Dr. Bai-Yin Chen, psychologist with Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) and coordinator of peer counseling group The House, spoke with The California Aggie about typical dilemmas students experience at the start of Fall quarter and the keys to having a successful 2011-12 year.
The Aggie: What are some of the most common problems students have at the beginning of the year?
Chen: Usually at the beginning of the year for [first-year] or transfer students we see students coming in with adjustment issues, from coming to campus, being away from families for the first time, being in a new environment and the social or academic adjustment. In general, whether it’s the beginning of the year or throughout the year some of the issues we see at CAPS are stress or depression. With the economic issues in the country right now, we see a lot of students with stress particularly due to financial stress or they have to work and study. It becomes more challenging for them to balance school demands and work, so we have seen increasing stress that relates to financial situation.
How do you recommend students deal with these issues?
I would suggest students, first of all, need to learn to recognize that they are stressed and also develop stress management skills – how to manage and balance their time and have a healthy lifestyle, which means get sleep, eat healthy, maintain some level of physical activity and become more active. And utilizing resources and support that is available here on campus, or from home or other social networks. Homesickness or being away from friends or family is one of the common issues we see among [first-year] students. Building a new social support network here on campus is very important, while continuing to utilize the existing social support they have from their own community. But I think it’s very important that students establish social support system here by making new friends.
And getting involved on campus will help them adjust to the new environment.
How can students make a long-distance relationship survive?
I think long distance relationships are not always easy to maintain; however, I think it’s possible. But it requires conscious effort from both parties. Communication is one of the most critical aspects to maintain healthy relationship. [They should] talk to their partner about what [long distance] means to them or how long distance might impact their relationship. Make use of technology now, like Facebook or Skype — don’t become addicted to it, but make good use of it to help maintain the connection. Every couple is different, but identify ways for both of them to maintain the connection and to continue to involve their partner in their life. It’s possible but it’s not always easy.
What advice do you have for students who are having trouble making new friends or connecting with their roommates and floormates?
Some students struggle with social skills or social confidence. For those students I would encourage utilizing our Building Social Confidence group at CAPS. It can help them build social skills and social confidence. But there are some students who have the social confidence, who have good social skills, but maybe they don’t connect with their roommates or people around them for different reasons, and I would encourage them to have an open mind. Help the people around them to learn more about them, but also show interest in learning more about people around them. UC Davis is such a diverse campus. There are a lot of people who are not always the same as us. Have an open mind, learn about them and get involved in student organizations because that’s one of the ways that provides some structure for students to make a friend. Often times the students who are in the same organization may share something in common and that can be a good start for them to build some connection.
What’s your take on going home on weekends – should students go home whenever they want, or try to avoid it?
I would suggest finding a balance between using their existing social support network and also establishing a new social support network. Maybe they can go home the first weekend if they really feel homesick and miss their family and friends, but maybe don’t stay all weekend at home. Maybe visit for a day, but also spend time on campus. When students don’t spend time on campus it makes it difficult for them to make a friend. During the week everyone is very busy going to classes and may not have as much time to hang out. The weekend is a time when they can hang out, make friends or go to a campus event.
What’s your number one piece of advice for students at the start of the year?
I would say keep your mind open and utilize the resources here on campus and take advantage of the tremendous opportunity that this campus offers. Whether it’s other students here or things provided by the campus, learn about those things and utilize them. And also learn to understand more about their health, which will help them grow and have a more satisfying college experience. At CAPS, we provide group and individual counseling, the Stress and Wellness Clinic and peer counseling at The House.
ERIN MIGDOL can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.