I would say staff members can ALWAYS be of assistance to students. However staff not trained in mental health issues should not, at any time, become involved in personal / family / relationship / academic stress issues. Staff should always be very mindful of their field of expertise - a meeting that seemed to have gone well and advice given that seemed to have been accepted - could have devastating outcomes. If staff are not trained in counselling and mental health, they should offer support to the student by referring them to specialist staff. Students can be reassured that counsellors are there to assist, and is what they are employed to do on an everyday basis (indicating there is no shame in working through these feelings / issues).
Staff bridge building with students can be done through joining and participating in International Friendship Programs or clubs, as these provide an "out of office hours" way shared cultural exchange, which can provide an ideal way to be seen as an approachable, supportive, and non-judgemental staff member.
How might a staff member misinterpret some of the signs of stress mentioned?
- Marked decline in quality of work and/or class participation (other interests now that they are no longer under the watchful eye of the home community)
- Frequent absences from class (Freedom)
- Marked change in personal hygiene or appearance (this one is tough - I used to collect students arriving in Toowoomba on the week-ends from the McCafferty's Coach Terminal in Toowoomba - MANY a time, I would be greeted by a suit clad, clean cut, slick combed black short haired, neat and tidy student who would call me "M'am" - before two or three months have passed - that same student could be seen in jeans, t-shirts, "funky" hair, which could have blond streaks or blond, brown and red streaks, and now addresses me as "Hey, Eileen, how 'r ya?" The reason for the transformation - they have 9-10 months before they have to go back and visit Mum and Dad, until then - they are going to "let their hair down" so to speak.
- Extreme dependency on academic or administrative staff. "Also a difficult one to judge - new students, in my experience, can imprint on admin staff like new born ducks. Trained / experienced admin staff understand that this can be part of the security the student needs as they are trying to adapt to the new country, culture, academic process - in this issue, staff coming along or encouraging to meet the student at various social events, particularly during orientation, provides opportunities to get the student into social support groups. Usually within the first week or two the student begins to let go of the admin staff's apron strings and settle into their new life.
- Stigma that they may have a mental "problem".
- The name "Counsellor"
- Not confident of approaching the reception / administrative staff to try to make an appointment / lack of privacy in the reception area.
In the case of basic learning support - I would print relevant information regarding support workshops from the Internet for them and supply the dates, times and locations of support. Intensive learning support, I would assist the student to book an appointment at reception.
In your organisation, what does the staff consider the most difficult issues to assist international students with?
Author: Eileen Hjertum - PIER Online Diploma student