Host of the Sunny Mood Tea House
Lui Che Woo College Resident Fellow Chu Caixia

Text:UM Reporter Flora Yin, Trainee UM Reporter Ranya Ji │ Photo:UM Reporter Ann Kuok │ ISSUE 84 December My UM

In an environment with fresh green walls and a soft beige sofa, one can easily feel relaxed, especially in the company of a fine cup of tea. Named ‘Sunny Mood Tea House’, this space was created by resident fellow Chu Caixia from Lui Che Woo College (LCWC) to offer basic psychological counselling services for students who feel stressed about school and life. ‘Inside the Tea House, students can relax, have some tea and snacks, and tell me about what bothers them,’ says Chu.

Lui Che Woo College Resident Fellow Chu Caixia

A Private Chat Room

Chu is very popular and respected in the college. Her kind and easygoing personality helps her keep a friend-like relationship with her students, who usually call her by her first name. ‘Because of my job, I spend a lot of time with the students,’ says Chu. ‘After we get to know each other better, the students would talk to me in private about their problems.’ She adds that more and more students have come to see her in recent years.

With a bachelor’s degree in social work, Chu received professional training in basic psychological counselling skills. Hoping to use her skills to help the students, she started to search for a space that would allow her and her students to chat in complete privacy. In January 2017, with the support of College Master Ming-Chuen Yip, Associate Master Tam Sik Chung, and staff of the college office, Chu and her students worked together and turned one of storage rooms into the current Sunny Mood Tea House.

Chu has led college students to remote areas to provide volunteer teaching

Listening to Students Share Their Problems

Students who want a chat can either make an appointment with Chu or walk into the Tea House directly during office hours. Chu follows a strict confidentiality protocol so that students can chat with her freely. ‘Students who come to see me have different problems in their lives,’ says Chu. ‘Most of them are introverts.’ According to Chu, the most common problems the students share with her are about inter-personal relationships, with their group members, roommates, parents, friends, and lovers. ‘The root cause of their emotional problems is seldom a single event. An outbreak is usually the result of a series of stressful events in which the emotions are repressed,’ says Chu. ‘And when you’ve reached breaking point, a minor event can become the last straw to make you lose it.’

If a student appears to have emotional problems, besides monitoring his mental health, Chu will search for resources to help the student in his studies or try to make changes to his living environment. For example, she may find a teaching assistant to help the student or talk to the professor of a course with which the student experiences difficulties. ‘In most cases, the students will get better after I help them deal with their emotions and find the root causes. They usually only need to see me once or twice,’ says Chu. The Tea House is not a professional psychological counselling clinic and mainly serves to identify and prevent psychological problems. In the event of more serious cases, Chu will refer the students to the Psychological Counselling Centre of the Student Counselling Section. She will follow up on these cases and continue to meet with the students.

Chu hopes that students will leave the counselling sessions with a sunnier mood

Chu received her bachelor’s degree in social work from Beijing Normal University and a PhD degree in public administration from the University of Hong Kong. As a long-time social worker, Chu has led college students to remote countries and regions, including Vietnam, Thailand, and Africa, to provide volunteer services to local residents. She encourages her students to learn to be independent. ‘If you are not independent enough, you will rely too much on people or things around you and will find it difficult to deal with failures,’ says Chu. ‘With more confidence and independence, we can learn to face challenges with a positive attitude. Eventually, we will become stronger and will be able to handle problems that we thought we couldn’t. We must trust ourselves and be brave to face the challenges in our lives.’

Dealing with Negative Energy

In the process of counselling the students, Chu naturally receives a lot of negative energy, and there were a few times in the past when she found she could not handle her own emotions. When this happened, Chu would return to her room, cook some food, listen to some music, or do some reading. Sometimes she would leave Macao for a weekend getaway to relax herself. During these times, her husband becomes her greatest source of support. ‘My husband is a very good listener. Sometimes I have to meet two to three students a day and have no time left for my work, and I would feel stressed, but talking to him always make me feel much better,’ says Chu.

Chu and her students worked together to turn a storage room into the current Sunny Mood Tea House

Never Stop Learning and Making Progress

Chu created a mutual aid group called the Learning Community with a few other resident fellows of the college and colleagues from the Psychological Counselling Centre. Under a confidentiality protocol, psychological counsellors in the group can share information about their cases in order to provide students with the best support. As the host of the Sunny Mood Tea House, Chu never stops learning in hopes of perfecting her counselling skills. ‘Sometimes a case can’t be handled with basic counselling skills and can’t be referred to other counsellors,’ says Chu. ‘That’s why I keep learning.’

As the name ‘Sunny Mood’ implies, Chu hopes students will leave the counselling sessions with a sunnier mood. The Tea House has become part of Lui Che Woo College. When asked about the future of the Tea House, Chu says she hopes to become more professional in psychological counselling and promises to keep the Tea House running. ‘The Tea House will be here for as long as I am here,’ says Chu.