23 November 2019 by Megha Goswami
This blog post focuses on mental health and well-being for international students but isn’t exclusive to international students in any way. I’m not from a medical background, this is just my perspective on mental well-being from what I’ve observed, learned and felt is share worthy if anyone has felt a fraction of the emotions I’ve gone through.

New land, new people

About a year and a half ago I decided to venture out to an exotic foreign land (FYI Finland). While this sounds thrilling and exciting, in actuality, it was a decision to move over 5,000 km away from my motherland to a country where I knew nobody. It’s still a decision that is incredibly exciting and life changing, but what people don’t talk about as much is how truly challenging and lonely it can be. While I love meeting new people, a completely new place equals having no one to really rely on.

Culture shock

Trying to fit in can be hard. Every culture is different from the next, meaning that we all encounter a culture shock in some form.  Even after the initial culture shock hits and hopefully passes over, there is still a lot to adjust to. For example, the Finnish culture emphasizes on being independent, whereas Indian culture revolves around family and festivities. So the difference between the two is clearly obvious and takes time to soak in.

I’ve spent a lot of time and energy thinking how I can adjust to this culture and incorporate things that make me happy. I think this is a crucial step for all individuals, so that with time you find a way of not just existing, but being happy wherever you are. Being an ambivert, I’ve tried to allocate quality time alone and with friends. Something I’m enthusiastic about is starting new ‘traditions’. A monthly board game night with one bunch, a movie night with another, you get the idea. Quality alone time is another thing I’d like to focus on more, and hopefully something other than binge watching Netflix.

Darkness and sub-zero temperatures

The weather in Finland can be pretty harsh even in southwestern Finland. Sub-zero temperatures are common between November and April and the autumn months are sunlight deprived. This paves way for seasonal depression for a lot of people and partly explains why the happiest country in the world has a slightly higher suicide rate than the European average. That being said, I do believe that these challenges can be coped with without severe consequences since harsh climate is a reality for numerous parts of the world.

It might be -10°C outside, but life goes on. Since it’s always +20°C indoors and a t-shirt is enough, staying indoors is the comfortable choice. During my first winter, I was usually inclined to stay at home unless I REALLY needed to get out. I realize that this isn’t the best strategy long term and try to convince myself to layer up ( wearing multiple layers of clothing is the Finnish way of survival) and get out irrespective of the weather. And though staying at home is the comfortable choice, I was missing out on too many things that I later regretted.

Adjusting to a new Education system

I really like the Finnish education system and the flexible way in which it’s structured. And while adjusting to the system wasn’t a concern for me, I know that it can be a challenge for others. At a master’s level, students are expected to complete an extensive curriculum and it can be easy to fall behind if you haven’t coped with the new system.

This is a common concern for international students since there is a vast difference in education systems between countries. Some systems have more independent learning than what a student might be used to. There is also a difference in the methods employed to learn, with some countries using more advanced learning methods than others. If you’re having trouble adjusting to the education system or have other study related concerns you might be interested in visiting UTU’s Study Psychologist https://intranet.utu.fi/index/Study_Psychologist/Pages/default.aspx

Balancing the study, work, life equation

It can be difficult to juggle working part-time and studying simultaneously. The equation gets trickier if you want to get some regular exercise and/or have a social life. It’s easy for a degree student to have too much on their plate and get stressed out. I’ve found that maintaining some sort time of timetable makes things a little easier and so does taking well-deserved breaks from the hubbub.

Though it may be tricky to incorporate into your busy schedule, taking up regular exercise has shown positive impact on mental health in multiple research studies  https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/2164956119848657 , https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamapsychiatry/article-abstract/2680311 So there’s a high chance that the gains of hitting a sports facility (Campus Sport perhaps?) will far outweigh the pains.

Understanding your problems..

Some days you miss your parents and drown in homesickness. Some days you question yourself and your life decisions. What you need to know is that there are thousands of others out there who have gone through the feelings you’re feeling and ridden the same waves of nostalgia. You’re not alone in this. And like every other person, what keeps me going is hope. Hope that one day I’ll find a group of friends who allow me to feel a tad less lonely and isolated in a foreign land. Till then, let’s focus on understanding what’s disturbing our mental wellbeing, working on it an inch at a time and staying hopeful for the future.

You might be interested to check this out if you’re a TED talk enthusiast like myself.

Getting the help you deserve

Getting help and talking to someone is a good start for the healing process. We often have a tendency to keep our grievances to ourselves and forget how much of a difference it makes to just confide in a friend. I realized that when you start sharing with another person, you’re reminded that others are also facing different problems of their own.

UTU has several services to ensure that you get the help and support you deserve. There are various services for student well-being as well as different means of early support you could reach out to. https://www.utu.fi/en/student-services-and-well-being , https://intranet.utu.fi/index/early-support-for-students/Pages/In-what-kind-of-situations-could-early-support-for-students-be-helpful.aspx . There are also multiple options outside of the university that could be of assistance https://www.nyyti.fi/en/ , https://www.mielenterveysseurat.fi/turku/kielet/englanti-english/

Taking care of our mental health and well-being is something we owe ourselves. Let’s embark on this journey together for a healthier tomorrow.