by: Begimay Koigeldi
In recent years, a concerning trend has emerged among international students in Canada, with many dealing with mental health issues because of their profound sense of loneliness and isolation. Several factors contribute to this struggle, including the difficulty of adjusting to a new culture, high expectations from family and self, high living expenses, and the difficulty of finding work in Canada without prior Canadian work experience.
An international student from Ukraine shares his experience struggling to adapt to the new environment. Oleg, a recent college graduate, is a touching example of the difficulties faced by many international students. Anxiety and nervousness became unwelcome companions in his final year of college, fueled by the dual pressures of academic expectations and the sacrifices made by his family for his education abroad.
“I was not able to complete my assignments on time. I started missing deadlines. I was feeling tired all the time and I actually started missing my hometown.”
According to research from the Centre for Innovation in Campus Mental Health (CICMH), adjusting to a new culture is a significant factor contributing to international students’ mental health challenges. The lack of a familiar support network annoy feelings of isolation, emphasizing the importance of proactive support systems in educational institutions.
Many international students struggle with the cultural adjustment process. Isolation can result from the transition to a new environment, unfamiliar customs, and a different educational system.
Furthermore, the weight of expectations, which is often amplified by the sacrifices families make to send their children abroad for education, can add to international students’ stress. The pressure to succeed academically while navigating a foreign environment can lead to anxiety and feelings of inadequacy.
Another critical factor in the equation is financial stress. A study conducted by Statistics Canada sheds light on the difficulties posed by high living expenses, particularly in metropolitan areas. Juggling tuition, housing, and daily living expenses adds another layer of stress, affecting international students' mental health. A further concern for international students, particularly those with no prior Canadian work experience, is finding work. The combination of a competitive job market and limited opportunities for newcomers can lead to feelings of frustration and helplessness. This economic uncertainty exacerbates the students' mental health issues.
Canadian colleges and universities are responding to these challenges by refocusing on mental health services. Counselling services, peer mentorship programes, and cultural integration initiatives all aim to create a more welcoming environment. Furthermore, efforts are being made to connect international students with internship and mentorship opportunities that will help them enter the Canadian workforce.
According to recent data, by the end of 2023 Canada is expected to attract close to 900,000 international students and the number is expected to grow over the following years. Therefore, Canada is actively taking measures to protect international students from financial burdens. Starting January 1, 2024 the cost of living requirement will be increased from $10,000 to $20,635 as announced by the the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Marc Miller. Additionally, the limit on the amount of time students can work during their studies will be waived.
What steps can students take to help themselves?
In the midst of the challenges faced by international students in Canada, there are proactive steps individuals can take to support their own mental well-being. Alaine, a dedicated psychologist from the Philippines with four years of professional experience, has been instrumental in providing support and guidance to individuals facing a variety of challenges.
"Students should always prioritize self-care, so, when you are already feeling tired, you have to make sure that you are getting enough rest as student. If you feel like your body is already tired, your mind is already tired. Find some rest." says Alaine.
The Seneca team provides short-term one-on-one counselling and assistance to both domestic and international students in Ontario. All registered Seneca students have access to these services, which are free and confidential. The Personal Counselling office is open Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. EST. Personal Counselling is available by phone, face-to-face virtually or in-person.
Recognizing the complex nature of these challenges—from cultural adaptations to high expectations and financial stress—here are some practical steps students may take to empower themselves:
- Set realistic goals for yourself.
- Mindfully Manage Your Finances
- Improve Your Time Management Skills
- Cultivate Resilience
- Practice Self-Care
- Communicate Openly
As international students' experiences come to light, there is a collective call to bridge the gap between academic success and holistic well-being. Canada seeks to ensure that its educational landscape not only promotes diversity but also prioritises the mental health of its international student community by recognising and addressing the multifaceted challenges of cultural adjustment, financial stress, and employment struggles.