International Student Perspective
How is Counseling Viewed?
During your time at OCU, you may hear your classmates mention that they seek counseling services to address personal concerns. This is often a new concept for International students since the same structures may not be available in your home country's educational system.
Counseling is a culturally accepted practice in the United States sought by individuals of all backgrounds. Why is that? It is related, in part, to core values in the U.S. - ideas about independence, change, personal control, and self-help. What does this mean, and how does it translate to your academic life at OCU?
Independence signifies that one's identity is more self-oriented than group-oriented, so the belief is that getting help does not bring shame to the family or community. Change holds out that there is always a better way to do things and not only can things be improved, but so can people. Personal control means that one's life is not controlled by destiny or fate, but that a person can take steps to improve his or her life. Finally, self-help emphasized that a person can achieve great things, even if s/he was born in poor or humble circumstances, has an unstable family, or faced any number of other obstacles.
On campus you will often hear, "getting help is a sign of strength." This means, that if you realize you have a problem or concern and take steps to make it better, your actions bring respect, not shame. Trying to resolve an issue before it becomes serious and overwhelming is seen as a way to taking care of yourself.
People don't just see counselors for serious problems. Sometimes, one or two meetings with a counselor can help you clear up a question, change a bad habit, provide some tips for how to reduce stress, handle a relationship issue, and/or improve concentration for study.
Value differences can be one reason international students may be reluctant to seek counseling. Remember that seeking counseling does not have to go against your value system. Counseling is a vehicle to help you clarify the changes in your values as you negotiate life here in the U.S.
Why go to counseling?
International students seek counseling for many of the same reasons that U.S. American students do, regarding issues such as relationships, identity, family or career. What is different for international students are the additional pressures of language concerns, cultural adjustment, or forming relationships with persons who are culturally different.
Before we can answer why you may find counseling helpful, let us first understand the cultural challenges of seeking help. All students at some point in their college career experience a wide range of emotional reactions to changes, such as anxiety, fear, or depression. These are normal feelings that people experience just as part of being human. Sometimes these feelings can continue and interfere with learning and personal growth.
In the United States, seeking out psychological counseling is a common way to get help understanding and solving personal problems. In many cultures, seeking a counselor is generally not the first choice for students. In some families, a young person may consult with a friend or religious leader. While these are avenues of help, they do not address concerns in the same way the counselor does.
Our personal counselor is trained to help students find solutions that are sensitive to cultural and religious values. She has worked with international students for many years and knows that OCU students come from very different cultural traditions. A counselor does not judge students, is patient, and trained to be a sensitive, objective listener who works with students to help them find solutions.
What kind of problems do students discuss at counseling?
- Cultural adjustment-stress, anxiety, changes in sleeping or eating patterns.
- Academic problems - adjusting to a new system, not being able to understand the professor, not doing as well as expected, being unable to keep up with class assignments.
- U.S. Americans - how to meet them, how to understand them, how to get along with them.
- Financial or time management issues
- Roommate concerns - how to express your rights, make rules, set boundaries.
- Dating issues or concerns regarding sex or sexuality
- Feeling misunderstood if English is a second language
- Unexplained health problems.
- Worries about what is happening with friends and family back home.
- Concerns about life after OCU.
- And many more reasons.
What happens when you go to see a counselor? First, contact University Counseling for an appointment.
When you arrive for your appointment, you will be greeted and asked to be seated in the waiting area. The administrative assistant will notify the counselor that you have arrived. Your counselor will come out to greet you. A session usually lasts 45 minutes.
When you come to your first appointment, arrive a few minutes early so you can complete an intake packet. The first session is generally an evaluation where the counselor will determine the best counseling option, whether individual, group counseling, or a referral outside. All counseling services are confidential. This means two important things. First, there is no record of your counseling service visits in your academic records. Second, no one (not even your family, professors, or OCU administration) can have access to your records without your permission.
Common questions from International students...
If I had a problem in my country, I would talk to someone in my family or friend. Why would I talk to a stranger?
Counselors are trained mental health professionals who understand human growth and the challenges that can get in the way. Counselors are very sensitive to culture-specific concerns, but at the same time there are universal concerns that all students experience. Counselors have an objective viewpoint, which means they will pay attention to all the unique factors in your life and help you come to your own decisions within your value system.
If anyone from home found out I was going to a counselor, it would hurt my reputation. how do I know it will be kept secret?
Some cultures are less familiar with counseling and actually may have fear prejudices against it. The goal of counseling is to help you find a solution to your problems and to help you be more in control of your life. You are protected by confidentiality, which does not allow anyone to know that you are seeking counseling without your consent. The only exceptions to confidentiality are in the case of a psychological emergency requiring hospitalization, an immediate threat to someone's life, or suspected child abuse.
I'd rather talk to other students who have the same kind o problem instead of a counselor, is that possible?
We encourage students to use all resources on campus. An alternative option to individual counseling is group counseling. OCU offers many groups where you have the opportunity to share and learn from other students in a safe, supportive environment. Often international students find connecting to a peer group one of the most challenging tasks. OCU counselors are also available to connect you to resources. We have groups on many concerns, such as food issues, relationships, sexual identity, and cultural differences.
Will I have immigration problems because I am seeking a counselor? Would my dean or department be noticed?
No. Counseling is a resource on campus, just like the writing center or the health center. Counseling is a separate activity from your academic and immigration status. It is not reported to other offices.
What if I want to meet with someone who is from my home country or speaks my native language?
OCU works with a wide range of counseling agencies in the Oklahoma City area that provide low-fee counseling for many concerns. We will work with you to find a match for cultural and language needs.
If all International students experience cultural adjustment, why should I go to counseling if others don't?
Seeking counseling is a personal choice. Some students don't seek counseling because they may have an adequate support system of friends or family. Other students may not seek counseling because they can deal effectively with stress. Again, seeking counseling is not a weakness, it is simply using a resource available on campus to learn how to take care of your health and your needs. Often students come to counseling in the midst of a crisis such as failing grades or relationship stress. You don't have to wait until a crisis comes to learn about yourself. Knowing yourself and what you need can go a long way to making your experience at OCU a meaningful one.
Contact University Counseling