Art by Nicole Wong
Deciding to participate in one of Pepperdine’s international programs often requires a leap of faith.
Unfortunately, taking that leap might result in some students falling into a bottomless depression in which their mental health slowly deteriorates.
Despite the fact that many students continue to struggle with their mental health during their time abroad, Pepperdine provides limited resources for students.
It is imperative for the University to address this issue without delay, especially when they are planning to resume their international programs this summer after a pandemic when many students’ mental health have continued to decline.
Students who might have considered themselves mentally fit may find themselves unable to handle high-stress situations often found in international programs due to their underdevelopment of emotional and cross-cultural coping skills, according to a Chubb study.
For some, the separation from friends and family starts to become more pronounced once they start to settle in, as feelings of loneliness and anxiety may become more frequent.
Oftentimes, the desire to quickly assimilate into the new culture weighs heavy on students’ minds, especially when faced with discrimination.
From culture shock to homesickness, there are numerous causes that trigger moments of anxiety and depression among abroad students.
Despite the fact that many students continue to struggle with their mental health during their time abroad, Pepperdine’s resources remain lackluster.
The only dependable support that the University provides is local counseling services that remain limited as students are expected to pay for their own counseling sessions after a brief trial, according to Pepperdine’s International Programs website.
Even these local counseling services remain flawed as language and differing cultural values can often result in miscommunication, hence complicating recommendations and diagnoses.
“In London, I visited [our local therapist] Genevieve three times, and it still wasn’t enough,” junior Tristan Furlong said. “I think the therapists they have working in the international programs have a really hard time understanding us. I think the University does not reach out enough to provide resources to struggling students.”
On the other hand, many students may find it difficult to turn to faculty or even peers for guidance as conversations regarding mental health are not only laced with vulnerability, but are often wrought with stigma associated with humiliation, self-condemnation and weakness.
Needless to say, there are not enough resources to help combat the mental health problems that abroad students continue to silently endure.
The lack of Pepperdine’s mental health resources, as a result, can often lead to devastating consequences for students.
Students may start to have trouble sleeping, eating and experience a lack of energy which can eventually lead to poor academic and social performance, according to a study from the Journal of International Studies.
With easier access to alcohol due to lower drinking ages, some abroad students may resort to frequent drinking or even drug use to numb any indications of depression and/or culture shock. Worst case scenario, suicidal thoughts may start to emerge as feelings of frustration and helplessness increase.
The multitude of anxieties international programs can induce in a student calls for Pepperdine to initiate more effective mental health support arrangements.
Overall, a community approach would be most efficient and ideal for the college setting.
During the beginning of an international program, the establishment of focus groups should be emphasized as students are more likely to confide in their peers rather than a faculty member.
Additionally, study abroad programs should set aside a small portion of a budget to fund and encourage random one-on-one monthly outings between students.
During their time abroad, students tend to cling to their regular clique rather than branch out, hence encouraging the growth of exclusivity rather than community. One-on-one outings, however, may allow students to broaden their social circle and support system.
“We created the Buddy Break to pair individuals in the [London] house that we in SGA believed would find each other interesting,” junior Brett Severin said. “The Buddy Break forced people to interact in a way they would not voluntarily and ensured everyone was included. What we observed was way more positive than I had anticipated. New friendships were formed and groups became less definitive.”
Weekly yoga, which is a mindfulness activity currently exclusive to the Buenos Aires program, may also foster healthy coping mechanisms among students. Professors should be encouraged to interweave well-being practices throughout their coursework or educational outings to help students anchor their minds throughout the program.
It is also important to increase awareness concerning mental health even before the start of a student’s study abroad experience by proactively sharing information with them regarding this subject.
Although orientations for international programs may educate students about the physical dangers imminent throughout the experience, it is also noteworthy to further educate future study abroad students about the mental toll that the programs may inflict. Most importantly, it is critical for students to know that it is OK — and extremely encouraged — to reach out for help when necessary.
Students themselves also remain responsible for observing and maintaining their own mental health. Before committing to a study abroad program, students should willingly go through both a physical and mental health prescreening to ensure the nature of the specific program remains a good fit.
It’s also important for Pepperdine to take preventative safety measures by collaborating with both students and individuals working in the medical field.
If students are undergoing therapeutic treatment with a professional, not only should they receive approval from their doctor prior to attending the program, but Pepperdine should also confirm and oversee that the student will continue to receive similar treatment during their time abroad.
Overall, it largely falls upon Pepperdine to help secure the proper mental health resources for all international programs as every student deserves to receive an incredible study abroad experience without constantly shouldering the burden of poor mental health alone.
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