How international students coped through COVID

While they had an especially tough time in the pandemic overall research found they coped as well as locals – a new paper suggests they managed by being kind to themselves.

Wendy Larcombe, Tracii Ryan and Chi Baik (all from Uni Melbourne’s Centre for the Study of Higher Education make the case that international students used “self-compassion” as a coping strategy.*

Self-compassion covers giving oneself a pass, rather than making negative self-judgements, accepting setbacks are not unique and keeping them in perspective.

The researchers surveyed local and international undergraduates prior pandemic to identify coping measures and found; international students had “significantly higher” self- compassion scores than locals which appears to account for the former’s resilience.

As to why this may be, the authors state their data does not answer, but they suggest it could be cultural factors in coping responses, the attributes of people who choose study abroad and possibly they arrive braced for a tough time – missing home, being lonely and facing study setbacks.

“Advice that all international students experience such difficulties to some degree may encourage individuals to recognise the shared features of their experience, rather than personalising negative feelings and self-isolating when difficulties are encountered” the authors suggest.

This may explain why, despite tougher circumstances international students had similar responses to locals on the impact of lockdown on study – demonstrated by the Quality Indicators for Learning and Teaching 2021 results for the crucial “learner engagement category,” which covers sense of connection to campus and “life experience” there.

For the peak pandemic year, 45 per cent of internationals had a positive response, compared to 48 per cent of locals.

But international students’ strength of character (this writer’s words not those of the authors) does not get institutions off the hook. 

They state encouraging self-compassion for internationals (and all students), “should be only one component of a multi-faceted ‘whole-of-institution’ strategy that seeks to support student mental health wellbeing not only by fostering individuals’ resilience but also by enhancing the environmental psycho-social resources … such as peer social connections, a sense of institutional belonging, and autonomous motivation for learning.”



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