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Reinventing Wellness: What to Include in a Wellness Orientation


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This session will focus on the development of wellness practices that strengthen staff, faculty, and student learning. Janice Abarbanel will expand on her idea of an "emotional passport," a dynamic skill set that can be learned and practiced as one prepares for shifting and settling into new cultures. Cynthia Mitchell will address issues of visibility and invisibility as students from different racial and cultural backgrounds negotiate the ways they're perceived in new environments. Participants will learn strategies to support students' emotional engagement, to enhance curiosity, and to help students recognize their accomplishments as they learn abroad.

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Reinventing Wellness: What to Include in a Wellness Orientation

  1. 1. What  to  Include  in  a  Wellness  Orientation:     by  Janice  Abarbanel,  PhD     Introduction   Introducing  Wellness  in  a  study  abroad  orientation  is  not  an  event  and  it  is  not  a   place.     Wellness   is   a   process   and   a   mindset.   Most   students   and   staff   think   of   Wellness  as  information  about  emergency  care  or  as  a  resource  for  when  they  feel   overwhelmed.     Present  Wellness  at  your  Orientation  as  a  conversation.    Introduce  your  students  to   a   broader   vision   about   emotional   health   and   accompanying   opportunities.     We   know  that  emotions  drive  learning,  and  that  a  calmer  and  curious  student  will  be  a   more  skilled  global  citizen  than  one  arriving  and  living  abroad  with  anxiety  and  low   moods.   Name   the   set   of   skills   learned   and   used   to   shift   cultures,   “The   Emotional   Passport.”     Studying  abroad  is  an  emotional  time.    Some  students  are  surprised  about  how  intense   they  may  feel,  something  they  hadn’t  felt  in  the  past.    Is  it  homesickness,  confusion,   depression,  exhaustion?    Sometimes  it’s  a  mixture,  and  a  student  might  feel  at  ease,   and  engaged,  and  just  occasionally  worried  or  off  balance.     All   of   us   are   impacted   by   culturally   pervasive   negative   mindsets   for   emotional   health.  Historically,  study  abroad  programs  and  staff  have  viewed  student  emotional   challenges  as  exceptions  or  conditions  for  referral  to  a  psychiatrist.     The   mindset   for   an   inclusive   Orientation   where   Wellness   is   normalized   and   integrated   is   based   on   the   understanding   that   the   interface   between   the   developmental   stressors   of   emerging   adulthood   and   the   challenges   of   studying   abroad   can   contribute   to   students   needing   extra   support   across   all   parts   of   the   program.    Ensure  that  your  staff  is  open  about  the  positives  of  help  seeking  -­‐-­‐  that   students  feel  comfortable  asking  for  Wellness  help,  either  in  the  form  of  a  chat  with   one  of  the  staff  or  requesting  a  sit-­‐down  with  the  Director.    Move  away  from  the   clinical  language  of  “culture  shock”  which  tends  to  reinforce  the  negative  mindset  of   mental  health,  and  move  towards  the  more  positive  language  of  skill  development.     Pointers  for  Your  Inclusive  and  Integrated  Orientation:     1. Arriving   is   Not   Day   One  –Emphasize  that  students  have  been  planning  to   study  abroad  for  a  long  time  –  they  have  likely  been  in  touch  with  the  Student   Life   office   both   in   the   US   and   abroad   for   some   months.   Speak   about   the   reality  that  mood  shifts  come  with  culture  shifts,  and  that  it  is  normal  to  feel   confused,  excited,  perhaps  disappointed,  and  amazed.      The  mood  intensities   mean  that  you’ve  arrived  where  everything  is  new  and  that  the  experiences   long  desired  are  now  present.    It  takes  time  to  adjust  –  studying  abroad  is  a   process,  not  a  single  event.   2. “It’s   not   about   time;   it’s   about   energy.”   –   Focus   on   how   you   use   and   restore  energy  as  a  key  to  having  a  successful  emotional  journey  abroad.  We  
