2017 was another extremely heavy year for the international student population. There were seemingly endless reports of foreign students committing suicide with the root cause often pointing towards overwhelming pressure and depression. In a simple search of “Chinese student committed suicide”, we find a seemingly endless list of results not limited to the headlines created during the passing of UCSB student Liu Weiwei in 2017.
More recently, on the first day of the New Year, more news broke about another international student struggling to cope overwhelming stress and mental illness. Tong Zhang, a graduate of the University of Washington, was checked out of a supervised living facility on Christmas eve by close friends. It was shortly after where she disappeared.
Local authorities and community members became involved and a search for her ensued for over 70 hours before she was found by friends. She returned safely and is now considered to be in generally stable condition. From a young age she displayed traits of being introverted. Coupled with prior changes in her personal life and signs of depression, we sympathize with the internal struggles she faced daily.
In another alarming story from August 2017, Zhang Nan of New Castle University in Australia, disappeared for months despite the desperate attempts of family and friends to reach out to her. Her phone had been disconnected and by all accounts it was virtually impossible to contact her. It was only months later where she was discovered rummaging through the trash at KFC by a former classmate. It was later revealed by Zhang Nan’s cousin that it is still difficult to make contact with her today. Details around this story are not clear but one thing is made certain by these heartbreaking stories. Mental illness is a very serious issue within the international community which needs to be addressed.
Foreign students face tremendous pressures on a day to day basis as they travel internally to pursue degrees in other countries. Some students have had an easier time assimilating to other cultures as parents often send their children abroad for education as early as middle school. However, that is not the case for the majority. We often hear about the struggles of attending classes, meeting new people, and adjusting to new life while trying to overcome the language barrier. For anyone that has studied another language it can be agreed that developing fluency can seem like an insurmountable task.
Even at the graduate and doctoral level, similar struggles arise. Many international students dedicate 5-10 years pursuing Ph.D.’s and masters degree surrounded by high levels of uncertainty. It is common among all doctoral candidates to face repeated failure in the process of completing a Ph.D. However, international students also face the fear of returning home without achieving the goal that they left family and friends behind to pursue. What’s more, with the increasing competition for job placement, many international students find it increasingly difficult to land a secure career even with advanced degrees. What makes it worth it for an international student is the promise of an easier life over time. In countries such as China, there are rapidly increasing costs of living with an already oversaturated job market. These pressures have shown to build over time which often leads to isolation and emotional difficulties.
For our readers that may be dealing with similar issues or know someone that is dealing with hardship, please contact the school’s CAPS (Counseling and Psychological Service), they will arrange counseling based on personal circumstances. Many US colleges and universities each semester will offer 6-12 free counseling services. If you feel that communication in English may be an issue, you can also request translation services.
Happy Chinese New Year, I hope you all are healthy and safe!