Students Sarah Laffin and Aleksandra Matysek completed a six-week school-based mental health practicum this past fall in Beijing, China as part of an international exchange program between Beijing Normal University (BNU) and the CFSP program. The program – now in its fourth year – was developed to broaden students’ multicultural competence and to promote the field of school psychology.
Laffin and Matysek completed their practicum with graduate students from BNU at Jingyuan School, a public middle and high school located in Beijing’s fifth ring. They worked with an on-site supervisor to plan and deliver weekly classroom mental health lessons, group counseling, and career development services. Laffin and Matysek also engaged in a cross-cultural comparison of school-based approaches to identify and manage student anxiety and gave a joint teleconference presentation to graduate students and faculty at both BNU and the Morgridge College of Education (MCE) on the topic.
One important finding discussed was that while levels of general anxiety are about the same in both cultures, social anxiety is more prominent in China due in part to the cultural focus on harmonious relationships and social restraint. Laffin and Matysek learned that students in the United States are more likely to seek help managing anxiety, possibly due to a greater awareness and acceptance of the role mental health plays in academic and life success. Two graduate students from BNU will reciprocate the exchange this spring, coming to MCE to attend selected classes and accompany current CFSP graduate students to their local practicum sites. They will also give a cross-cultural, joint teleconference presentation.
Laffin and Matysek say that their increased global understanding has had a positive influence on their practice and has increased their confidence in communicating with bi-lingual students and families in the United States. The international exchange program has been of mutual benefit as peers and faculty at BNU have been able to employ the counseling tools and methods introduced by CFSP students. The exchange has fostered an increased international appreciation of school-based mental health, helping BNU to establish a graduate program supporting China’s emerging field of school psychology.