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The number of international students is on the rise in most institutions of higher learning. This comes from various factors including a global increase in the size of the middle class, increase in marketing of courses abroad, and the increase in number of scholarships and opportunities to participate in exchange programs.
This increase in the number of international student has some consequences because of the unique issues that come with living and studying in a new culture. While these issues have been present for some time, their magnitude has not been large because they affected a relatively small population. This has changed.
The specific issues that international students deal with include financial pressure, racism and xenophobia, and lack of family support, leading reduced social participation. Financial pressure occurs in students whose sponsors are unable to cater fully for both academic and living expenses.
Such students often try to find part time jobs to meet their needs. In the social front, the biggest pressure that international students face is racism and xenophobia. There has been a lot of progress in these two areas, but almost all foreign students especially from colored races have experienced some form of racism.
Xenophobia arises from the feeling that foreigners are using up resources that the host country can ill afford. Another source of social problems for international students is the lack of social support.
In most countries, the social fabric is stronger than in the west. For someone who grew up in Asia, Africa, or South America, it is quite challenging to settle in the less personal cultures of the west. These factors all combine to produce a set of international students who cannot participate effectively in their host cultures.
Concepts of Group Theory
There are important lessons derivable from group theory to explain the reasons behind the quality of social health of international students. In particular, group process and group dynamics can help shape the thinking undergirding Health Education Development targeting international students.
Group process refers to the patterns of development of a group and the way in which relationships develop. These processes include observable issues and the inferred ones.
Observable factors include speech patterns, body language, and the content of discourses. Inferred elements include the silent aspirations of the group members at individual and group level, and in some cases, at subgroup level.
The group processes play several roles. They help the group members to adapt to the working conditions. They also have therapeutic value for the members. The processes are central to the formation of stable groups.
A number of theories attempt to model group dynamics. They all aim at explaining the stages that groups go through in their development. Groups that form voluntarily have greater elements of group loyalty compared to groups that develop from forced circumstances.
Most of the theories of group dynamics try to identify the specific stages that group development follows. The theories describe the characteristics of newly formed groups, the search for purpose and position, the place of acting out the group’s purpose, and in some cases, the point where the group disintegrates.
Group dynamics concentrate on the changes that take place in the communication patterns and the activities of the group as time moves on. One model describing the impact of groups is the social interdependence theory, which asserts that the actions of one individual have the capacity to influence the actions of other individuals.
Another one of the models, developed by Tuckman identified four stages in group-dynamics theory. The first stage is forming. Under this stage, the factors precipitating group formation come into play. They can be intentional and intended or they can be purely circumstantial.
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The second stage is storming, where differences among group members come into play as the group tries to clarify its purpose and its rules of engagement. Differences in personalities tend to show in frequent flare-ups. After this stage comes norming. During this stage, the group’s identity, purpose, and rules become clear.
The members develop realistic expectations of what the group can provide. The group goes to the performing the stage where the group settles into its active life, and later on dies as it enters the adjourning stage.
Factors Affecting the Group Health of International Students
In light of group theory, there are factors that influence the health of the international students that are addressable through face-to-face health education. These are the factors mentioned earlier which include financial pressure, racism and xenophobia, lack of family support, which all result in reduced social participation.
The international students tend to coalesce when they meet in institutions of higher learning. These institutions, and host governments normally handle them as international students, distinct from the local students, hence the international students find that they deal with similar issues.
As they live and study in the new culture. International students become close because in many cases they have to deal with the same hurdles such as finding part time jobs, finding friendly accommodation, and identifying social activities. Since many international students come from very close-knit social environments, they tend to understand their social needs better.
The risk that comes with the tight relations international students tend to form as a means of coping with their practical and psychological needs is that they become a target for ridicule, racism, and xenophobia. Their groupings tend to have distinct social characteristics, which makes them visible and objective targets.
There is also the risk that by failing to integrate with the host culture, the international students develop a victim mentality, which makes them to over react to normal social experiences in the host culture.
