Unspoken burdens of international students

In recent years, thanks to the welcoming immigration policy of Canada, it has become much easier to come here to study rather than in the past. Many parents use their savings, borrow loans or even sell their houses to send their children abroad to study, in the hope that their children will graduate with highly recognized degrees, find good jobs, establish high status in society, and eventually bring the whole family to Canada. On one hand, there are a lot of students studying well, receiving scholarships, getting high-paid jobs, and being recognized in society. However, on the other hand, there are also many students who cannot follow the Canadian education system, and they have to go back home feeling like a failure.

Throughout my career, I’ve had the opportunities to work directly with international students coming from Vietnam, helping them and their parents to communicate with teachers, extend their student visas/study permits, share about their ups and downs, so they can focus on their study. Even though the school tries their best to provide support and accommodation for these students, they still have a lot struggles and burdens that they tend to just keep to themselves, and become depressed.

Most of these students are very excited and hopeful, when their families send them abroad to study. Before going overseas, they often promised their families and told themselves that they would try to study well and work hard to take care of themselves. In the first year of arrival, they are very enthusiastic, going to school every day, and trying their best to study. But when their best effort is not enough, and the result of their study is not as good as expected, the students become discouraged, withdrawn, then give up: they start to show up late for class or do not even want to go to school anymore; their marks get worse; and they fail their courses. These students do not tell anyone, especially their parents in Vietnam. By the time the school sends the reports to the family, the parents are shocked and disappointed.

The Vietnamese tend to believe that education systems in other countries are not as demanding as in Vietnam. Hence, Vietnamese parents believe that their children will study better than students from other countries. But in reality, international students overseas have to spend at least twice or three times in study time more than domestic students, because these new students need to learn new vocabulary, make sense of new concepts, while absorbing new knowledge. In addition, the learning style here requires more creativity and critical thinking than just memorizing information. Many students, not being aware of the difference in the education system between Vietnam and Canada, try painstakingly to memorize everything. And when they cannot get good marks, they are shocked and disappointed. The teachers here do not ask the students to memorize all the knowledge taught in the classroom, but they have to understand and put it to practice.

Another difference is that in Vietnam, students are only expected to listening in class. Then they are expected to go to after-school tutoring sessions to learn more, and to get high marks in exams. However, over here, teachers do not demand students to get extra-tutoring sessions after school. But if the students do not understand what is taught, they are expected to ask the teacher either right away in class or after school. The teachers here like it when their students approach them and ask questions, because it shows that the students are eager to learn. Most teachers are willing to spend hours to make sure the students understand a concept. But many Vietnamese students do not know this expectation, afraid of being judged or made fun of, they do not dare to ask the teachers for help.

Before going to study abroad, many of these students are pressured by the whole family to study well. So when they come here, although they do not catch up with the program, they do not dare to return back home. Many parents do not understand what their children have to go through here, when they say they cannot study well, the parents start to blame, scold or ridicule them by saying things like: “If you cannot study, go home already;” or to compare their child to somebody else: “Their children can study well, why can’t you?”

Coming here as an international student myself, I am very aware of the suffering of these students. Because studying abroad is not la-vie-en-rose, especially in the beginning. It is not easy when you have to learn everything by yourself: From the first time you learn how to cook a meal, to set the alarm to wake up on time, to do laundry for yourself, clean the toilet, and organize your life – things that Vietnamese students have rarely done or never have to do while living back home with your parents. But those day-to-day hardship is nothing comparing to the suffering in your mind.

After giving up on studying, many of these students turn to playing online games, hanging out with friends, having relationships, or shopping until you drop. After spending all the money parents send to, they want to go back to Vietnam. Other students withdraw, just sitting in their room crying alone, or self-tormenting themselves. There are cases where parents have to come over to bring their children back to Vietnam for depression or mental breakdown treatment.

The sad thing is, often times, international students do not know how to share these kinds of burdens with others due to fear of rejection and judgement. Parents need to understand what their children go through in order to encourage and motivate them. Emotional support is very important, especially when your children live far away from home, alone in a totally different culture and environment.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: