Self-care for International Education Professionals

Working with international students, frequent travel, dealing with difficult clients and critical incidents can challenge the most resilient professionals.

This challenge is constant; it’s not always addressed in professional development sessions or in-house peer support.

The FAQs below have come from real practitioners. They provide simple yet practical support  for people looking for immediate help. Below each question are suggested resources.

We welcome contributions to this page, and all the content on this site to ensure it remains relevant and worthwhile to International Education Professionals. 

How do I manage my workload?

‘I’m swamped by work! We have a growing number of students and need better facilities for students who are waiting, and sometimes embarrassed to ask for help. How do I deal with work overload and inadequate facilities?’  Below are some suggestions.

  1. Meet with all staff individually within the unit and review their tasks and workloads against their role descriptions. When meeting with staff ask their opinion about the reallocation of tasks as they may already have useful ideas and suggestion.
  2. Ask your colleagues about ideas for better use of the facilities.
  3. Request that management give priority to help provide better facilities for international student use as this is a requirement under the National Code.
  4. Once this is established evaluate the workloads and look to reassign tasks or develop a business plan to support the need to hire more staff.

How do I deal with a critical incident?

‘As an international student advisor, I deal regularly with critical incidents. I use institutional policies and procedures, but I often feel isolated and exhausted, sometimes not knowing if I’ve done enough. What should I do?’

Professional self-care  in a critical incident

  1. Provide support and to address immediate practical tasks and facilitate family, friends and loved ones.
  2. Focus should also be on supporting the student population.
  3. Establish levels of order and control as appropriate in what others may perceive as chaotic situations.  
  4. Recognise our own limitations and boundaries.
  5. Recognise the limitations and boundaries of other staff we work with.
  6. Acknowledge that staff providing basic support in a critical incident may have to accept and tolerate high levels of distress in victims, survivors and bystanders.
  7. Seek guidance, assistance and make referral to experienced members, or more specialist staff specifically trained in areas of critical incident management (ie. Counsellors, Religious Advisors, etc).
  8. After every major incident staff should be involved in operational reviews, list major learning points and make recommendations for effecting improved services in future.

Critical incident management is covered in our advisory and workshop services.

A comprehensive presentation on self-care by Dr Megan Brownlie at the 2016 Vic-Tas ISANA conference. is available here.

How do I manage stress?

‘I work with international students and I have a lot of meetings. Sometimes, going from advising a troubled student into a professional meeting where I have to think about the bigger picture is stressful. And I eat lunch at my desk – sometimes I have no break all day. I go home and can’t shake off the feeling of never getting finished. How do I manage this stress?’

You may recognise these elements in your workplace, described by the Australian government’s comcare website:

  • Poor worker health, both physical and psychological
  • Breakdown of individual and team relationships
  • Poor morale and erosion of worker loyalty and commitment
  • Reduced efficiency, productivity, and profitability
  • Poor public image and reputation
  • Increased costs associated with counseling, worker assistance, mediation
  • Increased absenteeism and staff turnover
  • Increased costs with recruitment and training of new workers
  • Increased workers’ compensation claims and legal costs

Workplace stress can occur when there is a mismatch between the requirements of the role, your capabilities and the resources and supports available.  

Forbes contributor Jenna Goodreau quotes Sharon Melnick, a US business psychologist: ‘If you’re feeling overwhelmed or are coming out of a tense meeting and need to clear your head, a few minutes of deep breathing will restore balance…Simply inhale for five seconds, hold and exhale in equal counts through the nose. It’s like getting the calm and focus of a 90-minute yoga class in three minutes or less at your desk.’

Everyone knows what stress feels like and we’ve probably all experienced it at some stage – at home, school or work, or while getting outside our comfort zone, but while this stress is normal, if it is ongoing, it can become a problem. See more here

Headup’s guidelines for managers says that: “The role of a leader in creating a mentally healthy workplace is to promote awareness, and importantly, to promote a culture that allows people to take the steps they need to stay mentally healthy.” (Dr Andrew Wilson, Medibank)

Workplace stress resources

The Australian Psychological Society describes the signs of stress and stress management strategies here.

Headsup: Better mental health in the workplace was developed by the Mentally Healthy Workplace Alliance and beyondblue.  Heads Up calls on business leaders to make a commitment and start taking action in their workplaces. It also encourages everyone in the workplace to play their part in creating a mentally healthy working environment, take care of their own mental health, and look out for their colleagues. Headsup contains extensive and targeted advice and resources for people looking to improve personal and workplace stress.

Healthdirect  is a national, Australian government-owned, not-for-profit organisation. Healthdirect provides a broad range of health related resources to help Australians manage their health and wellbeing.