Bright World supports World Mental Health Day each year and, we have decided to share our thoughts on mental health for our international guardianship students. We want our students to know that they are not alone when it comes to issues they may be facing. Bright World Guardianships is committed to offering support to each and every one of our students.
As guardians, we have a seen a significant rise in the number of issues we deal with relating to our students’ mental health. Generally speaking, it seems that a much greater effort is being made to encourage young people to open up about their problems and confide in others. The very fact that we have a World Mental Health Day shows that the stigma of poor mental health is quickly becoming redundant, and the acceptance of problems is becoming more commonplace. Collectively, we are doing a good job, but there is still plenty more we can do, as an industry. It really needs to be a combined effort- the right message must be conveyed firstly at home, and then through schools, guardians, agents, and everyone else with any responsibility for children.
Arriving at a new school can be the most stressful time of all. This is often the time when our students need us most. This is why we have a Bright World Buddy system, where all students are assigned a Local Coordinator (Buddy), who always visits in the first day or two of arrival. The Buddy is their parent's representative and is an independent listener who they can get to know and trust. This offers them another layer of support and they are given the assurance that they can contact their Bright World Buddy at any time.
For international students, not only do they potentially have all of these things to deal with, but much, much more. Though homesickness may play a part in any boarder’s life, it is an almost inevitable part of life for overseas students. Even the most independent of youngsters will suffer somewhat emotionally with this, even if they won’t admit it. As well as having to settle in to a completely new school environment, they also have to settle in to a completely new culture. Culture differs greatly even between regions of the same country, let alone completely different ones. Often the norms, values, and behaviours of international students are well off those known or expected in the UK. Language barriers can often amount to increased stress, and other factors such as impending host family stays or travel plans, can also add to anxieties. Additionally, parents of many cultures put even more pressure on their children to perform academically. It’s not hard to establish the danger our international students face in terms of mental wellbeing.
Our Bright World Buddies continue to visit and stay in touch with their students throughout the year. They are also given a copy of our Student Handbook, which sets out many useful tips and guidelines concerning their arrival in the UK. It also covers some common cultural misconceptions, and provides an insight of what to expect when staying with a host family, or when living with British people in general.
As well as having the contact details of their Buddy, they are also given the number of our 24-hour emergency phone, with the knowledge that they can contact at any time in case of an emergency. Through our general safeguarding practises such as screening of staff members, host families, and taxi drivers, we do our best to ensure that our students have someone who understands them to turn to. We like to think that all of these practices help to alleviate potential anxieties amongst our students.
Even if we completely disregard the international element for one moment, there are plenty of challenges that face even British students in our schools. The most predominant factor would of course have to be the pressure of exams, and the workload leading up to them. The difficulty of GCSE and A-Level exams is always under scrutiny, but the fact that they are regarded with such importance means that there is great pressure on young people to perform well. This is particularly more apparent at UK boarding schools, where higher standards are naturally expected. For international students whose parents are paying enormous amounts of money on their education, pressure to succeed can be even greater.
Modern problems such as the pressures of social media image also now play a huge part in most children’s lives. Popularity is measured through “likes”, and things as simple as this can dictate a young person’s self-esteem.
Bright World takes the lead during holiday times when we are in sole charge of our students. If students open up to us about an issues we are well-equipped to take charge and take action. However, when students are at school and under the main care of boarding and educational professionals, our role changes slightly. We are there to offer an additional layer of support to schools whether it be speaking to students as an independent representative, attending meetings to offer them ‘parental’ support or helping to take them out of school to stay with their host family in a warm and welcoming environment for some well-needed rest and relaxation and pampering.