  2. 2. encourage  students  to  build  a  skill  set  with  their  personal  ways  to  disengage   from   high   energy   use,   exhaustion,   ways   that   work   for   them.   “Everyone   is   different”  is  emphasized.   3. Identifying  as  a  global  citizen:    write  down  your  full  name,  place  of  birth,   passport  countries,  and  a  note  ‘imagining’  where  you  might  be  and  what  you   might   be   doing   in   10   years.     This   identification   places   you   ‘today’   at   your   abroad  site,  reflects  backwards  and  forwards  –  reinforces  the  idea  that  you   are  in  a  larger  world,  jump  starting  a  process  of  reflecting  and  considering.   4. Expectations:   Contribute   to   managing   expectations:     “Red,   Yellow,   Green”   cards:  write  down  one  or  two  things  on  each  card:    (1)  what  you  are  excited   about,  (2)  ambivalent  or  a  bit  concerned  about,  and,  last,  (3)  very  worried   about.    These  cards  are  then  sampled  aloud  –  students  find  that  their  worry   or  point  of  excitement  is  just  like  their  classmates.    The  entire  list  is  posted  a   few  days  later  in  the  student  lounge.  (no  names  on  cards  or  posters)   5. Many  ways  to  use  Wellness  resources:  Emphasize  staff  support.    Suggest   students  find  at  least  one  staff  member  they  feel  comfortable  with.    All  staff   should  be  trained  about  ways  to  listen,  support,  and  when  to  refer  a  student   for  further  evaluation.   6. Summary   –   an   important   goal   for   including   the   Wellness   conversation   at   Orientation  is  to  welcome  students,  to  acknowledge  what  they  are  already   experiencing  (usually  feeling  a  bit  overwhelmed  and  confused,  excited  too),   and  to  let  them  know  that  staff  and  faculty  are  aware  that  “planes  fly  faster   than  emotions  settle  in,”  eg  hours  ago  they  may  have  just  left  loved  ones  at  the   airport,  and  now  they’ve  landed  where  they  have  dreamed  about,  but  could   still   feel   a   bit   sad   from   the   departure!     When   they   leave   this   Orientation   session,  they  understand  how  their  brains  process  change  and  how  they  have   some  control  over  creating  a  new  routine,  sleep  and  eating  schedules,  making   new  friends,  attending  to  academics,  and  using  staff  as  helpful  resources.     Wellness   During   the   Semester:   At   Orientation,   tell   students   about   ways   that   Wellness  will  support  them  during  the  term.    Here  is  a  partial  list:     1. Through  events  sponsored  by  the  program:  sports,  picnics  –  places  and  ways   to  relax  and  focus  on  the  present.   2. Through  notes  and  Wellness  information  in  an  online  Newsletter  or  on  an   academic   center   white   board.     Articles   can   be   posted   about   social   media,   stress,  relationships  –  anything  current.    Post  relevant  cartoons  too!   3. Through  availability  of  the  staff  or  counselors  to  meet  students  as  needed,   individually  or  in  groups.   4. Through  a  workshop  towards  the  end  of  the  term  on  “Transitions”  to  “home”   or  wherever  they  may  settle  next.    The  skill  set  is  about  transitions  more  than   about  “re-­‐entry”.     3.    Conclusion   Be  comfortable  with  the  idea  that  Wellness  is  a  mindset  about  constructive   emotional  support  integrated  into  programming  at  every  level.    Because  your  staff  
  3. 3. understands  the  importance  of  guided  support  for  the  healthy  development  of   Emerging  Adults,  work  together  mindfully  to  ensure  that  each  student  has  the   resources  for  positive  experiences  in  your  program.    Stay  flexible  in  your   communications  with  your  students,  and  respect  the  reality  that  best  learning  is   nurtured  when  students  learn  to  disengage  from  high  stress  and  refocus  their   energy  towards  personal  and  academic  goals.    It’s  a  tall  order  to  be  20  years  old  and   taking  on  a  new  culture,  a  new  city,  language,  friendships,  and  relationships  with   abroad  staff.    Your  Orientation  is  an  important  part  of  supporting  this  process.