Vulnerability and Well-Being: International Students’ Experience in North Queensland, Australia




COVID-19, higher education, international students, mental health, well-being, vulnerability


In this article, we examined the impact of COVID-19 on international students’ experience and highlighted the importance of supporting this student group. We drew on findings from a mixed methods study in North Queensland, Australia. First, we discussed mental well-being and analysed how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted individuals’ mental health and well-being. We linked our analysis to international students’ vulnerability and well-being, looking specifically at the impact of financial and emotional distress. The findings of our study provided knowledge regarding the challenges international students face in North Queensland. In order to better meet the needs of international students, we argue that higher education institutions must provide tailored programs and services, including nurturing, supportive, responsive, and needs-orientated environments, to address the challenges international students face, and the mental health needs posed by the pandemic and beyond.


Download data is not yet available.


Ahrari, S., Krauss, S. E., Suandi, T., Abdullah, H., Sahimi, A. H. A., Olutokunbo, A. S. & Dahalan, D. (2019). A stranger in a strange land: Experiences of adjustment among international postgraduate students in Malaysia. Issues in Educational Research, 29(3), 611-632.

Altinyelken, H., Hoek, L., & Jiang, L. (2020). Improving the psychosocial wellbeing of international students: The relevance of mindfulness. British Journal of Guidance & Counselling, 48(4), 524-536.

Ambrósio, S., Marques, J., Santos, L., & Doutor, C. (2017). Higher education institutions and international students’ hindrances: A case of students from the African Portuguese-speaking countries at two European Portuguese universities. Journal of International Students, 7(2), 367-394.

Baik, C., Larcombe, W., & Brooker, A. (2019). How universities can enhance student mental wellbeing: The student perspective. Higher Education Research & Development, 38(4), 674-687.

Barkham, M., Broglia, E., Dufour, G., Fudge, M., Knowles, L., Percy, A., Turner, A., & Williams, C. (2019). Towards an evidence base for student wellbeing and mental health: Definitions, developmental transitions, and data sets. Counselling and Psychotherapy Research, 19(4), 351–357.

Bhargava, M. (2020, May 6). Mental health issues have always been poorly understood: Shekhar Saxena. The Hindu BusinessLine. Retrieved November 15, 2022, from

Bista, K., & Dagley, A. (2015). Higher education preparation and decision-making trends among international students. College and University, 90(3), 2-11.

Cao, W., Fang, Z., Hou, G., Han, M., Xu, X., Dong, J., & Zheng, J. (2020). The psychological impact of the COVID-19 epidemic on college students in China. Psychiatry research, 287, 112934. 10.1016/j.psychres.2020.112934

Carter, M., Pagliano, P., Francis, A., & Thorne, M. (2017). Australian university students and mental health: Viewpoints from the literature. International Journal of Innovation, Creativity and Change, 3(2), 1-25.

Caron, J., Fleury, M., Perreault, M., Crocker, A., Tremblay, J., Tousignant, M., Kestens, Y., Cargo, M., & Daniel, M. (2012). Prevalence of psychological distress and mental disorders and use of mental health services in the epidemiological catchment area of Montreal South-West. BMC Psychiatry, 12, 183.

Clark, V. L. P., & Ivankova, N. V. (2015). Mixed methods research: A guide to the field. Sage.

Commonwealth of Australia. (2021). About mental health.

Creswell, J. W., & Clark, V. L. P. (2017). Designing and conducting mixed methods research. Sage.

Creswell, J. W., & Creswell, J. D. (2018). Research design: Qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods approaches. Sage.

Cunningham, H. (2019). Responding to what we notice: International student teaching as a pathway to cultural responsiveness. Urban Education, 54(9), 1262-1289.

Department of Education, Skills and Employment. (2021). International student data.

Dodd, R., Dadaczynski, K., Okan, O, McCaffery, K., & Pickles, K. (2021). Psychological wellbeing and academic experience of university students in Australia during COVID-19. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 18, 866.

Firang, D. (2020). The impact of COVID-19 pandemic on international students in Canada. International Social Work, 63(6), 820–824.

Francis, A., & Udah, H. (2020). Coronavirus and Ruby Princess crew in Australia: A call for increased macro level social work. International Journal of Innovation, Creativity and Change, 14(6), 166-181.

Gallagher, H., Doherty, A., & Obonyo, M. (2020). International student experiences in Queensland during COVID-19. International Social Work, 63(6), 815–819.

Gautam, C., Lowery, C., Mays, C., & Durant, D. (2016). Challenges for global learners: A qualitative study of the concerns and difficulties of international students. Journal of International Students, 6(2), 501-526.

Huang, L., Kern, M., & Oades, L. (2020). Strengthening university student wellbeing: Language and perceptions of Chinese international students. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 17(15), 5538.

Last, J. (2001). A dictionary of epidemiology. Oxford University Press.

Montemurro, N. (2020). The emotional impact of COVID-19: From medical staff to common people. Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, 87, 23-24.

Neto, F. (2020). Subjective well-being of Angolan students in Portugal. Journal of Studies in International Education, 24(4), 456-473.

Nussbaum, M. (2011). Creating capabilities: The Human Development Approach. Harvard University Press.

Paredes, M., Apaolaza, V., Fernandez-Robin, C., Hartmann, P., & Yañez-Martinez, D. (2020). The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on subjective mental well-being: The interplay of perceived threat, future anxiety, and resilience. Personality and Individual Differences, 170, 110455.

Patton, M. (2015). Qualitative research & evaluation methods: Integrating theory and practice. Sage.

Shadowen, N., Williamson, A., Guerra, N., Ammigan, R., & Drexler, M. (2019). Prevalence and correlates of depressive symptoms among international students: Implications for university support offices. Journal of International Students, 9(1), 129-149.

Shorten, A., & Smith J. (2017). Mixed methods research: Expanding the evidence base. Evidence-Based Nursing, 20(3), 74-75.

Soong, H. (2020, May 4). COVID-19 increases risk to international students’ mental health. Australia urgently needs to step up. The Conversation. Retrieved November 15, 2022, from

Udah, H. (2021). Coloniality of power and international students experience: What are the ethical responsibilities of social work and human service educators? Ethics and Social Welfare, 15(1), 84-99.

Udah, H., & Singh, P. (2019). Identity, othering and belonging: Toward an understanding of difference and the experiences of African immigrants to Australia. Social Identities, 25(6), 843-859.

Udah, H., Singh, P., Holscher, D., & Cartmel, J. (2019). Experiences of vulnerability and sources of resilience among immigrants and refugees. The Australasian Review of African Studies, 40(1), 81-100.

United Nations. (2020). Policy brief: COVID-19 and the need for action on mental health.

van Agteren, J., Woodyatt, L., Iasiello, M., Rayner, J., & Kyrios, M. (2019). Make it measurable: Assessing psychological distress, wellbeing, and resilience at scale in higher education. Student Success, 10(3), 1-13.

World Health Organisation. (2018). Mental health: Strengthening our response.

Wu, H., Garza, E., & Guzman, N. (2015). International student’s challenge and adjustment to college. Education Research International, 202753.

Zhai, Y., & Du, X. (2020). Addressing collegiate mental health amid COVID-19 pandemic. Psychiatry Research, 288, 113003.




How to Cite

Udah, H., & Francis, A. . (2022). Vulnerability and Well-Being: International Students’ Experience in North Queensland, Australia . Journal of Comparative & International Higher Education, 14(5), 171–196.



Empirical Article