Some international students come to the U.S. to study and also bring their families with them. Learn about one organization helping spouses transition to life in the U.S.
Programs for international students at colleges and universities that engage students in campus life and fun activities are a must. Moving to a foreign country and then trying to make that place your new home is not an easy feat, and programs like clubs or groups for international students only aid in making the transition to beginning a new life in a foreign country enjoyable. Although these programs are available for enrolled students, what about the spouses of international students? Yes, not all international students are married, but for those who are, when they move away from their home country to go to school, their spouses come along for the ride. And that ride can be quite nerve racking.
In order to make the transition for spouses of international students living in the United States smoother, welcoming and encouraging, many colleges and universities have established international spousal programs or networks for an international student’s better half. One institution that is doing just this is The College of William and Mary (W&M) in Williamsburg, Virginia. For international spouses juggling moving to a new country, acclimating to their husband’s or wife’s new school schedule, and getting their children accustomed to a new home, W&M offers their International Spouse Network, also known as ISN. ISN is an organization that enables spouses of international students to meet other spouses, make friends, practice conversational English, learn about different cultures from their own and partake in new, fun activities.
According to Eva Wong, international student and scholar advisor and W&M, ISN was developed at William and Mary college due to a session presented at the NAFSA, Association of International Educators, conference in Los Angeles, California. The presentation urged universities to provide special programming for international spouses. As a result, W&M established ISN in accordance with their International Students, Scholars and Programs (ISSP) staff at the college’s Reves Center.
“The ISSP staff at the Reves Center initiated the International Spouse Network to meet the needs of this under supported population on campus,” said Wong.
ISN began in 2009 with approximately 15 members originating from countries such as Slovakia, Taiwan, China, South Korea, and Japan. This upcoming school year, ISN will have 23 spouses involved in the group. Two of those members will be Chako and Tomoko, who are both co-leaders of the ISN group, and from Japan.
Chako and Tomoko had mixed feelings about moving from Japan to the United States.
“I was excited [to move] because it would be my first time living in a foreign country,” said Chako. “On the other hand, I was a little nervous because I was not good at English.”
Chako moved to Virginia with her husband in 2010. She found out about the ISN program from her husband who is now attending W&M for his MBA.
“He knew about ISN because the admission office staff told him,” Chako said. “After we arrived here, we received the ISN handbook from the Reves Center, and I registered.”
Tomoko also arrived at William and Mary in 2010. After the move, Tomoko faced anxiety about her new life in Virginia.
“I was very worried about how to spend my time everyday here,” Tomoko said. “I was very lonely.”
Chako and Tomoko began finding ways to spend their days and meet new people by joining ISN.
“I was looking for an opportunity to associate with other people in the same situation,” Chako said.
“I didn’t have any friends that were not Japanese, so I wanted to make friends from foreign countries,” said Tomoko. “I thought ISN would be the perfect place to make friends.”
Not only will members of ISN meet new people, but they will have the opportunity to participate in group activities as well.
“On the first day of the semester, we make a plan what we are going to do [for that time period],” Tomoko said. “We just do whatever we want. If there is someone who is talented, for example in cooking, dancing, flower arrangements and languages, that person will be a teacher to the other members.”
ISN at William and Mary College is a great example of a program that reaches out to international spouses helping them acclimate to their new life. W&M wants to make all people feel comfortable on their campus, and other colleges and universities are thinking along the same lines. For example, the University of Texas has the program GlobalAustin Spouses. They have “Coffee Mornings,” where international spouses gather to meet and discuss American culture, learn new recipes and practice their English. Universities in New York City also support ISN under the Metro International Spousal Program. For NYC universities, ISN offers events like picnics, concerts, exhibitions, and day trips outside the city. Yale University offers International Spouses and Partners at Yale (ISPY), a group that allows international spouses to meet one another on campus and become acquainted with the recourses available to them.
The opportunities available for international spouses at universities and colleges are growing, and according to “Rationale for Providing Programs for Spouses/Partners of International Students/Scholars,” from spouseprograms.org, having these programs available can decrease the occurrences of depression and isolation felt among international spouses. In addition, these programs help the international students enrolled in classes, because when their families feel happy, they feel happy in the new situation as well.
Chako agrees that ISN groups and similar programs benefit both people in the relationship.
“It is good to join ISN not only for the spouses but also for the students, in my case my husband, because some husband can’t afford to take care of their wives once their classes start,” Chako said. “On the other hand, we spouses also don’t know how to join in the community activities just after we arrive from our own country. So ISN connects us to the community.”
Connecting individuals to the community, providing a welcoming environment to make friends, introducing people to cultures different from their own, and serving as an outlet where one can feel belonged and productive in the United States, are a few of the many services ISN and similar programs provide.
“If I didn’t join the ISN, my life in the U.S. would have been very different,” Tomoko said. “I would have been bored. ISN gave me many opportunities not only to make friends, but also to become familiar with different cultures, including America.”