Breaking through barriers

International students have to be aware of mental wellness risks

Matthew Dyck

According to the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada, the number of visa students on Canadian campuses reached 70,000 full-time and 13,000 part-time students in 2006.

There are many reasons for an international student to choose to study in Canada.

Some of those reasons could be acquiring high quality education, as well as gaining a better international understanding.

However, starting a new academic program can be an extremely stressful experience, and this is especially true if this new experience took place in a different culture and a different country.

International students might face a variety of barriers at the beginning of their study program. Often the student manages to solve them over time, but sometimes those difficulties turn into something serious that may negatively impact their mental health.

Of course, stress and anxiety are often symptoms or indicators of the student’s mental health, and they increase due to reasons such as:


For students who arrive to their new country three weeks into the school year because of a visa delay they could in no way control, any given course is tougher. This can be a major source of stress right from the get-go.

Lack of familiarity with English

The student might know some English, but sometimes his or her language is not strong enough to be on the same level with students who are native speakers, or even with students who have had regular interaction with native speakers.

This will profoundly affect the student’s performance and confidence, and put him or her under heavy pressure.

Financial needs

Having one’s finances in order is the most important part of studying abroad.

This requires a huge amount of planning from the student, since without enough money they won’t be able to pay for the cost of living, let alone tuition and books.

Let’s say that a student has borrowed the money at a high rate of interest in his home country to pay for the course - this circumstance combined with the high expectations of the family will inevitably cause the student to be stressed out, and start to think about the possibility of failing and being unable to pay that money back.

Different academic culture

In some universities, the educational system is sometimes built on the idea of delivering the best services possible to local students, so that when it comes to international students, they may feel left behind.

This feeling is aggravated by the fact that for the reasons already mentioned, international students may have difficulties as basic as how to study properly, or how to properly structure a paper in English.

The University of Winnipeg’s International Student Office is a transitional tool that can help people new to this country not only to reach their academic goals, but also maintain good mental health while achieving those goals.

At the International Student Office, counselling services for students with issues such as anxiety, stress and culture shock are offered.

By utilizing this resource, international students can ease themselves into the educational experience in Canada.

Fatemah Al Helal is an international student who was awarded her first degree in food and nutritional science. She is currently majoring in sociology at the University of Winnipeg. More of Fatemah’s writings can be found at

Published in Volume 66, Number 18 of The Uniter (February 1, 2012)

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