The term Expressive Arts or Art Therapy are often used interchangeably. The two suggest the power of art to heal and to process pain, sadness, and grief, as well as a much wider range of emotions. If there is one experience nearly universal to our international students, it is the feeling of homesickness. Homesickness can manifest symptoms differently for every person. It can impact appetite, sleep, personality, and general contentment or enjoyment in the activities one used to partake.
Schools recognize that homesickness is a very real, viscerally experienced ailment. Homesickness cannot be shaken, walked off or forgotten about. For those severely affected, it can even become an unhealthy preoccupation where all experiences or opportunities from home are glorified over those presented in the new country. It’s a self-defeating dynamic. We know this is not true and in fact, subconsciously, the student may realize this as well. Consciously, however, they may be dealing with feelings of loneliness, hunger, sleep deprivation, or unease with unfamiliar smells and sounds. The adjustment period can ebb and flow to extremes in ways that are wholly unmeasurable until the student, and host family, are facing them squarely.
A proactive approach to developing habits that assist with these feelings is turning up across our schools. Increasingly, schools are noting the attention that must be paid to new students’ mental and emotional states. Schools must be attuned to fluctuations and look for patterns of behavior as each find common ground and defines a new norm. The most significant approaches schools are taking have structured and unstructured activities that allow students the freedom of expression for all emotions: anger, rage, longing, jealousy, despondency. When schools and host parents can help students to not only name but understand the range of feelings they have, they’re that much closer to working through them. Expressive Arts and Arts Therapy is budding across our campuses and at no better time.
From the heart, more than the head, is where much of the expressive art originates. Expressive art has many iterations: poetry, performance, sculpture, painting, mixed media, photography and more. Students may create self-portraits, or they may comprise a completely abstract design reflecting a very specific emotion, event, or set of circumstances. A student created a fascinating chandelier that is admired and understood by many, which is another healthy byproduct of expressive arts—sometimes through a very personal creation, one can find meaningful ways to connect with others.