International Students Find Barriers to Student Health

International Students Find Barriers to Student Health

Hard to talk about your problems when English isnít your first language

An international student says Student Health needs to do more to raise awareness of their services, in particular saying their provision of language-appropriate support is lacking.

Jess* told Critic Te Arohi that although she had some awareness about Student Health when she began studying at Otago last year, she was not aware of the types of services that they offered, including mental health support, until she needed to reach out to them herself. It took a lot of “exploring,” she said. “If I didn’t approach them, I wouldn’t know at all.”

Psychology student Hannah was not surprised that Student Health’s marketing was not effectively reaching international students: “Student Health's marketing is generic — it is targeted towards the general student population where any considerations of cultural context are given little space to exist. Their only nod to aspects of Asian cultures comes in the form of catchy, student-esque slogans like 'you are what you eat so don't be an instant noodle'. Even some attempt at tokenism would be better than our ethnic food getting more attention than us."

Margaret Perley, Head of Student Health Services, said: “Our services are not advertised in languages other than English, however there is the option to use Google Translate for information on our website and Facebook pages. Our staff are always available to help with any queries.”

A University of Otago spokesperson said: “We believe our marketing, advertising, public information campaigns and other outreach methods do cater to a diverse student population. However, we are aware that we can always improve and will always endeavour to broaden the offerings to cater to as many groups as possible.”

Within Student Health, Margaret says: “Students for whom English is not their first language can ask for an interpreter to be present at their appointment, and we will arrange as required.” Telephone interpreters are also available for free, 24/7, through the Ezispeak service.

Despite this, though, Jess says she was never offered an interpreter in any consultations. In fact, she expressed surprise when told by Critic Te Arohi that interpreters are available at Student Health. While she says she could cope in simple appointments like renewing prescriptions, an interpreter would have been helpful for more complex issues like mental health appointments, where there could be new terms that are more difficult to understand.

When asked what she would do to improve Student Health, Jess said: “Give us a list.” She wanted Student Health to be clearer about the support that was available for international students, including what could be covered in their insurance policies.

*Name changed for privacy.

This article first appeared in Issue 23, 2021.
Posted 2:58pm Monday 20th September 2021 by Denzel Chung.