Social Connectedness

The mental health and education fields have long recognized the impact of culture on individual wellbeing. Research has also shown that international students of colour often face racism from staff and faculty at points in their academic journey. It is therefore imperative that staff and faculty are educated on, and actively challenging their explicit and implicit biases. Post-secondary counsellors and mental health professionals require a nuanced understanding of how international students’ specific cultures shape their mental health outcomes, and how aspects of Canadian life may cause moments of stress. In doing so, and in helping students to strengthen a variety of ties, post-secondary institutions can help mitigate the effects of acculturative stress and support healthy adjustment.

Most post-secondary institutions recognize that international students need specific programming to help them adjust to life in Canada. However, much of the focus of these programs is on incoming students and specific programming often only occurs for the beginning few weeks of the school year. On the other hand, many institutions also conduct peer-based mentorship programming that pairs more experienced international students with incoming international students so that they can learn more about the school environment, and this mentorship will usually occur for at least a year.

Similar efforts must be made to help students maintain their cultural ties. This can be done in a myriad of ways, including connecting students to cultural organizations, creating campus-wide awareness of different cultural events and current events that may be impacting international students’ friends and families in their home countries.

For more information on the mental health impacts of culture shock, please view our infosheet.

  • Conestoga College has established a Peer Wellness Navigator (PWN) program. It aims to support the building of networks through lived experience by connecting Conestoga’s students with trained peer supports. This program focuses on building networks through lived experience by connecting Conestoga students with other Conestoga students as a wellness resource. This program was crafted by a Peer Support Advisory Committee of international student volunteers, based on their experience at the college. PWNs utilize their lived experience with mental health and/or substance use to support students seeking a more informal approach to their wellness needs (Conestoga College, 2022).
  • The Pardesi Project is a series of short films developed by CICMH, Sheridan College and SOCH Mental Health. The Pardesi Project aims to start the mental health dialogue for South Asian international students as well as providing information on how to access support. This project explores a variety of mental health topics with a culturally appropriate lens, while also providing practical ways to broach these conversations.
  • Fleming College has developed an International Peer Mentor program, where incoming international students are matched with an upper year international or domestic student. This opportunity helps to connect incoming students with someone who can help to provide 1:1 supports and use their own experience to guide incoming students.
  1. Develop ongoing culturally responsive programming – Expand and sustain specific programming aimed at supporting international students throughout their entire academic journey.
    • Examples include comprehensive orientation programs that address cultural adjustment and provide ongoing support throughout the year. Foster peer-based mentorship programs that pair experienced international students with incoming students to facilitate cultural integration and provide guidance on navigating the post-secondary environment.
  2. Foster cultural connections and awareness – Create a supportive campus environment that values and celebrates diversity.
    • Examples include connecting international students with cultural organizations and provide opportunities for them to maintain their cultural ties. Promote cultural celebrations, workshops, and campus-wide initiatives that promote cultural exchange and increase understanding of current events that may impact international students’ friends and families in their home countries.
  3. Promote diversity and inclusion training – Provide training and professional development opportunities for staff and faculty to address explicit and implicit biases, equity, and racism.
  4. Strengthen social support networks – Encourage the formation of social support networks among international students and provide resources for students to connect with their peers, join clubs or student organizations, and participate in campus activities.
    • Examples include developing a club week early in each semester where international students can learn about different ways to be involved on campus.
Guide: PDF Version