Support group for international spouses helps them connect to community

Friday, August 20, 2010 | 6:05 p.m. CDT; updated 4:25 p.m. CDT, Saturday, August 21, 2010

COLUMBIA — Aditi Bandyopadhyay will always remember the words "It happens, but it takes time.”

She said these words describe the process of settling into a new community, and they have stayed with her since she first came to Columbia with her husband three years ago.

International students and faculty face a lot of challenges in a new country, but little attention has been paid to the experiences their spouses go through.

For Bandyopadhyay, the biggest transition was moving from the bustling Indian city of Kolkata to the small-town atmosphere of Columbia.

Losing her sense of independence was also hard.

“When you are so dependent on your husband even to go to the grocery store, it can be depressing,” she said.

According to a study conducted at the University of Florida in 2007, approximately 23 percent of international graduate students are married, and 85 percent of them come to the U.S. with their spouses.

The resources that most spouses, particularly wives, look for are English classes, computer training and help finding a job, as indicated by another 2007 study from the Journal of Studies in International Education.

To answer such needs, MU's International Center launched a support program called the International Spouses Network last August. An estimated 500 spouses and dependents come to MU each year.

“The network lets international spouses be more connected to campus,” said David Currey, assistant director of the International Center.

About 30 spouses signed up last year, but numbers have doubled this fall. Although there are civic and religious groups in Columbia that reach out to families, Currey said the network does not aim to duplicate that.

“We help them with informational resources and also bring guest speakers in. For example, we had a speaker who talked about American methods of cooking,” Currey said.

For Yuefeng Guan, the decision to come to Columbia to be with his wife Xiaonan was an easy one.

“Family’s first,” he said.

Originally from Shanghai, Guan gave up a higher-paying job in California for one here, so that they could be together. He doesn’t regret it.

“The people here are kind and it’s not hard to settle in," Guan said.

Bandyopadhyay, now a graduate student at MU, said it took her a while to build relationships.

“Having a baby in a lonely land also had its own challenges, but it’s a blessing in a different way,” she said.

An organization like the network would definitely have been useful at the time, she said.  

International Spouses Network had their first session for the new school year on Friday.

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