By: Lincoln Tan
When 22-year-old Muslim student Azizi Anis Amalina came to New Zealand from Malaysia last year, she found herself in a totally different world.
“There is definitely a big cultural difference since casual sex and gay marriage are not widely accepted in Malaysia,” she said.
“I lost my support system…and it’s difficult to make any really close friends.”
Feeling lost, alone and disconnected, Anis turned to social media to vent her frustrations and found that it helped her cope.
“I joined clubs, social events but found it hard to take the friendship beyond the superficial level,” said Anis.
“I was desperate for someone to vent out to, and I found doing that in social media actually helps.”
Thinking it would also be helpful to other international students like her, Anis started an anonymous confessions page on Facebook called UoA meaningful confessions.
It became hugely popular, garnering over 3600 likes in five months, with nearly 400 “confessions” to date.
The issues raised, believed to be mainly by international students, range from emotional struggles and mental health, to suicide and sex.
Anis, originally from Shah Alam – a town near the country’s capital Kuala Lumpur – said she found Auckland to be “very quiet” by comparison.
“Back home, shopping goes on till late in the night and friends go out for meals at all times of the day and night,” she said.
“Here, we don’t go out much and that leaves us with a lot of time to feel alone and think of silly things.”
Eric Chuah, founder of Cultural Connections and a volunteer with the International Student Ambassador Group, said main issues affecting international students based on his research were cost of living, language and communication, employment, accommodation and racism.
“For many Asian students, drugs and sex are not openly discussed back home,” Chuah said.
“So when they go overseas, they are very tempted to ‘try’ them…this is a very real issue.”
Chuah said the Facebook page provided a digital outlet for students to talk, discuss and raise issues that may be considered taboo by family and friends.
“It’s a useful site to uncover deep thoughts and issues of today’s students, and there is a place for it,” he said.
Chuah said that while sex and drugs were “natural topics” for people in this age group to talk about, it was concerning that there are posts on suicide.
“We need to ensure the right support framework is readily available should a topic lead to a participant feeling hopeless,” he said.
“This can lead to suicidal inclination and the moderator needs to know how to identify when comments were adding fuel to the fire.”
Anis said the page aimed to raise awareness and spark discussions on challenges and problems that students faced.
“Many students report feeling less alone with their struggles from reading the confessions of others, especially because university life can be quite disconnecting,” she said.
“Staff at the university are also aware of the page because of its content.”
Anis is now working with a friend to develop a website with an anonymous chat function to have a wider reach.
“Students do want to support one another, but fear being judged,” she said.
“We hope this new platform will be able to facilitate this.”
Source: NZ Herald