When Melanie Walker’s husband got a job as an associate professor of educational psychology at The University of Alabama in August last year, they packed up and moved from their home in Durham, England, to Tuscaloosa.
But while he worked, she was left alone and unable to pursue her own career because for now the type of visa she was given doesn’t allow international spouses to work.
“As a spouse you’re basically an alien,” Walker said. “Everything you do has to go through the working spouse or the student. That’s possibly the hardest thing that people coming here have to deal with because when you are in your home country your identity and finances are your own, but when you come here as the spouse of a student, your identity and finances are connected to your spouse.”
With this not being her first international move due to her husband’s career, she quickly found ways to occupy her time and get involved. One of those ways she discovered was UA’s International Spouse Group, where she is now a co-leader.
“My husband and I saw the group on the website and I saw where they met and when, and I turned up one day to say hello and I was welcomed in,” she said.
The International Spouse Group brings together the spouses of international students, faculty, staff and scholars for activities and interaction by learning from each other and sharing unique knowledge and experiences, according to its website.
The home countries of current group members include Nepal, Brazil, Uganda, Bangladesh, Japan, England, the Netherlands, Germany and America. The group is open to American spouses who want to make international friends and support those friends in the process of acculturation.
The current American in the group, co-leader Kay Geno, is from south Louisiana and has been a member for a year and a half. She said she joined because she was new to Tuscaloosa and sought fellowship. She also wanted to help non-Americans acclimate.
“What I hope happens is that the camaraderie that they feel makes them understand that they aren’t the only ones who feel like they’re going through this struggle,” she said.
“We try to plug them into other places to volunteer and meet other people. Sometimes people come to our group for a long time and then others come here during their first year, get their footing and then go to other groups.”
Geno said group members generally have a lot of cultural questions, but also questions about how to properly conduct themselves in America.
“They ask things like, ‘how do I address someone in an email?’ ‘How many times should I call someone?’ They want help navigating through health care, purchasing a house, which of the 50 brands of toothpaste to buy, what cleaning supplies.
“So it’s just reassuring them that they were doing the right thing and helping them with next steps.”
The group also visits local and state hot spots.
Geno said the largest contingent in the group are spouses of graduate students.
The group meets each Wednesday during the school year from 10 to 11:30 a.m. in the International Student and Scholar Services offices in 105 BB Comer Hall.
The University of Alabama, the state’s oldest and largest public institution of higher education, is a student-centered research university that draws the best and brightest to an academic community committed to providing a premier undergraduate and graduate education. UA is dedicated to achieving excellence in scholarship, collaboration and intellectual engagement; providing public outreach and service to the state of Alabama and the nation; and nurturing a campus environment that fosters collegiality, respect and inclusivity.