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Project HEAL: Student emotional support in Mandarin (and more)

A series of quotes from students on how they benefitted by project HEAL overlays seats in an auditorium
April 7, 2021

by Amala Lane

“When the pandemic began and Cornell went into lock-down, I and my friends felt so isolated,” undergraduate psychology major Lin Lin explained. “We were anxious and our parents were so worried. Domestic students could leave and go home but many of us were stuck. Flights to China went from twice daily to once a week and the prices jacked up to over $5000 one way.” This was the impetus for project HEAL – a free emotional support service through peer chatting and texting for Mandarin speakers on WeChat that Lin helped to found last summer.

The approach is adapted from the Cornell EARS (Empathy Assistance & Referral Service) model, with a focus on problem-solving and the method is finely attuned to the issues experienced by Chinese international students and responsive to the nuances of Chinese culture. With only four trained peer counselors, all Chinese international students, they still have managed to provide 80 students with over 100 30-minute emotional support sessions. They plan to recruit another 15 counseling volunteers and train them over the summer.

Combining Mandarin Chinese with the practical problem-solving approach on WeChat hit the sweet spot for Chinese international students. There’s stigmatization connected with mental health issues in the community and therefore, many tended to shy away from Cornell’s traditional counseling services.  But another reason was language.  “We learned English for academics and rational thinking – but our mother tongue, Mandarin was how we spoke about things of the heart,” Lin explained.

Project HEAL publishes a weekly mental health education article as well as hosts ‘Emotional Dumpster’ sessions throughout the week for group WeChat emotional support. Lin states, “We started HEAL with Mandarin and Chinese international students in mind, but we do not want to exclude other international students who speak different languages. In fact, there is a group of Korean international students who heard about us, and are involved in EARS, who reached out to us, expressing the interest of having a subsection of HEAL doing Korean student emotional support.” They’re working with them currently to determine the needs of the Korean student community. Please feel free to visit their website and check out their video to learn more.

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