More students are crying out for help every day in newspapers and open letters on social media. The isolation, having no social contacts and online classes are taking their toll. But international students are often forgotten in the news.
Youngsters seem to be extra vulnerable in this second lockdown. Last week the 22-year old Flemish Youtube star Kastiop committed suicide. How could somebody so young and successful take his own life? It shows the need for mental support is big. In Flanders there is the suicide prevention number 1813, but it is only available in Dutch, like many other Flemish help desks. So international students are not able to turn to these organisations. Universities and colleges are looking for ways to give support to their international students. Thomas More university of applied sciences in Mechelen is trying their best to keep in touch with international and Erasmus students. We spoke to the manager of international projects Annik Schellens and student supervisor Martine Michiels, who is also active in the international support team at Thomas More.
During Belgian’s first lockdown in March there were already some complaints about the ignorance towards the mental health of students. The schools didn’t offer any tools yet to support students in need of help. Annik Schellens explained the difference between this lockdown and the last one.
The buddy system
The buddy system is no new acquaintance for Thomas More college. They welcome international students and buddies every school year. A buddy is a Flemish student that accompanies an international student and helps them find their way the first weeks of school and during the rest of the year. Since the global pandemic, this buddy system is being promoted even more. Martine Michiels gave us a little bit more information about the importance of a buddy.
The international support team has put in a lot of extra effort for the foreign students. A lot of them went back home now that there aren’t any classes being held on campus anymore. Of course, this is not possible for international students. Thomas More is organizing weekly online activities to keep in touch with those students who need extra social contacts. So far, there is no remarkable difference in the amount of students seeking help.
Students for students
According to Annik and Martine the most important thing is to help each other out. If you are struggling, don’t be afraid to reach out for help, but also address your classmates and friends.
If you are a student at Thomas More and in need for a conversation you can find more information through this link: Student services
If you are an international student at Thomas More college still in need of a buddy, you can contact the international support team.
Start To Talk
Other universities and colleges are also trying to help their students more during this pandemic. The University of Ghent has multiple organisations, like Start To Talk, an initiative where students are helping other students to talk about their mental health. The University of Ghent also provides special student psychologists for online sessions and group trainings. They seem to have more registrations during the pandemic for these activities than before. These sessions and trainings are available for international students as well, but they can also invoke the international support team.
If you are a student studying at the University of Ghent and in need of a conversation you can find more info through this link: Feeling good at Ghent University.
Video and montage: Thomas Gevaerts Video and text: Mila Noor De Baere Photo: ©Ben Blennerhassett