Students’ identity, mental health abroad are focus of new webinars

May 2nd, 2023   |   School for International Training

School for International Training (SIT) has designed two new pre-departure webinars to help SIT students process questions of mental health, resilience, and identity—including race/ethnicity, religion, LGBTQIA+, gender, and more—in the context of studying abroad.

“Studying away is an opportunity to engage with different cultures and people from other countries, but how do you fit in?” said SIT University Relations Manager Melissa Phineus. “Sessions like this are important for many reasons, but the primary reason is that students have expressed a need for them.”

A student stretching backward is silhouetted against the setting sun in a desert landscape.
A student stretches against the backdrop of a setting desert sun.

The two webinars, Identity Abroad and Mental Health & Resilience Abroad, are launching at a critical time for students looking to study abroad. Mental health challenges, on the rise among all young adults, have been exacerbated by the pandemic. “Students are struggling with more social anxiety, depression, and have missed key years of community-building,” said Lindsay Parise, regional manager with SIT Student Health, Safety, and Well-being.

The pandemic has also changed the study abroad landscape. With their college experience cut short or altered dramatically, many students say they are hesitant to leave campus for a full semester.

Students are struggling with more social anxiety, depression, and have missed key years of community-building.

Lindsay Parise, regional manager, SIT Student Health, Safety, and Well-being

Students who do opt to study abroad are often choosing regions of the world that they or their families deem safe, such as Europe and Australia. “This idea of where is safe is a byproduct of the pandemic and sadly, some of the places where people believe are unsafe had fewer COVID cases and casualties than places like Europe, so there’s also a need to undo misconceptions people have and correct misinformation," Phineus said.

“While living and learning outside of one’s cultural context and comfort zone is often an incredibly impactful experience, it can also involve different stressors and challenging adjustments. The unknown is hard to prepare ourselves for, and techniques students use to maintain well-being while at home might not be available abroad,” added Parise.

Sessions like this are important for many reasons, but the primary reason is that students have expressed a need for them.

Melissa Phineus, SIT University Relations Manager

The Mental Health and Resilience Abroad webinar addresses skills and practices that have been scientifically linked to cultivating well-being and resilience. Discussion topics include barriers to well-being in the study abroad context; techniques that can be practiced to proactively support mental health; and how to develop a personal study abroad well-being plan. 

A student, with back to the camera, strikes a yoga warrior pose while standing in a green field of rice paddies in Vietnam. Mountains are in the background.
A student strikes a yoga pose amidst the rice paddies in Vietnam.

In the Identity Abroad webinar, students are invited to discuss issues such as culture shock, “being the only,” belonging, and incident reporting. One panelist, who was the only male-identifying student on an SIT Ghana program, said that “being the only” was an unexpected challenge and described how he found community in Ghana.

The second half of the session features a panel of SIT alumni who have diverse identities and can answer questions about their experiences studying abroad.

The webinars are also open to those who don’t have personal identity or mental health questions but would like to be supportive allies and friends to their peers on the program. Admitted students who would like to participate in either or both webinars should let their SIT admissions officer know of their interest.