Well-being of international students: 'Institutions should take the first step'

International students in Dutch higher education often feel lonely, bored and even depressed. How can institutions contribute to better mental health? 'Stop with surveys, talk to the students.'
Posted by Jeroen Langelaar
Thomas met mede-oprichters Frisse Gedachtes

Recent research by Nuffic has shown that international students in Dutch higher education often suffer from emotional complaints. More than four out of ten students say they often or always suffer from depression. Students with emotional complaints are also more negative about their study experience in the Netherlands.

During the fourth edition of Nuffic Meets, education professionals discussed the well-being of international students. First, the results of the research were discussed. Then, speakers from various layers of education shared their ideas, experiences and best practices regarding the theme. We list the most important ones.

This edition of Nuffic Meets was about the well-being of international students. Would you like to read the findings of our last report on this subject? You can read it here.

Make students feel welcome

A safe environment is a crucial condition for an enjoyable study experience and good mental health, according to Sandy Barasa of Radboud University. But how do you create it and whose responsibility is it?

International students do not always take that responsibility, according to one participant. Some of them seem to have no interest in integrating with Dutch students and form their own group. According to Sandy, this seemingly lack of interest may stem from a lack of self-confidence or fear of being judged in a relatively new environment. It is a joint responsibility to create a safe environment, with institutions having the main responsibility.

Provide proactive support

One of the institutions that is actively working on this subject is Codarts University of Applied Sciences in Rotterdam. There too, students have to deal with emotional complaints as a result of COVID-19. Codarts assists them with their Student Life programme. This offers services varying from medical screenings and monitoring mental and physical health to psychological support. In this way, they offer intensive help. It is a joint approach of the entire institution that seems to work. Susanne Feiertag from Codarts advises: "Stay in touch with every student".

Thomas founded the platform 'Frisse Gedachtes' with fellow students: "Mental health is a privilege".

Let students speak their minds

Thomas Klein Goldewijk, student at the University of Amsterdam, founded Frisse Gedachtes with fellow students. This platform enables students to vent their feelings anonymously through a chat with psychology students or experts.

Frisse Gedachtes also organises corona-proof walks, where students can exchange experiences with each other. More than 2,500 students have already participated. Thomas advises institutions not to assume that everyone feels mentally well: "Mental health is a privilege."

Studying is more than an individual activity

Tilburg University has circulated an extensive questionnaire among its student population about mental and physical health. However, as far as Zarrea Plaisier is concerned, studying is about something else: "Studying is essentially about connecting. The same applies to offering help: Make real contact with students. For example, give them a call to find out what is going on."

Tilburg University conducted an extensive study into the well-being of its students. This study is public and you can read it here.

The rector of Tilburg University has put his money where his mouth is. He invited two international students for a dinner to talk about their experiences. The university also organised an extensive programme to combat loneliness during the Christmas period - a time when international students are especially vulnerable.

"Students really appreciate it when you reach out to them. Take the first step as an institution. Make sure everyone is seen and heard. Make it clear to them that they are not alone."