Date: 28 July, 2020
Studying away from home can be a thrilling adventure that pushes you outside your comfort zone. It can also feel scary. Relocating, getting oriented, making connections and independently living and studying can be challenging.
So it can be part of the experience to encounter a little culture shock, stress and anxiety. You may even feel isolated. But you don’t need to struggle in silence. It’s okay to ask for help and talk about how you feel.
Seeking help can sometimes feel difficult because of cultural taboos, stigma, language barriers, and other invisible forces that can hold us back. You’re not alone if you feel this way. Experts have observed that international students are less likely to reach out for help and have developed specific frameworks and resources to help address this.
It’s important to know, there’s nothing wrong with needing a hand.
In this article, we shed some light on knowing what to look out for - signs you may need help, and what it’s really like to speak with a counsellor. We also share some ideas and resources that can help you adjust to studying away from home.
How do I know I need help?
Sometimes you may not even realise you need support.
You may think that only people with a mental health diagnosis speak to counsellors – that's not the case. It can be simply that you are having trouble focusing on your studies.
Beyond Blue has also detailed some signs and symptoms to keep an eye out for. If you find yourself withdrawing from friends/family, not engaging in normal enjoyable activities, or experiencing loss/change in appetite, it may be time to speak to someone for support.
What is it really like to speak with a counsellor?
It’s just having a chat.
Speaking with a counsellor is simply having a chat. It’s a friendly conversation where you can talk about whatever you’d like to with someone who is equipped with a tool kit to help you thrive in everyday life.
One student shared how they overcame their initial fear and spoke to a counsellor.
“I saw one anyway, and she was so kind, and welcoming, and really helped me a lot by giving me some tools and tips on how to prepare for presentations in-class, and build up a group of friends here in Australia.” They said.
It’s free. It’s confidential.
What’s said stays between you and your counsellor. It’s completely private and won’t be disclosed to any academics or be put against your records.
One Melbourne student expressed how although no one knew she had spoken to a counsellor, the impact it had on them was plain to see.
“My family at home have noticed that I am much happier, and they are very proud of me with my success in Australia and at University, but they do not know that it’s all because of seeing the Counsellor.” They said.
It’ll help you thrive, every day.
A counsellor isn’t here to judge or diagnose you. They are here to listen and give you a safe space to open about how you’re feeling about your day-to-day challenges.
We all feel worried or on edge from time to time. Counsellors work through what you’re facing now so that you are better equipped to deal with future challenges.
Things to help make studying away from home easier
There are a few things you can do today to help reduce stress and adjust to studying away from home.
Here are some top tips:
Stay connected: Building your community locally with other students and enjoy the social aspects of university life. Also checking in with your family/friends from home will help you stay in touch with your support network.
Celebrate your culture: Organise a virtual dinner, or maybe introduce your friends your favourite dish from home, it'll help you stay connected to your home.
Try out something new: Whether it’s learning to draw, gardening, or taking a virtual tour of Australia, add a little fun to your day. Check out a few ideas here.
Date: Friday 26 June
While there have been many challenges during this time of isolation/social distancing, I want focus on and share about the positives that I have been able to get from this experience.
One of the main things I have enjoyed during this time is being able to reconnect with my family.
I’ve recently been able to spend a lot more time with my family. As we all lead busy lives, it’s often easy to forget them. Whether it’s going out on the weekend, work, studies, there’s so much that we can get caught up in, so I have loved this unexpected opportunity to spend quality time together and it’s really brought us closer as a family.
Give it a try! It could be a nice cup of tea together, or going for a walk together, it’s been a real pleasure for me.
I understand that I’m very lucky in this aspect as many in this community won’t have the ability to do so as international students living away from family, or if you have challenges at home.
I’d encourage you to connect with your friends, or perhaps consider getting involved with your student community via the SRC as it’s a great way to meet new people and make lasting connections.
If you need a little extra help through this period and are unsure who to turn to, why not speak to one of our Counsellors. They’re here to listen and support you through.
I’ve also been able to enjoy more of the little things in life during this time. I’ve loved being able to spend more time in the sun reading, or playing with my puppy.
Here are some ideas from Student Services that can help shake up your routine and bring in positivity:
So take a little time today for your family or friends, appreciate the little things in life, or try something new.
I hope you are all doing well – keep safe and happy!
