International spouses learn UA culture, history


CW / Joe Will Field

Grace Schepis | @GraceSchepisCW, Staff Reporter

While international students and staff members have their own resources for adjusting to UA life, their spouses have found their own community in B.B. Comer Hall. 

The International Spouse Group (ISG) has been serving the partners of foreign students and staff members over recent years. The ISG meets once a week, and faculty advisers are there to answer any questions the members have or just to talk about how their day is going. It is a casual and inviting environment, which is the goal of advisers Melanie Walker and Kay Geno.

Walker, an international staff member herself, noticed the positive attention incoming students and staff members got at the University.

“When I came to UA, I found it welcoming,” Walker said. “The school does a good job with the students and keeps them busy, but I think the spouse gets lost along the way.”

That is why the ISG was formed, Walker said.

“We want to bring people together,” Walker said. “When you come here with your partner, you don’t know anyone. It’s just a way of getting people to meet each other and realize they’re not alone.” 

On a typical Wednesday morning, the group gathers at B.B. Comer Hall in a meeting room tucked away in the Capstone International Center. While this intimate setting facilitates conversation, the leaders also like to take things outdoors and give the members a chance to see other parts of the UA campus.

“We’ve done the [Hallowed Grounds] walking tour with Dr. [Hilary] Green, the Gorgas House tour, the Bryant Football museum tour, the Smith Hall History museum, seen the library archives,” Walker said. “We do things quite often.”

While Walker and Geno set up these events and promote the club on Facebook, they say it is all about the members.

“We invite new members all the time and reach back out to people who have already come,” Geno said. 

Attendance varies between four to 10 members at a given meeting, but the group is always looking for new people that they can serve.

“Some international students have their own clubs and Facebook pages, like the Bangladeshi students, so we can reach out to new members that way, too,” Walker said. “There are always new students coming into the University, as undergrads or Ph.D. students, so we try to get a hold of them and their partners.”

The ISG currently has members from Nepal, Russia, Sweden, Bangladesh, India, Germany and more. No matter where the spouses are from, the mission of the ISG unites them.

“When people first arrive in the U.S., they find it important to do more than just finding their feet,” Walker said. “They feel lonely and think about what they have left behind. The wives have jobs and careers that their visa does not allow them to practice here. The initial adjustment to the culture can be hard.”

Not only do the members gain support and knowledge from the ISG, but Walker and Geno benefit as well. 

“There’s a learning curve for everybody,” Walker said. “No matter where you’re from, you can always teach us something new.”

Antara Das has been a part of the ISG since the spring semester of last year. She moved to Alabama in the summer of 2018, along with her husband, Tonmoy Ghosh, and two-year-old daughter. Ghosh is at The University of Alabama pursuing a Ph.D. in electrical engineering. 

“My husband actually gave me a pamphlet about the ISG,” Das said. “He told me about the meetings, and one day I went to one and got added to Facebook group.”

“I came to UA mainly for the scholarship,” Ghosh said. “But I went to the International Coffee Hour event, and that’s where I heard about the ISG. It is a great place to make friends and learn from the different cultures of the people there.”

Since then, Das and her daughter have been frequent attendees to the meetings and events of the ISG. The group helped Das and her family work past the initial growing pains of living in a new country.

“At first, things like transportation were hard,” Das said. “I didn’t know how to drive in the U.S. It was not easy to understand the language and the English accent.”

Das was able to pick up those skills and has since expanded on her involvement with Alabama culture. For this, she thanks the ISG.

“They’ve helped me know America and Tuscaloosa better,” Das said. “We’ve gone on trips to museums, and I have come to know a lot about the culture and history here.” 

Das is planning to take the GRE exam and begin studying public health at the University if admitted. 

“The people here are very friendly and helpful,” Das said. “My family feels very good here, even though we are far from our country.”

Rona Khadka, another ISG member, has resided in Alabama for approximately two years. Originally from Nepal, Khadka came here alongside her husband, who is pursuing his Ph.D. in data science. 

Like Das, Khadka’s husband was the one who told her about the group.

“My favorite part has been getting to know people from the U.S. and making friends with people from other countries,” Khadka said. 

Khadka appreciates the practice she has gotten with speaking English in the ISG and says that it has given her confidence to speak it more herself. 

“I was worried about that for my medical exams,” Khadka said.

While the members of the ISG are guided through their time at The University of Alabama, they also highlight external opportunities as well, such as job placement. For example, Khadka, 27, obtained her undergraduate degree in nursing while in Nepal. She now has a job lined up in Nebraska and is hoping for a sponsor to secure her green card.

The ISG meets every Wednesday at 10 a.m. in B.B. Comer 105. For more information, visit their Facebook page.