Jeanette van Rees, who chairs the National Student Psychologists’ Organisation, suspects that many international students struggle with things that have bothered them for some time. “Students hop on a plane, thinking they are leaving their problems behind. And then these same students will show up in our surgery hours with serious issues, such as long-term depression, severe anxiety or personality disorders,” says Van Rees. “We will soon embark on a study we hope will give us a better understanding of the nature and extent of the mental health issues experienced by this group.”
During the 2017-2018 academic year, one-third of all non-European bachelor students at the University of Twente invoked ‘extenuating personal circumstances’ to prevent being asked to leave the university due to their not having obtained enough credits in their first year. Only 8 percent of first-year students from the Netherlands and other European countries claimed ‘extenuating personal circumstances’, according to U-Today. Ton Mouthaan of UT believes it is ‘unacceptable’ that so many students from ‘far-away countries’ should run into problems in their first year at university.
In his capacity as the Chair of UT’s Personal Circumstances Assessment Committee, Mouthaan witnessed a total of 31 requests by non-European bachelor students to be allowed to stay at the university despite not having obtained enough credits. “No file is the same, but in this group of students, problems tend to escalate because the students are studying in a foreign country and have no safety net,” Mouthaan confirmed.
In the old days, the non-European students making their way to UT tended to be mostly master students, but in recent years, the number of international bachelor students has grown. “This younger student population comes with specific problems of its own,” says Mouthaan. “Typically, this is their first time at uni. They are unsure whether they have picked the right degree and they have not lived without their parents before. Master students are older and tend to be stronger.”
International students tend to be more homesick and lonelier, and often have difficulty adapting to their new surroundings. In addition, they often have to get used to Dutch educational methods. For instance, Asian students have more difficulty being analytical and asking questions that imply some criticism, because this is not something they are used to doing in their home countries. Moreover, their parents often pay a lot of money for their degree, meaning they are under even worse pressure to perform well.
Not encouraged to see a psychologist
For its part, Eindhoven University of Technology recognises the problem. “It seems to be more severe and more complex for both international bachelor students and international master students than for Dutch students,” says TU/e spokesperson Barend Pelgrim. “Many students who run into problems appear to have brought those problems from their home countries, where they are generally not encouraged to go and see a psychologist.”