The use of face-to-face health education sessions can help the international students to reduce the anxiety that comes with living in a new cultural setting and make them aware of the social support mechanisms they can plug into that will not make them too distinct in the new culture. In other words, the sessions can help them to fit in better in the new culture devoid of unnecessary anxiety.
Challenges of Working with International Students
The most significant challenge that will arise when working with this group is trust. The reasons why foreign students coalesce are that they feel vulnerable and open to abuse and exploitation. They come together to offer each other psychological support and to have a feeling of security.
In this sense, they may fear that a particular program will exploit them in some way. They must receive assurance that they will get respect and that the program is a sincere effort to offer them support. In general, there will be an ongoing need to offer them reassurance to encourage them to participate effectively.
The second challenge that international students present is that they come from very diverse cultures that inform how they interact and learn. One example is the place of women in society. Some of students, especially from cultures embracing the Muslim tradition, may have a significant difficulty taking instructions from women tutors.
In some of these cultures, women do not wield any authority over men. Another cultural element is the fact that many cultures apart from the west use informal systems for social education. The west tends to use formal structures when it comes to education.
This may be a barrier when interaction with foreign students. Finally, there is the risk that some international students may not feel free participating in programs requiring self-disclosure simply because their cultures do not encourage public expression of emotions.
Using a Strengths-Based Approach
Strength based approach requires that the educator uses the strengths inherent in the group of international student to facilitate face-to-face health education sessions with them. The strengths approach, “seeks to help client groups to build skills that can lead to achieving more power over their lives”.
This approach emphasizes the capacity of the group to use its established strengths to address its challenges. The role of this goal is to identify these strengths, affirm them, and help the group to mobilize them to address existing challenges.
The specific strengths inherent in the groups of international students include the fact that they are close-knit. Since the groups form because of shared concerns that do not end, they tend to last for a long time. The continual struggle to keep up with studies, maintain contact with sponsors, and to find a social support system, makes them very loyal once they join the groups of international students.
The second strength they have is a common sense of bewilderment regarding their new culture. This sense is really the result of new cultural practices, and norms in the host country. Thirdly, they have a better feel of their social needs.
Some of the groups of international students come from certain traditions with similar cultural practices. Such groups have the added benefit of understanding the specific social needs that the other group members have. It makes the group the best place to handle those unique needs.
In this situation, a health promotion educator should guide the group to find ways of meeting its primary needs by leveraging on its unique strengths, but also using those strengths to help them to integrate with the host culture.
Generally, most people enjoy cross-cultural experiences hence international students can use their culture as a point of developing strong relations with the host culture. The general strategy will be finding ways of making the internationals students better guests to the host culture for their own health benefits.
The Ottawa Charter
The Ottawa charter sought to provide guidelines relating to the provision of healthcare. The charter came up as the final communiqué from a conference that sought to define the standards of health services provision in the context of public health.
The charter stressed the need to develop individual capacity to handle individual health concerns to reduce unnecessary dependency on healthcare systems. The charter also proposed the establishment of supportive environments to support patients.
The thirds element of the charter was to encourage the establishment of positive communities. This meant that it was important to have healthy communities for people to live in.
The relevance of the Ottawa Charter for Health Promotion becomes clear when looking at the issues in this discussion. The approach proposed here seeks to develop individual capabilities to handle emerging health concerns. Each student will have the capacity to deal with the pressure he faces regardless of its type.
It also aim at developing an environment where the students can get support. The environment includes the institution, the community of international students, and the larger society. On their own, they will have the same problems experienced by many international students because, “unskilled group members cannot cooperate effectively”.
In other words, they will have “positive interdependence” . Thirdly, it will make the community of international students strong by enabling it to act as a positive community.
It will also make the institutions create systems that will give new focus to health services touching on the international students. The overall result will be a better-adjusted community including both the locals and the international students.
It is clear that the international students experience several challenges as they settle into a new culture and society. With some effort, institutions of higher learning can help them to develop healthy coping mechanisms. These students, with just some institutional support, can develop healthy relationships.
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