The pain of being 6,872 miles away from home

One of my Chinese friends went to the United Kingdom in January last year and after less than half a year, she was found to have major depression.

She cried in the dormitory at night and attempted suicide.

Her condition disappeared after the school sent her to the hospital. For the better, the school had to send her back to China.

People were surprised of her suffering from depression because she was always a cheerful person. But her mother mentioned that because her condition was too serious, she immediately flew to the U.K. to pick up her daughter and then accompany her back to China.

According to a study published by Yale University, 45% of Chinese students who study abroad report that they have had symptoms of depression and 29% said they have symptoms of anxiety, compared with 13% rates of anxiety and depression in American students.

“Being an international student in the U.S. can bring a lot of added stressors. Aside from learning to navigate a new and sometimes very different academic system, international students may be adjusting to living far from family and friends for the first time. Family and friends back home might not be able to fully relate to what life in the U.S. is like, and new friends here might have a limited or stereotyped idea about the place a student is coming from, which can be lonely,” said Adrienne Matunas, who directs Castleton’s Pathway Program for English Language Learners.

My friend’s depression led her to try to commit suicide several times. Her mother was afraid that she would do something to hurt herself again so she stayed with her every day and asked the psychologist to come to their home every day to talk and treat her face to face.

It took my friend a year to heal.

“I have had a terrible year, and I never thought I would have mental health stress. When I arrived in the U.K., everything in my mind was almost studying, too many works were too difficult, I couldn’t handle them, I couldn’t get good grades, and this was one of the reasons that caused me depression,” the friend said. “I also often feel homesick because this is the first time in 20 years that I have been so far away from home.”

She said in the past, when she had problems she just forced herself to deal with them.

“But sometimes it’s just beyond my emotion ability,” she said.

She talked about always being educated to be tough and move on with mental distresses, and she has always been trying. However, after several months of struggling, she recognized that it was more than she could handle. She needed professional assistance from a psychologist.

In a May 2019 article in “Inside Higher Ed,” Xuhua Qin, a psychologist and multicultural specialist in counseling and mental health services at Tufts University, listed a range of signs advisers for international students can look for in determining whether to refer students to the counseling center, including deterioration in personal hygiene or dress, dramatic weight loss or gain, noticeable changes in mood, excessive absences, academic problems, social isolation, unusual behaviors, drug and alcohol abuse, or threat of harm to themselves or others.

The lives of international students might not be as glorious as everyone thinks. In a foreign country, a series of problems with academics, life, and social affairs must be faced by one person, and it’s easy to feel alone. These invisible pressures have overwhelmed some international students who have nowhere to vent their emotions.

“Through the treatment of some international students, I found that the unsatisfactory grades would make the international students feel guilty. They would think that parents paid expensive tuition fees and had high hopes for themselves. If their grades were not good, they would be intolerable,” said Yuanxu Luo, the doctor in China treating my friend. “When communicating with parents, in order to avoid parents’ concerns, they keep quiet about their own problems. And besides parents, there are no people who can care about them. After a long time, I feel nowhere to talk, produce a sense of depression that “no one understands myself,” and plant the seeds of depression.”

Matunas said awareness is important and at Castleton she tries to make sure students are talking.

“For multilingual students who are still developing fluency in English, it’s really hard to not have their roommates, classmates, and professors see the full them – the brilliance, humor, and social intelligence that they have in their first language but are still developing in English.” she said. “I’m so impressed by the grace and grit with which so many of Castleton’s nearly seventy international students face these challenges. No one should have to face these kinds of stressors alone, and I hope our international students can lean on the services Castleton provides – through our Wellness Center, student life offices, and student-led initiatives, like the Student Support Network – as we continue to learn how to support them best and make Castleton home.”

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