JOURNALS

Intern Project: Why Are Students So Stressed?

25 เมษายน 2016
39f0eebf4c1a5e9d2f534a1ba42c2c74

Background:

In order to learn more about the process of developing a
project, I have chosen to discover more about the issues that university
students face in Thailand. The first steps of any project would be to define
the solution in order to get a clear and holistic understanding of what the
problem truly is. As a foreigner in Thailand, and an exchange student at
Chulalongkorn University, my reality of student life is different, my mentality
is different, and my experience is different. Therefore I have a limited understanding
of the problems most Thai university students face. However, it is apparent
that most students here stress out about projects, exams, and grades more than
what is normal for me. I’ve constantly heard complains about too many projects
and studying for very long time for exams. Therefore, I have focused my project
towards helping students at Chulalongkorn cope with and reduce stress.

Hypothesis:

My hypothesis at first was that the stress students
experience comes from the eternal pressures to do well in school from both
family and peers and therefore the spreading of yoga practice would reduce
students’ stress levels by 70%, measured by convenience samples both prior to
and post undertaking of the project.

Defining the Problem:

The first step in doing this project is to define the
problem. To do this both in-person and online questionnaires were conducted. Students
were asked questions that aimed at discovering if they or their friends were
experiencing stress, the causes of their stress, their daily routines, and how
they cope with stress.

I also asked an employee from Student Wellness Center some
questions about the center’s services, what he observed were the students’ most
common issues, and what programs have successfully helped students cope with
the problems they experience.

Insight:

After conducting these questionnaires and the interview with
the Student Wellness Center staff, the results were analyzed. The results
showed that 73% of students experience stress and that the most common way to
cope with this stress is reaching out to family and friends and online
resources. Contrary to my assumption, the main causes of stress showed to stem
not from external pressures from other people, but from two main factors:

  1. Heavy workload in a competitive environment
    and
  2. Procrastination

The heavy workload given to students is an ingrained aspect
of the system that will continue to exist. Since it is infeasible to change the
workload given to students, I will focus on the procrastination habit among
these students. Therefore, I have defined the main contribution to the high
levels of stress among students to be poor time management. This habit of procrastination
is poor time management, which makes dealing with a heavy workload in a
competitive environment extremely stressful.

Second Phase- Defining
the Problem:

To understand the problem at a deeper level, another
questionnaire was created to explore student’s sense and use or lack thereof time
management tools.

The second questionnaire asked students questions about
student’s time management knowledge, uses of time management tools, experience
with school assignments, as well as time allocation for daily activities. An
analysis of these results shows that many students (44% of my sample) use to-do
lists, other tools being planners and calendars. Research has proved that To-Do
Lists are an ineffective tool for time management. iDoneThis conducted a
research study which showed that 41% of to-do list items never get completed.
Forbes posted an article Millionaires Don’t
Use To-Do Lists
, where they pointed out that in fact, to-do lists do not
account for time or urgency of tasks and in fact contribute to stress.

As illustrated below, the results of the second problem
analysis delving into the issue of time management led to the discovery that
only 25% of students feel like their work time, rest time, and free time are
balanced. Having a balanced life is key to reducing stress levels.

Redefining
hypothesis:

The insights from both questionnaires made it clear that the
stress students experience stems from poor time management habits which leads
to a feeling of in-balance in student’s lives.

The practice of yoga has been adopted by many people seeking
to bring balance and clarity to their lives. It is a form of active meditation
which brings many benefits. Holding yoga classes for students may be an
indirect way of improving student’s time management skills by starting a
healthy habit which will encourage balance and prioritization of health aside
from academics.

Ideas and suggestions
for stakeholders:

Chulalongkorn’s Student Wellness Center is a relatively new
service for students. Since the overall goal is to improve student’s wellness,
this gap in their student population is an opportunity for them to reduce the
amount of students who experience stress. An idea could be to hold weekly or
monthly yoga sessions led by experienced yoga instructors who can use the
opportunity to stress about the importance of a balanced life. Another idea
would be for the Student Wellness Center to create a mobile app which would
include destress tips such as successful time management habits, health tip
articles such as sudarshan kriya breathing exercises to destress, a platform to
sign up for guided meditation sessions or yoga classes, signup for their
current programs and events, immediate access to psychologists for advice, etc.
This app can be promoted on their current Facebook page and it can be developed
and run by student interns looking for experience in fields including
marketing, IT development, project management, etc.

This is just one idea. The idea can take many forms, as long
as the main key issue of student’s poor time management is addressed taking
into account the key insights from the research.

Personal takeaways:

So far, from undertaking this small scale project, I have
learned 4 key things:

  1. Doing in-person interviews are more
    time-consuming but it is way more effective in getting useful and in-depth
    answers, especially when conducting cross-cultural questionnaires.
  2. Wording matters. When asking questions, certain
    word interrogatory such “why do you…” do not probe as honest and confident
    answers as if I were to ask “what is the reason for which you…”
  3. Research takes time. Finding the time to meet
    with people was the biggest issue I had, given the small amount of time during
    which I expected to conduct the questionnaires.
  4. As the outsider in this situation, I should
    never assume I already know what the problem is, or much less the solution. It
    is best to keep an open mind, because I only have the power to ask the right
    questions and then analyses pattern and meanings behind other’s answers.

Next Step:

The next step would be to bring awareness about the existing
gap to Chulalongkorn key stakeholders: Students Wellness Center, the CBA
student organization, and professors.

I will speak with these stakeholders to present the results
and key insights from the research and to see if it is feasible for a long term
project to be created, sustained, and followed through to help students prevent
and/or cope with stress.

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