What Students and Practitioners Can Do to Foster Resilience
Having discussed the issue of resilience and the challenges low-income international students may face while studying abroad in Part 1 of this two part blog series, here we will consider what actions might be taken to reduce the risk that these challenges affect their emotional wellbeing and academic progress.
It is important for people working with this demographic of student to understand that high-achieving, low-income international students may be particularly vulnerable to traumatic events once they are abroad, away from their normal support networks and subject to all of the pressures listed above. Prior to departure, organizations working with this demographic of student should consider introducing concepts of resilience and growth mindset, given the numerous stresses they are likely to encounter. ‘Resilience’ can be understood as the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or even significant sources of stress, while ‘growth mindset,’ coined by Carol Dweck, involves the choice to focus on effort over innate ability. Educators and advisors should encourage students to access resources available on campus as part of a basic strategy for success.
If universities decide to recruit this demographic of student and provide financial support, they should also be prepared to provide the additional support they may need to succeed in their academic and personal lives. On campus, staff should look at ways to build in touch points with the student across their four years, and view ‘orientation’ as an ongoing process. As students may face difficulty asking for help, it is important for check-ins to be regular and mandatory. Adjustment is a unique process for each individual, and it is very difficult to anticipate what area any given student may need additional support in. Lastly, anyone doing intensive work with this demographic of student should also be familiar with the effects of secondary trauma on a counselor/advisor, be able to recognize its signs, and have their own practice(s) of fostering resilience in themselves.
Although advisors and program coordinators should be empowered to design workshops and sessions on resilience that suit the students they work with (for example, you can set a more intimate tone if it is a cohort of students who know each other well vs. an open session for all international students), here are some basic guidelines (below) that should be considered:
Basic Guidelines on Teaching Resilience to High-Achieving Students from Low-Income Backgrounds
- Practitioners should engage their students’ academic natures by presenting them with the research first; involving them in the process addresses skeptics’ resistance to the process. Students want to succeed, so if you convince them you are giving them an additional tool toward this end, they are more likely to listen with an open mind.
- Communicate that resilience and growth mindset are both concepts that can be fostered and improved through intentional activities. They are not qualities that you either have or don’t have, or have in fixed quantities. This should help them reevaluate their views toward perfectionism and success in general. In this same topic, you can address reframing ‘failure’ as a natural part of the process toward improvement or success.
- First help students recognize ways in which they already intuitively foster resilience, and then point out ways in which anyone can improve. Be sure to introduce one new technique so that everyone can practice a new tool, such as mindfulness meditation, or a mindful breathing exercise.
- Encourage storytelling from peers if you have students you think are in a position to share about their past struggles and resilience (preparation ahead of time required); otherwise, you can share specific videos on relevant topics from sources such as the Resilience Project at Stanford University.
- Group work is effective in building community and trust, an important aspect of fostering resilience. Be sure to establish safe space guidelines before beginning, especially regarding confidentiality and community values.
- Incorporate written exercises for students who are less verbally expressive.
High-achieving low-income students are a unique group of students who make an important impact on campus both inside and outside of the classroom. They also require different kinds of support than most international students, from the stage of identifying HALI students prior to the application process to maximizing their opportunity to make an impact in their home communities after graduation. There is so much untapped potential, but we must utilize as many tools as possible to make sure that these students succeed, and fostering resilience is a critical part of this goal.
Resources and Links for Further Inspiration:
- Stanford Resilience Project
- The Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley
- NY Times Article: ‘Writing Your Way to Happiness’
- NACADA Article: ‘The ‘F’ Word: Why Teaching Resiliency is Critical’
- Mindset, by Carol Dweck
- The Impostor Phenomenon: When Success Makes You Feel Like a Fake, by Pauline Clance
- Stereotype Threat: Theory, Process, and Application, by Michael Inzlicht and Toni Schmader
Written by Jessica Clarkson, Country Director, USAP Zambia