Date: 19 June, 2020
Many of you have just started your student journey with us. You may be feeling excited, or perhaps a little overwhelmed – that is completely normal. We all have good days, and sometimes more challenging days, but it’s how we respond to those challenges that can really make the difference and set us up for success.
This is where mental toughness comes in.
Mental toughness is the ability to respond effectively to stress, challenge and change.
Experts Peter & Doug in their book on developing mental toughness describe resilience as a strong characteristic of people who come through challenges. Mentally tough people will “still possess that inner drive and belief that it’s down to them.”
Developing mental toughness will help enable you to perform better in your studies during challenging times, and empower you to succeed while keeping your mental health a priority.
Below I explore four simple ways to start developing your mental toughness.
How to develop your mental toughness
Take control of your study and ask for the help you need to succeed.
If you do have a problem, reflect on what you can go change the situation. Don’t be tempted to fall into the trap of blaming others – you are in control.
Tip: Be pro-active and ask for help. Talk to your lecturer or supervisor, your success coach, or the campus counsellor.
Stay focused and set goals.
Remember why you enrolled in the first place! Procrastination is our biggest enemy here and we all use it as a way to avoid stress at some point. It works in the short term but makes life difficult in the longer term. Beat it by setting measurable goals for study and stick to them.
Resource: Check out these tips to avoid procrastination and set goals.
Try to see challenges as opportunities rather than threats.
Got a difficult assignment coming up? Great – it’s a chance for you to show what you can do! All success involves some sort of risk, so calm the voice that says it’s too hard or you might fail. See it as an opportunity to give it a go and get the satisfaction of a job well done.
Resource: This student shares her story of studying overseas and how she overcame some common challenges.
Believe in yourself.
Be confident that you have the right and the ability to succeed and don’t be intimidated by others. Confidence comes from a mix of self-belief and external support, so ask your lecturers, success coach or counsellor if you need help.
Tip: Make an appointment for academic skills support or talk with a campus counsellor to boost your self-confidence.
Drawing from a personal experience
I was 23 years old and at the end of my first Masters degree. It was a research degree and so everything depended on the quality of my thesis.
I submitted what I thought was the final draft, feeling confident that it was a pretty good effort. Then the stress began – my supervisor called a meeting to tell me that the content was ok, but it needed to be completely re-written in a much more academic way or it wouldn’t pass. My plain-English writing style was not ‘academic enough’ and I had 2 weeks to fix it up or I was at risk of failing.
My first instinct was to blame the supervisor. He’d seen plenty of previous drafts and didn’t tell me there was a problem. My next instinct was to panic and emotions took over. My parents had spent a fortune on this degree, I’d moved cities and left all my friends, a job I enjoyed and I felt as tough I’d given up my life to do this. I was also attending one of the most prestigious universities in the world, and I was going to fail. Not a good place to be in!
Once I had a good cry and went through a series of emotions, from anger to terror, I stopped and took stock of the situation. I called a friend who helped me see things in a new way.
I took control. I stopped blaming my supervisor and my circumstances and checked my emotions. I realised that I had 2 weeks to fix this, and only I could do that. I was going to give it my best shot.
I saw it as a challenge. I really didn’t like my supervisor much and it brought out a competitive streak in me I didn’t know I had. I wanted to show him that he was wrong – I could do this! I wanted this degree, and I would do my best to get there.
I was committed. I wasn’t going to let this set back trip me up. I had my goal – 2 weeks to re-write the thesis into a more ‘academic’ style - and so I contacted my workplace and asked them for time off. I told my flat mates I wouldn’t be able to go out for the next 2 weeks, and I sat down and I made this my priority.
I had confidence in myself. I believed that I could do it, or at the very least that I could give it a red hot go. I decided to worry about the outcome later and do the best I could in the now.
In the end, I am very happy to say that I passed with very positive feedback and renewed confidence. So much so that I went to study again and again. Luckily for me, it turned out that I had developed what I now know as mental toughness somewhere along the way. Which is the wonderful thing about it – it’s recognised as a ‘plastic’ personality trait, which means that anyone can develop it. Even when we feel down, stressed out or overwhelmed, we can choose to flex those mental muscles and face the challenges with resilience and positivity.
Not feeling mentally tough today? Let us support you.
