The beginning of any new academic program can be an extremely stressful experience. There are pressures of adapting to the new environment and uncertain academic expectations. The impact of this adjustment is often lessened and made tolerable through the sharing of this experience with peers. If this coping support is removed, and then even magnified by other factors (increased expectations from home and greater financial demands), one finds themselves in the position of many international students.

This need has long been recognized by advisors in international student offices. These offices often serve as transitional support for students dealing with personal issues such as stress and adjusting to new circumstances. This has been a natural & comfortable support for the student. The Offices are run by staff who are advisors by nature or training. Their offices also serve as the point where other forms of support, such as peer activities, originate. Do not be offended if your advisor suggests refers you to someone else at your institution. It is common for the university to encourage international office staff to refer counseling situations to the schools professional counseling staff. Sometimes this is because the needs of the individual are beyond the scope of the international office staff, but the primary reason is that the counseling centers are staffed by professional counselors trained to deal with issues common to students.

A problem that often occurs is that internationals visiting or living in the U.S. can be reluctant to speak with a professional counselor about their personal problems. This is usually because there is often a stigma attached to such care at home or that mental health care is designed for those with severe problems. That is not the situation in the U.S. The role of the counselor is far more accepted and integrated in every day campus life. One advisor notes "Students may have received similar care or attention in their home country but it could have been through an academic advisor or a similar position. The roles in the U.S. are simply more defined."

It is critical that international students understand and be comfortable with how support resources are provided. They should not be anxious about seeking that support. Judith Green described the role of the counselor very well in the "To Your Health Series". "The counselorís job is to listen to you, understand the issues you are facing, and help you develop solutions to your problems." In addition, counseling services can be pro-active. They can assist students in their personal development, helping individuals with qualities such as self-confidence and interpersonal skills that can help at school and later in life.

There are many good sites on the web that help all students become more familiar with counseling and mental wellness. An example of a school site that that discusses the issue of adjustment into a new culture on a single page is http://www.psc.uc.edu/SH/SH_Internatl%20Stud%20Adj.htm

† The American Counseling Association provides a great general overview of the role of counseling at http://www.counseling.org/consumers/consumers.htm

For a self help page, check out the material at the University of Buffalo counseling web site http://ub-counseling.buffalo.edu/selfhelp.shtml

If you would like to first visit a questionnaire site that may help in self-assessment, try http://www.healthyplace.com/site/tests/index.htm †and one through the National Institute of Health, http://www.nimh.nih.gov/soundlikeyou.htm †. If you have concerns about an eating disorder, consider "15 Questions" http://www.caringonline.com/eatdis/misc/edtest.htm

†† Note that the role of these self help sites is to not to replace formal evaluation or care. Their primary purpose is to help you think further about the problems you may be facing (or avoiding).

Other good general sites are Psych Central: Dr. John Grohol's Mental Health Page at http://psychcentral.com and the National Institute of Health primary page at http://www.nimh.nih.gov/publicat/index.cfm

While a majority of counseling is simply to improve oneís quality of life, there are circumstances however where you or a friend is experiencing disorder that is more serious or urgent in nature. If this is a concern, please seek care as soon as possible. Early recognition of a concern will be a relief. It will also hopefully lead to treatment and improvement.

International study has been aptly presented as both an opportunity and a challenge. If one is not aware of how the resources are made available to meet these challenges in the U.S., international students are both limiting this opportunity and reducing their effectiveness. Do not place constraints by carrying forward misconceptions about Mental Wellness. Be well, be happy, thrive.

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