Team Members

Simone K. Christen

Simone K. Christen

Founder

Counsel Connect is envisioned to be a subscription-based non-profit service (either paid by institutions/firms or individuals) that seeks to use a web portal to connect counselors to international students (and as the service grows, hopefully beyond college students). The consumers would be able to have counseling sessions with a counselor in their own native language via Skype.

As I found while I was studying abroad this past summer: no matter how skilled one is at a language it still would be best to talk out any issues, problems, concerns, etc with a counselor in your native language. However, as some casual research reveals: most higher learning institutions (like Oberlin) that have a significant international student population do not offer ANY counseling services (through the College’s Counseling Center) in languages other than English.

Recognizing that some things are just most comfortably expressed in your native tongue, if international students even attempt to use the Counseling Center as it currently is: there is no guarantee that certain things won’t be lost in translation or misunderstood due to different cultural value systems. As a result, international students suffer from having less competent mental health resources than a native student.

This less robust mental health services system may lead to international students suffering from untreated mental illness, excessive stress, and may even impact their academic performance while studying at their institution, etc.

A web portal to connect students to counselors that speak the same language and have the sessions occur via Skype. The tricky part about that (which will require further research aided by the Counseling Center) is that in some states counseling outside of the state via Skype is perfectly legal while in others it is not. However, it is important to note that this is due to outdated laws and as time goes on it will become more legal throughout the US to use Skype across state borders to provide counseling services.

I would file for non-profit status (501 c 3) with the state of Ohio and use a series of crowd funding and subscriptions (that the institutions would pay) to hire counselors and to maintain the website that would connect the counselors and users.

The intended beneficiaries will be international (college) students all over the US at the end. However, the pilot will be just the Oberlin College’s international student population first then growing to be all colleges in the state of Ohio. I then envision eventually offering the services across the US.

What informal research has revealed to me: there currently is no broad web-portal based service in the US that provides any non-English counseling services. Some nearby areas in the vicinity of Oberlin College offers some counseling in romance languages, but so far I’ve yet to find any that offer them in Asian languages.

Counsel Connect will look to take transportation out of the equation by using a web portal and increase accessibility. It would be funded by institutions/firms purchasing a yearly subscription to use these services for their students. In addition, the aims of Counsel Connect is to try to provide counseling services for as many different languages as possible and to create a network of accessible (non) English counselors offering their services from all over the US.

I was personally affected by an issue like this when I needed native language counseling while I was studying abroad in Japan in the summer of 2013. After I came home I began to think about what it must be like for international students who stay in a foreign country to study for years… this lead to my contacting Dr. Harshbarger, the director of the Oberlin College Counseling Center, to inquire about foreign language counseling (as well as friends from other universities & colleges around the country).

Dr. Harshbarger responded that unfortunately they didn’t have any and it’s generally seen as a problem amongst academic institutions of higher learning, but not much has been done to actually address the problem. All of my friends (from Stanford to Columbia University) confirmed that they couldn’t find any resources on their respective campuses that offered counseling in a language other than English.

As I learned firsthand how essential it is to have a counselor available that speaks the same native language as I do, I decided to set out and do some research with how we can solve this problem in Oberlin College’s community and then perhaps spread outwards in the US.

The work I have done so far is look into the legality of using Skype to provide counseling services, meet with the College Counseling Center to discuss approaches to the issue, looked into potential crowd fund raising platforms, and made some phone calls to see if any counselors in the immediate area offered resources in languages other than English.

What I have found is that the best approach may be to set up a web portal to connect students to counselors that speak the same language and have the sessions occur via Skype. The tricky part about that (which will require further research aided by the Counseling Center) is that in some states counseling outside of the state via Skype is perfectly legal while in others it is not. However, it is important to note that this is due to outdated laws and as time goes on it will become more legal throughout the US to use Skype across state borders to provide counseling services.

At this point I am also working with the counseling center to see how specifically the Oberlin College’s insurance would cover the costs of such a service and how to fully take advantage of that for the user, so that they would not have to bear deep costs.