On Aug. 27, Counseling and Psychiatric Service sent out an email to all undergraduate students titled “CAPS Fall 2020 Groups,” promoting different affinity groups students could join for support this semester. These groups were meant to be a place for students to discuss their issues and experiences relating to the group they had decided to join.
As an international student, one group that sparked my interest was the International Student Support Group, which aimed to give international students a supportive space to discuss cultural, career, educational, relational and financial concerns unique to us. I thought this group may be extremely useful, given that the issues international students were facing in the pandemic were novel and any support or advice from other students struggling with learning would provide me with some respite.
After I sent an email to Engin Ontiveros, who coordinated the group, she set up a call with me and discussed how the support group would not include therapy and would be mainly to discuss issues pertaining to our college experience with other students. She emailed me after the call, gathering my particulars before our supposed first session — which ultimately never happened. She informed me 12 days after I submitted my information that she would not be able to provide such services to me since I am living outside of the United States. She said she could not “provide group or individual therapy services to those students abroad, due to licensure restriction issues.” All this after encouraging me to go through the process of signing up.
After advertising a specific support group for international students, I was extremely disappointed when CAPS denied me support because there are not many avenues for similar support groups at Georgetown University or at home in Singapore. There is currently a lack of official resources for international students in terms of mental and physical well-being.
This semester, I have lived in Singapore with a 12-hour time difference, had classes between 8 p.m. and 5 a.m. and have been isolated from my college friends. Many of these experiences posed huge challenges to my life, which was already much harder because of the COVID-19 pandemic. I thought the International Student Support Group would be a great avenue to share some of my struggles with other international students and to get advice from them.
International students lack guidance and support on basic help we should get regarding healthy sleep, time management, anxiety management and eating patterns, especially when our lives are flipped upside down because of the pandemic. The International Student Support Group that CAPS advertised was misleading, as the name implies international students are eligible for support. CAPS should have checked its licensure restrictions before volunteering to provide support for international students and possibly instead found other avenues for us to reach out since they were unable to provide support for us.
Georgetown has advocated for the mental health of its students, but this support should not only apply to those in the country. Trying to find available resources, including counseling, should not burden students who are already under immense stress during the COVID-19 pandemic. Furthermore, Georgetown should make sure it does not falsely advertise support it is not willing or able to give students and, in the future, should commit to giving proper support to those in need.
I hope in the future there is more thought and resources put into CAPS programs, including designing avenues for students to take part in therapy or support groups. These initiatives should not be just a way to make Georgetown seem like a community that prioritizes the mental health of its students. International students deserve a counseling program that actively takes steps to ensure we get the proper support we need.
Nikita Dhar is a sophomore in the McDonough School of Business.