Imagine moving thousands of miles away from home to pursue a degree you have always wanted. You can picture your new life on campus, the independence you will have and all the friends you will make. But then you arrive at your destination to find your excitement quickly replaced with anxiety and depression. You feel alone, isolated and away from everything that is comforting and familiar.
This is a story of many international students in the United States. Halle came to the US from Kenya with nothing but excitement for the future ahead of her. But as she settled in, she quickly felt unable to find and build a community for herself. Making friends was not as easy as she hoped it would be, and fitting in a culture so vividly different proved to be more challenging than she anticipated. Halle felt isolated and her mental health began to suffer. She couldn’t help but wonder if her peers, other international students, were also struggling in similar ways. Just as she began looking into resources or services that might support her, the COVID-19 pandemic spread and she and international students across the US had to make a difficult decision: stay or go back home if you can.
The American College Health Association have found that international students in the US face particular and disproportionate difficulties as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. These students had to deal with a number of factors in deciding to stay in the US or not. For some, going home meant they would not have proper internet access, some content could be censored, time zone differences that made attending classes impossible among other issues. But staying meant these students have now been stuck in the US, unable to see family and in some cases, still learning English. Already miles away from home, international students suffer from isolation, loneliness and other mental health concerns detrimental to their overall well-being. The pandemic has only made psychological troubles worse through mandatory social distancing.
Halle felt a need to act and to find ways to provide support to students like her and give them a platform to share their stories. She created her own podcast, Drained, which centers on mental health and features the stories of first-gen African students who leave their countries to go to college in America. She noticed that African students feel encouraged and empowered when they find resonance with peers and can then learn from each other on best coping mechanisms. Peace First supported Halle with a $250 COVID-19 Rapid Response mini-grant, allowing her to buy a professional microphone and create new episodes covering mental health struggles due to COVID-19 and how this vulnerable group is coping.
After creating ten podcast episodes and reaching 1,000 listeners, Halle and her listeners now openly discuss mental wellness. Seeing different members in the community share their experiences has opened up discussions about how best to support one another in seeking help.
Now, Halle partners with the Mastercard Scholars Program on a professional development podcast called #theHustle to share the stories of accomplished African professionals from different backgrounds currently working at top global firms. #TheHustle sheds light on the wide array of career opportunities - and highlights the wit, grit and hustle of these high-achievers in investment banking, management consulting, private equity, engineering, scientific research and more.
You can learn more about Halle here.