Students come here typically on an F-1 visa, and spouses have an F-2 visa. Both visas are good for the term of the student’s studies. But the weekly experiences of a student and spouse are VERY different. The student gets on the bus with other students and may speak his native language to another student from his country. The rest of the time he is using conversational English to communicate—both speaking and hearing. He pays great attention because hearing accurately is critical to his success. His wife on the other hand may be fearful to go out of the apartment. If she does and encounters others, she may not be able to communicate or may be fearful. Cell phones and electronic language translators certainly help, but the wife’s intentionality and willingness to learn is a key factor. She may meet other women from her country who live nearby, but she will speak her native language to them. The spouses who have been here for a while can help the new spouses “learn the ropes.” But what if there is no one to help you or to teach you?
International Students, Inc. has initiated International Women’s Connection groups on many campuses. These are ideal for spouses to attend, get English conversational practice, and to learn skills needed to thrive while here. In addition, there are crafts, local trips and site-seeing, and often there are small children who are part of the groups. IWCs are led by female staff and volunteers who provide a loving and gentle place to learn how to adjust to this new environment. The staff and volunteers also serve as resources, cultural informants, sounding boards, and teachers.
If your campus does not have an IWC, ask the Lord if he would use you to start one. We have many resources online to help as well as a network of staff and volunteers already doing it who can help with questions, ideas, and resources.
Friendship Partner® relationships can also be a wonderful resource where the American takes the student wife under her wings. The Friendship Partner® also can provide transportation.
Principles cited in this blog: Spouses have a more difficult time with adjustment to the new cultural setting than students simply because of rate of exposure to the new culture and language. Relationships with fellow spouses from one’s own country can help, and International Women’s Connection groups are also very helpful.
Application for ISI ministry: Helping new student spouses (typically wives) is a critical part of the student’s adjustment. International Students, Inc. has several programs to help.
Next blog topic: The adjustment of students’ school-age children they bring with them
Doug Shaw with Derrah Jackson