Contact your campus counsellor or make an appointment through the Student Hub. Book through the counselling page under Wellbeing and Diversity in the Student Support area.
Clough, P., & Strycharczyk, D. (2014). Developing mental toughness in young people : Approaches to achievement, well-being, employability, and positive behaviour. London, England: Routledge
In early April, we ran a Pulse Survey to check in, listen to and obtain valuable feedback from you, our students. We’ve also heard from you via our recent Student Evaluation of Subject & Lecturer (SESL) survey. It was and continues to be important to us to bring your voice into the conversation, especially as we had transitioned all of our students to a fully online environment in the response to COVID-19.
We gained valuable insight into your needs and as a result, we have been able to implement strategies to ensure you still get the best learning experience possible and feel supported during this time.
|You said||We did|
|You wanted more interaction with your lecturers and fellow students. This was further re-iterated in recent SESL feedback.||
Developed and implemented detailed online teaching minimum standards which have been reinforced with lecturing staff.
The Standards cover:
|You commented on lecturers’ use of technology e.g.: recording of sessions, knowing how to use the mic and camera, being familiar with the technology||
Rolled out Blackboard digital skills workshops to lecturers with ongoing support and training.
Promoted efficient use of Collaborate Ultra to lecturers through Library and Learning Services workshops including ongoing instruction courses, online discussion groups and informative collateral
|You wanted more information on changes to assessments and deadlines||
Sourced and implemented specialist software for online exam invigilation and in weeks 10 and 11 communicated directly to impacted students whose assessments had changed. During the exam period a helpline was utilised and student enquiries were addressed by Learning Support staff or triaged for assistance to IT or academic staff.
Expanded opportunities for students to resubmit and/or to be re-assessed.
For the current COVID-19 effected period students who receive a trimester result of 35% or above will be given the opportunity to re-sit or re-submit (whichever is required). Academic staff will liaise with students concerned to determine the appropriate assessment item with which the student could get over the line.
|You wanted more information on coping during COVID-19 and connecting with others||
Implemented online student engagement initiatives including:
|You commented on online course materials. This was also raised in recent SESL feedback.||
As part of our continuous subject improvement process we have made enhancements to 191 subjects. This includes updating and making assessments more applicable to remote delivery, repairing broken links in online materials and adding additional updated content.
|You were not fully satisfied with Learning Resources Support||
We have purchased a large number of additional e-books to make it easier for you to find resources to support your studies. These are available through the Subject Guide links on the Library web page.
We have established a live CHAT service available from 9.00 am – 9.00 pm weekdays to assist you with any questions or concerns in regards to Learning Resources (CHAT accessed via the Library web page)
|You wanted improved access to online Blackboard support. Blackboard support was also commented on in recent SESLs.||
We have updated the support resources that can be found on the Learning with Technology Help pages on Blackboard
24/7 Blackboard support is available to all students. To log a Blackboard support call click Blackboard Support Call
|You wanted information on financial support available to you||
Information on financial assistance measures communicated through Vice Chancellor emails and included as FAQs on Torrens/Think COVID19 webpage
To receive advice about measures in place to support you please contact our Contact Centre at firstname.lastname@example.org or 1300 575 803. One of our team members will assist you by talking through your individual circumstances and options.
|You wanted information on general welfare support available to you||
Appointed 2 new counsellors to reduce appointment waiting time and group counselling sessions.
An extensive array of services are available to you through the Student Hub
Date: 10 June, 2020
You’ve successfully completed the first week and, if you’ve done it right, you’re probably feeling pretty overwhelmed with all the information, websites and resources to access! Plus, whilst you have been busy learning new subject material, many of you are also ‘learning how to learn’ in the online environment which on its own can be challenging.
As a recent online graduate, here are a few tips to help you check in with yourself after Week 1 and to find some peace in knowing you are utilising the available resources to your advantage.
Do You Feel Comfortable Navigating Online?
Whether you are a new or returning online student, there’s a lot of different platforms to get your head around. Even after three years of online study I am still discovering new pages and resources all the time! If you’re still not quite sure where to find the important stuff, this short video explains some of my top tips for simplifying Blackboard and using it to your advantage. In addition, the academic skills team have some fantastic workshops and resources available to help you navigate these essential platforms.
How’s Your Subject Load?
