On the 19th of February, 2017 CandleX held a Mental Health workshop for international students who are currently studying and/or interning at CET programs (Middbury program in China, Beijing Internship and Beijing Language).
The workshop was intended to help students prepare for a new life in Beijing and teach them the best ways to handle various challenges, such as culture shock, isolation or distress. This workshop also focused on adapting to a foreign culture and how overwhelming such an experience may be, especially for those staying in China for a short term. It is well known that people who stay in a foreign country for a short period are at more risk to feel distressed, as they do not have a lot of time to get used to their environment, especially for young adults.
The approximately two-hour-long workshop was filled with both educational information and improvised jokes, lightening the mood of an overall heavy discussion. The event was attended by around 40 university students, who were mostly of US citizenship, but coming from various cultural backgrounds. These students are all from top universities and are staying in China for only a short-time.
The event was led by two co-facilitators from CandleX – Xiaojie Qin (founder and executive director) and Melena Slaven (mental health consultant).
Various psychological topics, such as emotions, mental health, mental disorders and ways to care for oneself and others were included in the workshop.
The event began with a basic introduction to the range of human emotions and their understanding – emotional intelligence. The students became familiar with a wide variety of emotions, their intensity and where in the body one might feel a certain emotion. An important take-away from this part was that there are no good or bad feelings/emotions, only good or bad reactions to those feelings. One should accept the whole array of feelings as part of one’s complex life.
The next part of the presentation dealt with the experiences of culture shock that many foreigners may face when coming to China. Everything is different – the food, the environment, the language. It may, unsurprisingly, cause anxiety and even alienation. Everyone experiences the culture shock differently and the presentation vividly showed that it may take a longer time for some people to get used to the new environment or that feeling of anxiety may come and go with time.
A very specific topic to Beijing – smog, was also touched upon. It was no surprise to the students that pollution may affect one’s mental health. However, it makes it much worse for those who already have an illness, as smog may only aggravate the symptoms.
The following part of the workshop talked a lot about the differences between simply having a bad day and a depressive disorder. In many cultures depression is still a taboo topic and is not recognized as a serious disease. The students were given a lot of statistical facts and information about mental health around the world and various symptoms of two leading mental disorders – depression and bipolar disorder.
The last part of the workshop touched upon the strategies of taking care of oneself during difficult times. A slew of different ways and principles were introduced that may help the students assist their own emotions and those around them. A lot of information has been taken from CandleX Classroom series where anyone can learn more about mental health.
The main lesson from this workshop was that expats who are staying in a foreign country for a short-time usually have a lot more difficulties adapting than those who reside somewhere long-term. One not only needs to quickly learn the culture and the opportunities new city provides, but also find ways to take care of oneself when there is a lack of a regular social or medical support.
If you work with students, and you are looking for ways to promote mental health for them, please contact us via firstname.lastname@example.org
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