International Students

Managing the demands of college can be difficult at times, especially if you have a mental health disorder or if you’re dealing with other stressors beyond school. As an international student, you may find yourself faced with a unique set of challenges.  Some students are nervous or hesitant about seeking help, but remember that even a minor issue can become a major problem if you don’t take care of yourself. There are resources and people at U-M who are ready and willing to help. Here are a few of the common challenges you may face, along with helpful tips:

Tip: Connect with the International Center
The U-M International Center provides a variety of services to assist international students, scholars, faculty and staff at the University of Michigan, as well as U-M American students seeking opportunities to study, work, or travel abroad. The International Student and Scholar Services team serves as a key resource to the U-M community in the following ways:

  • Advises international students, scholars, their dependents, and University departments on compliance with U.S. immigration laws and regulations related to F and J visa categories
  • Recommends and approves immigration benefits
  • Verifies, tracks, and submits visa status notifications through the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS), as required by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security
  • Advises on adjustment to U.S. society and American culture, academic concerns and community resources
  • Processes DS-2019s, I-20s, travel signatures, and letters needed for travel, employment, maintaining status, social security numbers, and other immigration related matters
  • Conducts workshops and orientation sessions for international students, scholars, and U-M departments

Academic Pressures

Many students find that adjusting to the academic demands of U-M can be stressful.  You may find that adapting to differences in the work load, class structure, the professor’s teaching style, language barriers, or other aspects of academic life is more difficult that you expected. In addition, some students tend to put a lot of pressure on themselves to perform well academically. Remember that you are one of many high achieving students at U-M, so you may need to adjust your expectations. Getting a low grade on an exam doesn’t mean that you won’t go on to have a successful career after college.

Tip: Tackle academic problems early
Speaking with your academic advisor early and taking advantage of office hours are great ways to prevent academic trouble. It’s also a good way to get to know your professors and get some feedback about how you are understanding the material.  Find other academic tips on this site.

For graduate students, it may be especially helpful to schedule regular meetings with your academic advisor(s) to discuss your progress, plan/revise your goals, and get help if you need it. The Rackham Graduate School provides a helpful guide, “How to Get the Mentoring You Want.”

Tip: You may be able to take a reduced course load
Students often reduce their course loads if they find that their mental health symptoms begin to interfere with their academic performance.  While withdrawing from classes can be frustrating and emotionally difficult, you may benefit from a lighter class load by having more time to concentrate on your treatment and recovery.  It is a good idea to talk to your mental health provider about any negative thoughts or feelings that you have associated with reducing your course load. Students with certain mental health disorders may request a Reduced Course Load authorization for medical (including psychological) conditions. Talk with the U-M International Center about this possibility and how it may affect your immigration status. 

Adjusting to a New Culture

In addition to adjusting to the challenges of school, international students often face the transition to a new culture. The International Center and the Rackham Graduate School provide a variety of support and guidance to ease this transition. View the International Center website for tips on adjusting to the U.S. and links to information on English as a second language.

Advice for International Students: View this video by the Rackham Graduate School to hear students describe their experiences adjusting to a new culture, and offer advice on how to expand your network of friends, and to connect with the international community at the University of Michigan. In addition, students talk about the resources at the International Center and other helpful information for new international graduate students to know.

Tip: Check out the free International Student Group offered by Counseling and Psychological Services


Everything from visa delays to travel complications can be a source of stress. Find information and important forms here. The staff at the International Center can help guide you.

Affects of Season on Mood

Many students find that they are strongly affected by the reduced sunlight and cold temperatures common to Michigan winters. Seasonal Affective Disorder is a depressive disorder in which depressive episodes occur at specific times during the year, typically in the fall and winter seasons as the amount of daily sunlight decreases. Some things that may be helpful:

Go outside. Try to get at least 30 minutes of sunlight every day. If you can’t get outside, try visiting the Wellness Zone at Counseling and Psychological Services to try out their free light box.

Exercise. Even moderate amounts of exercise can be helpful in lifting your mood. See other tips for taking care of yourself on this site.

Feelings of Depression, Anxiety, or Other Mental Health Issues

If you are struggling, you are not alone. It is important that you tell someone about your symptoms. Counseling and Psychological Services provides free counseling services for enrolled U-M students. At a counseling session, you have the chance to talk about your concerns with someone in a safe, friendly, and culturally sensitive environment. If you’re worried about making your first appointment, view this video to see what the process looks like.

Tip: Don’t get discouraged if there is a long wait time for an appointment. You can always speak with CAP’s Counselor-on-Duty (734-764-8312) for urgent matters, and there are many free support groups that can help you to manage your mood while you wait for your appointment.

Tip: If you find that you aren’t connecting with your counselor, don’t be afraid to talk to him/her about it or ask to see someone else. For treatment to work, you need to feel comfortable sharing information. Some people find that it takes a few tries to find the provider that is the right ‘fit.’ Find other tips for making the most out of your appointment here.

Know that having a mental health disorder is NOT a sign of character weakness
From a University of Michigan student: I am first generation Chinese-American, and as far as I know, there is very little information available in Asian cultures regarding mental illnesses.  In fact, the stigma can be quite large -- having a mental illness is sometimes (incorrectly) interpreted as "being crazy.”  It was quite difficult communicating my depression/anxiety to my parents, initially because of their own stigma and later because they simply did not have many resources available in their native language.  I myself had internalized a great deal of the stigma, as well as a resistance to taking medication, as I was afraid it would "screw with my head.” Something that helped me in both accepting medication and in explaining my depression to others was that it is not a sign of character weakness to have a clinical mental illness. It is not "just in your head.” There are no "happy pills,” so you will still be responsible for monitoring things like exercise, psychotherapy treatment, etc.” 

View other advice from students here.

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