Articles

International Students: What Is It Like? How Can We Better Support Them?

By Darryl Sweeper, Jr., MA, and Dominic Ysidron, MS

As chairs of the Diversity Council within the Society for Health Psychology’s (SfHP) Student Council, we plan to use this blog to bring awareness to the importance of diversity as pertains it to the diversity in training, diversity on campus, and more specifically diverse experiences. Our vision is to empower graduate students by normalizing grad school experiences while building community, maximizing diverse connections across specializations, countries, and cultures to help break stigmas and barriers, creating inclusiveness with the purpose to inform diverse communities of health psychology. By raising awareness of these important topics, we hope to enhance ongoing conversations among trainees about diversity, discrimination, inclusiveness, and social justice. 

SfHP’s Diversity Committee and International Relations Committee have shared an interest in creating awareness regarding the experience of international trainees and scholars as well as offering opportunities to foster their success in the field of health psychology. Toward that aim, the International Relations Committee developed and conducted a Need Assessment Survey targeting international students currently in the United States. In collaboration with the Diversity Committee, we are sharing the results to continue the conversation regarding the experience of foreign trainees and scholars, navigating ways we can better support them. 

This online survey was distributed on the Society for Health Psychology listserv and distributed to student representatives at various health psychology doctoral programs in the United States to distribute to their student body. In total, 28 international students (Mage = 28.6, SD = 3.6; 75% female) participated in this survey. The international students were from diverse countries, such as Argentina, Turkey, South Korea, France, and China (36% were from China). Except for one student in an MA program, all participants were enrolled in doctoral programs (14 Ph.D. and 13 in Psy.D.).

Participants ranked “limited internship opportunities,” “limited practicum/externship opportunities,” and “lack of part-time or full-time employment opportunities” as the top 3 most concerning barriers they experience as international students. Lack of department support, grant opportunities, and feeling isolated from other students were also ranked high. They indicated that specific awards/grants that are available for international students, webinars on the topic of interest, and networking opportunities are requested the most when asked in what ways SfHP can assist them.

They indicated that topics related to success in the early career, grant writing, applying to an internship, and learning alternative career options as a health psychologist are the most desired potential webinar topics.

Overall, international students in SfHP indicated a keen interest in having more networking opportunities and social events, learning how to apply to an internship, and having more understanding of available career options. Students perceive SfHP as a useful resource and great community to belong to but also desires for more targeted support.

Based on this feedback and general recommendations from trainees and scholars, the 2019-2020 Student Advisory Council’s Diversity Committee is pleased to announce that it will be creating a database of scholarship, fellowships, awards, and grants explicitly targeting students of color and international students. Also, the committee will be developing several webinars to explore and explain the difference between fellowships and externships, how to apply to grants, and the differences among them.

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