This psychologist helps international students overcome their psychological barriers
Vivi Hua grew up in a family that emphasized traditional Chinese values: being as wealthy, smart, and accomplished as possible. There was a lot of pressure and psychological barriers – her education in Taiwan would later lead her to choose “the best school and” the best college “over her passion.
She ended up enrolling in a sociology program. It was then that she saw that she appreciated the practical elements of learning and discovered that psychology would be a better fit instead.
Hua would then become a research assistant at a Taipei hospital, where she studied and worked alongside the head of the child and adolescent psychiatry department.
“After gaining clinical experience, I was able to apply for a degree in psychology at a graduate school,” she said. “I enrolled at Yeshiva University, a fairly well-known Jewish university in the New York metro area. “
Today, she uses the diploma to help those who face the same pressures and psychological barriers as she does. We caught up with her to find out more about her journey from international student to altruistic psychologist below:
Were your psychological barriers the main reason you wanted to pursue studies in this field?
I started with my undergraduate degree in sociology at National Taiwan University. Back then, the emphasis was on going to the best school and then the best university. So, it wasn’t very clear to me exactly what my interest was.
During my undergraduate studies (closer to graduation), I saw myself as a more practical person. Sociology is very theoretical so I started taking psychology lessons and it went a lot better.
As English is always preferred for students to obtain their psychology licenses, I had to build some references. This led me to work as a research assistant in a hospital in Taipei (capital of Taiwan). There, I conducted studies and worked alongside the head of the child and adolescent psychiatry department.
After gaining clinical experience, I was then able to apply for a degree in psychology at a doctoral school. I enrolled at Yeshiva University – a fairly well-known Jewish university in the New York metro area.
What made you decide to study at Yeshiva University and in the United States?
This was primarily the program I enrolled in, which was a direct doctoral path that was accredited and certified by the American Psychological Association. As for the United States, at the time (not sure at the moment), it was still the go-to place for clinical psychology.
The country has a very good system of therapeutic and psychological care.
– Dr Vivi W. Hua (@Dr_Vivi_Hua) May 9, 2017
Explain to us the process of obtaining your psychology license in New York.
It’s more about completing your training program, because you need to complete your practical internship. After you graduate from college, you must also complete a year of postgraduate study through hours of supervision.
Meeting licensing requirements means there are a certain number of hours of supervision to complete. For international students, the only difference would be finding an employer for a visa.
How did you help international students in the United States overcome psychological barriers? What are some of the common misconceptions?
With 10 years of practice as an established psychologist, I provide therapy and help individuals overcome psychological barriers. I often meet international students who come to see me at a breaking point – in a state of extreme depression, on the verge of harming themselves or having thoughts of suicide.
It all comes from worrying about failing their classes and being kicked out of school. They insist on this because it’s tied to their student visa, so if they fail in school, they have to leave the country. There is a lot of mental struggle behind this.
These students usually do not contact me directly. Usually their friends, parents or the school psychologist do this. The challenges they face add up and start from the moment they set foot in school.
The biggest psychological barriers facing international students (especially those from Asia) are culture shock and fear of speaking out. In Asia, students are expected to listen out of respect for their teachers.
What is your advice for international students on how to relocate to a school in the United States and oovercome their psychological barriers?
I tell my students to prepare questions in advance so that they can keep pace with the class and their peers. Another thing I encourage is to raise your hand and ask questions to interact outside of the classroom as well.
It is a common situation for my students to live their first time away from home and their families. Not only do they have to learn to be independent, to pay bills, to do household chores, but it also adds to their academic responsibilities.
In addition to cultural and linguistic adjustments, students face emerging challenges in adulthood that result in psychological barriers. My advice to them would be to seek validation of their experience and take the time to develop new skills.
I also tell them to get out of their comfort zone and express themselves more in public. It is important to develop good relationships with peers and faculty to create the ultimate support system and also hone networking skills.
And you? What would you advise if you could go back in time?
I wish someone like me contacted me at the time. Now, American schools are offering mentoring systems to provide hands-on experience of what to expect in school.
It really benefits students who work with a professional who has been through a path of similar struggles.
What is most important to you: job satisfaction, salary, social life or a work / life balance? Why?
In my training as a psychologist, I had to go through personal therapy. So, coming from a very traditional Asian family, this achievement and this salary were the external pressures described as important.
Gradually, I became more connected with myself in personal needs and wants and I believe that there is much more to life than these external factors. When I went to the best university in Taiwan, I was not very happy.
If nothing is ever enough and your goal is to focus only on the external milestones, how will you find the balance? I encourage students to take a more balanced approach in different important areas of their lives.