YWCA program acclimates international spouses to America

Katharina Gruenewald

The Young Women’s Christian Association is working with international students’ spouses to learn about life in the United States and to get adapted to a foreign society.

Some international students have spouses who are not enrolled in Iowa State but have come to live in Ames with their partners.

“Engaging International Spouses” is a program created by the YWCA of Ames — ISU to offer exactly that opportunity to international spouses.

“We are providing this program to get them involved in the community and have them interact with everyone around,” Manasi Ambulkar, graduate student in industrial and manufacturing systems, said. Ambulkar is also the global outreach coordinator at YWCA and an international spouse from India.

Through different themed workshops on resume writing, stress and acculturation or cooking, international spouses are supposed to get acclimated to their new environment and able to have a comfortable transition into a new culture, Ambulkar said.

Angela Merrick, executive director of the YWCA said they will help the international spouses with a lot of things that are different from the spouses’ home country.

All the little things we think might not be that hard can be a bit of a challenge when you come from a totally different country, like finding your way to the grocery store or around Ames, Merrick said.

Ambulkar said the program’s goal is to guide the new residents of Ames.

This semester’s first meeting will be Feb. 12 in the Schilletter Village Community Center.

During the welcome meeting, international spouses will get to meet each other and the participants can give feedback on what they would like to learn about and get involved in, Ambulkar said.

“We are inviting a lot of organizations like the Ames Public Library, CyRide, Iowa State’s graduate college … et cetera, to help these people in getting their lives setup,” Ambulkar said.

Over the course of the semester the program will give out a resource book called “A Guide to Living in Ames.” The book outlines where shopping malls are located, what kind of grocery stores are available and similar things, Ambulkar said.

Ambulkar is an international spouse who has recently married and come to the United States. She said she can understand what people have to go through, what it is like to be unaware of what is going on around oneself and to not have many people to interact with because of cultural differences.

“Everything is new,” Ambulkar said.

Meher Vani Bojja, member of the board of directors of the YWCA and an international spouse from India, points out that the spouses coming to the United States in recent years are not as inquisitive about the United States anymore.

“To adapt to a new environment, it takes time and for that change to happen smoothly it is important to be in touch with an organization like ours. They are able to get information from us and give back their own rich experience in return,” Bojja said.

Former participants of the program have been very happy with the outcome of it, Ambulkar said.

“Our statistics have shown that over 75 percent of the spouses who are in the ‘Engaging International Spouses’ program are actually enrolling in Iowa State University as well,” Merrick said.

Getting to create these new relationships with people from all over the world has made the participants as well as the coordinator stronger and broadened their horizon, Bojja said.

“These were such wonderful experiences. I feel very fortunate,” Bojja said.