and international students.
This would not only help international students to deal with mental health issues, it would also connect them with Canadian students – a perennial challenge for overseas students.
She took post-secondary institutions to task for their waffling around whether fall classes would be in-person or online. And last-minute decisions by many schools that students must be fully vaccinated to be on campus left some international students scrambling to get jabbed.
“Canadian universities should inform students well in advance or should not rush students to be back to campus”
“In my opinion, Canadian universities should inform students well in advance or should not rush students to be back to campus,” she argued.
In many countries, there is a stigma about mental health. This may prevent international students from seeking services on Canadian campuses. Schools need to make international students aware of what’s available – and do so in a way that helps them overcome the stigma. Marketing campaigns directed at international students must help them get past their reluctance to seek help.
Better communication is the key to assisting international students, argued Ozyonum.
For example, she said that schools should advise students that they can drop a course without penalty (before the deadline) if they are overwhelmed by the challenges of studying online or have mental health issues.
Financial concerns can weigh on students. A Western University survey found that 81% of international graduate students are struggling financially. In Ozyonum’s case, the Turkish lira has lost half its value against the Canadian dollar since 2017, significantly raising the cost of her education.
Post-secondary institutions can’t solve all of these issues, but they can support international students in working through them.
A Salesforce survey of 2,000 students and staff across a number of countries earlier in 2021 found 76% of students indicated wellbeing as their most significant challenge, meanwhile 73% of staff felt the same way.
Education choice platform Studyportals has also called for university rankings to rate wellbeing provision in order to have continued relevance and enable informed decision making.