After three years as a professor at Niagara College, I thought I pretty much understood the struggles faced by international students. Seems obvious, right? They’re nervous about a new culture, a new language, a new campus. They’re lonely at first and somewhat anxious to fit in.
But I didn’t know how bad things could get until I asked my 2nd year journalism students to dig deeper into a recent study by the Ontario University and College Health Alliance (OUCHA), which looked at the mental health of 25,000 Ontario post secondary students.
My students created a truly powerful piece of journalism called I Am Not OK.
Now I know that international students arrive here fully expecting to make Canadian friends and find the only friends they make are from their home countries. Now I know that the loneliness they face can be so crippling it can send them back home without those coveted diplomas. Now I know that the desperation can be so bad it can lead to thoughts of suicide.
I urge you to go to www.iamnotok.ca. That’s where you’ll meet Shrutika. She arrived in Canada full of hopes and dreams. But her roommates were vicious bullies who drove her to hopelessness and homelessness. It’s also where you’ll meet Hector. He’s so full of boyish charm you’d think he’d have tons of new friends. But loneliness and depression have pushed him into isolation. He’s given up on his dreams of a Canadian education. He’s decided to return to Mexico.
All kinds of students are dealing with mental health disorders But there are unique challenges for those who “come from away.” I’m beginning to understand that. For me, the next step, is figuring out what I can do about it in the classroom.
Susan Pedler, Professor of Journalism, Niagara College