Breaking the Silence: The Importance of Mental Health for International University Students

StudentPulse Team
January 27, 2023

In 2016, Victor left behind the comforts and familiar faces of his home in Nigeria to travel to the Netherlands where he won a place in a university to study accounting and finance. Eager to experience a new culture and t take on the challenge of earning a degree in his chosen field, Victor was excited and ready to hit the ground running. Little did he know that in a few short months, he would be lying in bed, struggling with failing his exams, culture shock, and feeling like he didn't belong. At best, all he wanted to do was to run away and start a new life. At worst, he entertained suicidal thoughts.

In this episode of the StudentPulse podcast, we speak to Victor Nosa, now a proud graduate of Saxion University in the Netherlands, on his experience as an international student, the surprising toll it took on his mental health and what educational institutions can do to ensure international students are equipped to handle the stresses of university life and make the most of their college experience.

What you don’t know may hurt you

When Victor arrived in the Netherlands, he had been blissfully unaware of the differences he would face, both academically and socially. Back home, he was used to a style of learning which focused more on theory, whereas in the Netherlands, the focus was on practical application. For instance, instead of being able to give a definition of what a balance sheet is, the university wanted him to be able to practically use a balance sheet. This difference in expectations and his unawareness of its existence meant that no matter how hard or how long he studied, Victor couldn’t seem to muster up the marks to pass his papers.

Victor also struggled with the social aspects of his university experience. Culturally, his home country had been a place where it’s normal for people to turn up at each other’s homes uninvited, to view punctuality as a suggestion instead of a rule, and to understand that when help is asked for it is obligated to be given. Operating using these social rules in the Netherlands made Victor seem out of place and a stranger to his fellow students while he himself felt frustrated at their lack of support.

Two quarters deep into his first year and at risk of not being able to achieve his goal of continuing into second year, Victor had been overwhelmed, lonely and struggling with his mental health.

What changed for Victor?

Victor’s story has a happy ending as he has now begun a career as a financial controller after successfully graduating from Saxion University. But what changed for him? Victor credits the following support from his university as essential resources that pulled him out of his dire situation and helped put him on the right track to not only survive, but thrive:  

  • Having an assigned mentor he could turn to for help. After listening to his situation, Victor’s mentor was able to get him the necessary help, such as an appointment with a psychologist, as well as providing him with moral support to continue persisting. From his experience, Victor suggests that especially in the first six months, mentors should actively approach their mentees to check in on them instead of waiting for students to approach them with problems. This is because international students may not be familiar with the concept of a mentor and instead, may want to avoid burdening their mentors with their personal problems.
  • Easy access to a counselor or psychologist. As Victor’s university provided their students with free access to an on-campus psychologist, Victor was able to receive help for his mental state in a timely manner. When dealing with mental health issues, timeliness is often key.
  • Putting in place a plan of action. Victor’s psychologist was able to help Victor put together a plan of action that consisted of small steps. For example, knowing that Victor was anxious about not making it into the second year, his psychologist helped him with an action plan that firstly focused on just passing two subjects. That way, little by little, Victor was able to earn small wins and gain much-needed confidence.
  • Pairing up with a local study buddy. Victor’s mentor also introduced Victor to a local student who already has experience in Victor’s course. With his buddy, Victor was able to ask questions about his studies, get help on what he needed to focus on, as well as have company for simple student activities such as going to the library, to make him feel more at ease in his new home.

StudentPulse helps universities better connect with their students and provide them with access to essential resources in a timely manner

At StudentPulse, we seek to empower educational institutions to better understand students’ needs by combining microsurveys with real-time data analytics. Universities will be able to easily connect with their international students and perform quick check-ins at regular intervals to get an understanding of how they are faring at key points of their journey.

StudentPulse also consolidates access to all the available support and resources for students in one place to make it quick and convenient for students to get help. Therefore, depending on the answers they provide in their survey, students can be automatically connected to the appropriate resource. For example, if a student indicates that they might be in a bad mental state, they can be directed immediately to make an appointment with a psychologist. This allows students to get help on an individual level, at the exact time when help is needed.

With StudentPulse, we can work together to build a reality where international students feel supported, understood, and have access to resources and services that cater to their needs. To learn more, feel free to reach out to our team here or click here to listen to the full version of our podcast with Victor!