Whilst we may want to get our studies ‘out of the way’ so we can get into the career we aspire to, it’s important to be honest about what is manageable and to find a healthy balance. The time will go by much quicker than you expect and the real value in the course is found in giving yourself time to absorb and apply the lessons learned. (I failed my first four subjects having taken on too much!)
Although some of you may need to satisfy a certain subject load for your visa, remain conscious of this study-work-life balance and schedule time for what’s vital for your physical and mental wellbeing. And remember, you’re not alone, your success coach team are here to help you find the right balance.
Most importantly, your studies are just a small part of your life and for many of us now things can feel stressful. But that’s okay, there is a heap of support available from your success coach to the campus counsellors. These services are free, readily accessible and completely confidential. And even if you might not need the help right now, from my own experience, it’s great to establish these relationships early to help prevent any future issues arising.
Finally, there is a great checklist created by the success coach team, available to download here, that will help to consolidate your progress from Week 1 and guide you to the exact resources needed to assist you in answering any remaining questions or concerns you have at this point in the trimester.
Remember, take a moment give yourself credit for having the courage to embark on this amazing journey of learning and, above all else, be kind to yourself.
Date: Monday 1 June, 2020
If you’re just starting your course, or even if you’ve been studying for a while, the beginning of a trimester can be a massive case of information overload! As a recent online Bachelor of Business graduate, and now Torrens University Student Mentor, I know this feeling very well!
Luckily for you, I have now compiled some of my top tips for Day 1 (many of which I’ve learned the hard way) that will make the rest of the trimester easier, more enjoyable and more successful – and they can all be done in less than an hour!
1. Schedule and automate - 15 minutes
The very first thing you should do when you open Blackboard for the first time (when your motivation is highest and stress levels are lowest) is to find the Assessments tab on the left-hand side of your subject dashboard.
In this you will see a table that maps out all your assessment tasks for the trimester and their respective due dates. Take a moment to input all these dates into a diary or a calendar (personally I use Google calendar that syncs to my phone) and to schedule reminders in advance.
The trick is to automate as much as possible to avoid unnecessary last-minute stress – or missing deadlines altogether!
2. Download and read your assessment briefs - 20 minutes
On the same Assessments page, click on each individual assessment item and download the assessment briefs (normally a hyperlink at the top). At this stage, it’s also helpful to set up a file management system in My Documents to keep all of these grouped by Trimester and Subject.
Repeat this process for each assessment, and each subject, before spending another few minutes skim reading each brief. For now, don’t worry about understanding them in detail, it’s just to give you an idea of what to expect and what you will be working on in each subject.
(Bonus Tip: There is a ‘study hacks’ workshop on Tuesday 2/6 that will dive into this further!)
3. Introduce yourself to your lecturer and classmates - 15 minutes
Unlike face-to-face learning, studying online can feel pretty lonely if you miss this step, so take a few minutes to write a short message introducing yourself to your lecturer and classmates by sending a group class message (I find this gets the best response versus the discussion forum).
Include what you’re excited about in the subject (refer back to what you read in the assessment briefs), what interests you have outside of uni and what your career aspirations are. And if you have LinkedIn, suggest connecting there as well: Your career networking starts now!
4. Schedule time to attend a workshop - 5 minutes
Don’t be like me and inadvertently learn all these lessons the hard way! The university’s team of success coaches now run workshops every weekday on topics ranging from how to write a resume or cover letter and find an internship to study hacks that will save you time and stress!
Take a moment to look at the workshop schedule here and schedule a time to attend anything that jumps out.
5. Book a time to meet with your Success Coach - 5 minutes
If you’ve decided to spend the next year or four studying, chances are that you have a career goal or aspiration in mind. The university’s team of success coaches are here to connect what you’re learning in the classroom with your personal and professional goals.
I’ve worked with my success coach for the past two years and as a result have identified and developed my professional strengths, established clarity around my personal brand and career goals and have left feeling inspired and motivated every time.
The sooner you can set up this relationship the better, so book a time with coach here; personally, it has been one of the best decisions I ever made!
Finally, if you’ve taken this one hour out on your first day to establish these systems and support mechanisms, you will already be leaps and bounds ahead of almost every other student! Plus, you will be set up to save yourself stress, achieve your study goals and, perhaps most importantly, make the process a whole heap more fun and rewarding.
Wednesday 10 June 2020: Week 1 Done, How are you tracking?