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How heat waves affect international students

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OCTOBER 06, 2022

UC Berkeley is moving forward with the fall semester, but some students have a lot to catch up on. The recent heat wave effects have been an undeniable obstacle for all individuals adjusting to the new school year, but especially for those coming from different parts of the world.

Unfortunately, it turns out that international students face the brunt of these heat waves, in turn affecting their productivity and mental health.

“The heat made me feel tired and exhausted, which eventually led to a loss of focus on studies,” said Akane Nakagawa, a graduate student at UC Berkeley Haas Business School.

The California ISO declared a State 2 Energy Emergency Alert after the temperature reached 106 degrees Fahrenheit at Berkeley Lab in the hills and surpassed 96 degrees Fahrenheit in Downtown Berkeley during the excessive heat wave.

The extreme weather took a toll on some international students on campus when they lost more than a week of productivity due to escalated anxiety levels induced by insufficient sleep, reduced concentration and physical distress. 

“We know that extreme heat tends to make people more irritated, angry, and aggressive, which in turn can harm social relations and that dimension of mental health,” said Dacher Keltner, a UC Berkeley psychology professor and the co-director of the Greater Good Science Center.

Different studies have also provided evidence linking the adverse effects of climate change to a declining mental health state. One research study indicates the influence of temperature extremes affecting a person’s everyday mood and, in some cases, the probability of experiencing an acute mental illness. Another investigation published in JAMA Psychiatry recorded a stark increase in mental health emergency department visits on the hottest days of summer in contrast to the coolest days.

It’s no surprise that flying overseas and leaving your loved ones behind to settle in a new country is an overwhelming experience for international students, if not exhausting. The heat only adds to the mental strain and physical discomfort international students go through as they are trying to adjust to a brand new environment. The stress of putting a brand new life together is only made harder due to these extreme temperatures. For some, the heat wave occurred in the first few weeks of moving to the United States, which made settling more arduous.

The exchange students who have attended UC Berkeley for just one semester have found themselves not living up to their desired expectations. Originally from Tokyo, Japan, Nakagawa emphasized how managing academics and establishing good connections in one semester can be pretty tricky in itself, without having to drop all plans with friends because of the heat fatigue. 

“I could not watch the football season opener match against UC Davis from the student section because it was too hot. I had been avoiding all the good hikes,” added Odin Haga, originally from Norway and now a UC Berkeley junior.

Several international students from hotter regions of the world touched on how they found the heat wave in California more intense than they’re used to. This is attributed to California’s lack of humidity and the absence of air conditioning or fans in buildings, unlike their hometowns. 

“I got mild yet constant headaches, and it affected my peace of mind,” said Siddharth Joshi, a UC Berkeley graduate student studying mechanical engineering from Mumbai, India. 

Another significant setback experienced by undergraduate and graduate students was the subsequent guilt associated with falling behind. The lack of productivity eventually took a toll on coursework and academic performance for some students. Naturally, they began getting more tired during the day and couldn’t rest well at night either. 

“I was not getting proper sleep, was not able to focus on my tests and perform at the same level that I usually do on regular days,” said Lucas Tavares from Brazil, a UC Berkeley junior studying business and data science.

The media has shed light on several possible impacts of the warming climate, from forest fires to hurricanes to melting glaciers. Nonetheless, its impact on the population’s declining mental health conditions is another factor being exacerbated right under our nose, without many of us even realizing it.

Many people think we still have numerous years ahead of us before climate change has adverse effects on the planet and humanity. Some even think the world will be just fine, so there is no need to worry about these issues. However, the truth is that every diversion is a step against our life stability and primary care. Although the consequences of climate change may not always be visible to us, they are still invading the boundaries of our personal and professional lives by hindering our peace and mental well-being.

It is our responsibility not just to preserve resources for our future generations but also to protect our health and cherish this world and everything we have received from it. We don’t have to wait for something revolutionary to happen, nor wait for things to fall apart entirely. So, let’s start by taking small steps each day toward a greener Earth, a flourishing future, stable mental health and fulfilling quality of life.

Contact Simmerdeep Kaur at 


OCTOBER 06, 2022