Examining the university supports and international students' psychological well-being during the COVID-19 pandemic : a case study of a university in mainland China

  • Zeyu KANG

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis (Lingnan)


The higher education sector in China has attracted many university students from different countries since the 21st century, reflecting the flow of international students over recent years. The onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic was unprecedented to most of the world, especially for international students in China. These students had to rapidly adapt to the "new normal", which included significant changes to their academic and social lives. The impact of such changes on their overall well-being is a subject of research in China and globally. This study adapts Ryff's (1995) concepts of psychological well-being and Turner's (2009) stress process model as the conceptual framework to explore how various types of stress or challenges experienced by international students influence their psychological wellbeing. It also investigates the role of universities' support on their mental health during the pandemic.

This study relies on a qualitative case study research design. Data was gathered through an in-depth interview method with nine international students and one international student mentor in one mainland China university by purposive sampling and analysis of university working documents relating to support and measures to maintain the well-being of international students during the pandemic. The analysis of documents and interview data shows that the university implemented stringent regulations such as campus lockdown, self-quarantine and postponement of a new semester. These stressful events, combined with academic, financial, social and cultural challenges and infodemic, became chronic stress to international students, significantly impacting their mental health.

Generally, the findings illustrate that international students' psychological well-being during COVID-19 included such emotions as doubt, anxiety, safety, and confidence under the case university support measures. Six impactful factors might provoke those four emotions: complicated life goals, predicaments of personal growth, weakness of environmental regulations, maladaptive self-acceptance, reconstruction of interpersonal relationships and limited individual independence and autonomy. Furthermore, the effectiveness of support measures on the psychological well-being of international students was examined. Although the case university provided adequate materials and medical supplies, the students felt that the quality of online courses and cross-cultural psychological counselling was inadequate for them and the situation. The conclusion reveals that even though social support measures were provided for international students' stress alleviation, their mental health was still negatively influenced by the COVID-19 mandatory measures taken by the governments and universities. This study suggests that universities in the Chinese Mainland should have paid more attention to the psychological well-being of international students who stayed on campus during the pandemic. The university needs to enhance accurate information updating and offer more cross-cultural services to international students for their psychological wellbeing.
Date of Award19 Jun 2023
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Lingnan University
SupervisorPadmore Adusei AMOAH (Supervisor) & Huang Yao HONG (Co-supervisor)

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