Abstract: (see Poster Gallery) Exploring the Experiences and Perceptions of African International University Students on Their Mental and Emotional Well-Being during COVID-19: A Qualitative Study (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

All in-person and virtual presentations are in Mountain Standard Time Zone (MST).

SSWR 2023 Poster Gallery: as a registered in-person and virtual attendee, you have access to the virtual Poster Gallery which includes only the posters that elected to present virtually. The rest of the posters are presented in-person in the Poster/Exhibit Hall located in Phoenix A/B, 3rd floor. The access to the Poster Gallery will be available via the virtual conference platform the week of January 9. You will receive an email with instructions how to access the virtual conference platform.

690P (see Poster Gallery) Exploring the Experiences and Perceptions of African International University Students on Their Mental and Emotional Well-Being during COVID-19: A Qualitative Study

Sunday, January 15, 2023
Phoenix C, 3rd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Gashaye Melaku Tefera, MSW, PhD Student, University of missouri, Columbia, MO
Kelechi Onyeaka, MPH, Fellow, University of Missouri-Columbia, MO
Nameri Conteh, MPH, Doctoral Student, University of Missouri-Columbia, MO
Ifeolu David, MPH, PhD student, University of Missouri-Columbia, Columbia, MO
Omoshola Kehinde, MPH, Doctoral Student, University of Missouri-Columbia, MO
Idethia Harvey, DrPH, FGSA, Associate Professor, University of Missouri-Columbia, MO
Wilson Majee, PhD, Associate Professor, University of Missouri-Columbia, MO
Background and Purpose: Globally, the novel human coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) has affected people in life-changing ways, including loss of lives, jobs, wealth, and housing, challenging the basics of human wellbeing. COVID-19 resulted in a temporary closure of schools, colleges, universities, and other community learning spaces such as community libraries. COVID-19 related disruption of academic life has been reported to cause psycho-emotional challenges, including frustration, anxiety, decreased resilience due to lack of physical activity, and depression among university students. However, little is known about the impacts of the pandemic on international students in the U.S. Hence, this study reports on the perceptions and experiences of African international university students on COVID-19 mental and emotional health-related impacts.

Methods: A qualitative research design with a phenomenological approach to explore the experiences and perceptions of mental and emotional health among African international students during the COVID-19 pandemic. Fifteen students were purposively recruited and interviewed by phone or Zoom. Interviews lasted 40-70 minutes and were audio-recorded. Following verbatim transcriptions and the development of a comprehensive codebook, thematic analysis was used to analyze the data. Nvivo12 qualitative analysis software was used to code and analyze data.

Results: Findings from the thematic analysis showed that African international students experienced: social isolation and depression, fear of the virus and anxiety about their health, the extra stress of being an international student (lack of familial support, restrictive visas, loss of work opportunities and status maintenance), job anxiety, and uncertainty about the future. Participants used various coping mechanisms including staying engaged, peer or community support “Ubuntu” (African resilience), positivity, and staying informed as coping strategies to navigate the difficult days of the pandemic.

Conclusions and Implications: Given their strong communal cultural background, living and studying in a foreign country where individualistic culture is dominant is difficult for African international students. COVID-19 pandemic with its associated forces created stressful living conditions for African international students. This qualitative study highlights the need for all parties involved – international students, universities, and government to learn from the recent experience and re-examine educational and immigration policies to create a more international student-friendly learning and living-friendly environment. Universities need to be aware of international students’ needs by putting in place policies and provisions that minimize international students’ mental, emotional, and financial vulnerabilities during pandemics. These include providing culturally appropriate mental health and counseling services, creating supportive spaces uniquely dedicated to international students, and ensuring the availability of free emergency health services. Further implications will be discussed.