Engaging International Students helps newcomers adjust to Iowa State


Photo: Lindsay Kayser/Iowa State Daily

Jingtao Wang, an outreach coordinator for Engaging International Spouses, explains the program, which helps spouses come to the United States for business and to learn English. The program is for the whole family, including children, and they also learn to make jewelry. 

Molly Craig

Jingtao Wang came to Ames, Iowa in 2009, pregnant. Unable to speak English, she had no idea where to go for hospital services.

Engaging International Spouses was there to teach her all she needed to know. She later became [corrected for: “Four years later, she is”] an Outreach Coordinator for the program that helped her adjust to life in America.

Engaging International Spouses, a YWCA program, was created by international spouses with the express purpose of helping other international spouses adjust to life in America. 

Wang said that Engaging International Spouses partners with many different organizations to help teach life skills to the newcomers.

The Ames Public Library, Mid-Iowa Community Action, the ISU Nutrition Center, Toast Master Club and the International Students and Scholars Office are some of the other organizations that Engaging International Spouses collaborates with. The Department of Transportation has also taught driving lessons to members.

Wang said Ames Public Library is a big supporter of the Engaging International Spouses program.

Conversations in English is an event held at the library from 1 to 2 p.m. every Monday and from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. every second and fourth Wednesday of the month.

Since every individual’s skill with the English language is different, those attending are put in small groups that match their proficiency with English. Members learn how to address each other in English and about the American culture.

Rong Wang came here in 2011 and has benefited from this program. One of the first things she learned how to do was make jewelry.

After one year of being involved with Engaging International Spouses, Rong has already learned many skills vital to her integration into American society.

“I learned how to write a cover letter and how to organize my resume,” Rong said.

Engaging International Spouses also allows members to form bonds with other people who know how hard it is to adjust to a new country. To some who participate in the program, the friendships that form in Engaging International Spouses are like acquiring an international family.

Spouses with children can participate in any given event with their whole family. Wang said some international students even bring their parents to meetings.

“My husband and my two sons are all involved in some of these programs. They have benefited from them,” Rong said.

Wang said spouses like to get children involved with the program so they can see how hard their parents are trying to fit in.

Both Jintao and Rong Wang expressed that their confidence levels are much higher after participating in Engaging International Spouses.

“When I came to Ames, I could not have a conversation in English. … Now I’m a student of Iowa State. It’s surprising how much my English has improved,” Jintao said.