By Wanting Zhu | December 5, 2022
Chinese Student & Scholar Association Logo
Photo Credit: CSSA Facebook
The Chinese Students and Scholars Association (CSSA), a club aimed at helping Chinese nationals integrate socially and educationally at the University at Albany, has launched a mental health program to help students struggling with not being able to see their families because of China’s strict zero-COVID policies.
The country’s strict policies, which are imposed in locations where there are outbreaks of the virus, has led to flight restrictions into and out of the country and stranded a large number of international students in the U.S.
"There is widespread anxiety due to China's zero-COVID policy, partly because many students have not seen their families for two years, and partly because graduates may be in danger of staying illegally due to visa expiration,” Wendy Liu, a junior who leads the 20-member CSSA said.
"During the summer vacation, I saw my roommate was having huge mood swings every day because she couldn't get an air ticket, such as always losing her temper with me or would cry alone in her room in the middle of the night,” Liu said.
“I was also frustrated that I couldn't help her, and then through a brief survey in a student chat group, I found out that my roommate was not an exception, and that there were many other international students who were experiencing this kind of pain, so I decided to start this project,” Liu said.
She said her club will be notified when students are enrolled so that they can come to the club to voluntarily fill out a mental health questionnaire, which will help the club screen them for potential problems such as maladjustment and anxiety, and schedule follow-up observations.
If a survey indicates a student has psychological problems, Liu’s group can arrange for a professional counselor to communicate with the student online to ease their emotions.
“We took into account the language issue, where students may not be able to accurately describe their feelings in English, so we chose to establish a partnership with a Chinese psychological agency (Counseling Center at Shanghai Jiao Tong University),” Liu said.
The questionnaire will be photographed and sent to the counseling room teachers via email， and online counseling will be conducted using zoom.
Chen, a student majoring in finance at UAlbany who did not want to give his last name for privacy concerns, said he has struggled with not being able to see his family and concerns over his visa.
He said he tried to book a flight back to China several times, but due to the pandemic, the flights all have been canceled. He is now about to graduate and could face illegal detention if he cannot get a ticket before graduation.
According to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, international students cannot stay in the U.S. legally for 60 days after graduation from a U.S. school.
"I wanted to take a break from school at one point, and I was so anxious that I couldn't listen to a word my professor said," Chen said, adding that he began to skip classes.
Chen said that the decline in his mental health was noticed by the people at CSSA. Through communication with the counselor, Chen said his anxiety has eased and has been able to return to classes normally.
Chen's experience is not an isolated case. Liu said her group has helped eight students since the program started in August.
“We need to know that a healthy mental state is more important than getting A's,” Zhang Hua, a counselor at the Shanghai Jiao Tong University Counseling Center said.
“Imperfect grades do not mean an imperfect life, and a confident and relaxed you will certainly shine in the future,” Zhang Hua added.