Spouses/domestic partners and children of international students and scholars might experience personal difficulties during their time in the U.S. This might be due to many reasons including cultural adjustment, a change in role, a change in financial situation, and the first time being away from home. If you feel like you need someone to talk to, ISSS counselors are trained to help international students and scholars and their dependents. Some of the issues individuals have discussed with ISSS counselors include:
- cross-cultural adjustment
- intercultural friendships and dating
- family conflicts or pressures
- personal crisis
- suicidal thoughts
- racial harassment
- ethnic harassment
- religious harassment
- sexual harassment
- sexual orientation harassment
- childhood sexual abuse
Additionally, dependents of international students and scholars might be eligible to seek mental health assistance with a health care provider associated with the dependent’s health insurance.
University of Minnesota students, scholars, and dependents enrolled in the Student Health Benefit Plan are eligible for services at Boynton Heath Service on the East Bank campus. The University requires all international students and their dependents to purchase the University-sponsored Student Health Benefit Plan unless they are eligible for a waiver. International scholars visiting the University for more than 31 days are also required to enroll in the University-sponsored Student Health Benefit Plan. Scholars who will be at the University for 31 days or less may choose not to enroll in the University-sponsored Student Health Benefit Plan, but are required to carry their own health plan coverage for the duration of their visit to the University (must meet J-1 U.S. Federal regulation requirements). Visit the Office of Student Health Benefits web site for more information on what is covered in this plan.
Initial Period of Adjustment to the U.S. for Spouses and Domestic Partners
The initial attitudes and feelings of a student’s or scholar’s spouse or domestic partner may be different. A spouse/domestic partner may have left a job in the home country, may not have wanted to come to the United States, may have a lower level of English proficiency, and may have lost the support of family members with an active role in child care and household matters. If the family’s economic status has changed, this can also lead to greater frustration for the spouse, especially if the spouse has been accustomed to help with cooking, cleaning, and child care. The spouse needs to adjust to a new country and new roles. During the initial period, the spouse may feel a loss of self confidence and independence.
He or she may feel very isolated and lonely. These feelings may be more severe if the student is deeply involved in studies and is often gone from home.
Spouses who have been in this position advise that the best way to overcome these difficulties is to go out and meet other people. This may seem frightening at first, but the new spouse will meet many others who feel the same frustrations, and talking with them can be quite helpful. A good way to meet other people around campus is through ISSS-sponsored events such as Small World Coffee Hour and Cross-cultural Discussion Groups. Another suggestion is to take as many English classes as possible, because the spouse’s feelings of insecurity will decrease with easier communication. (ISSS has information on free or low-cost classes.) Additional advice: join some organizations or do volunteer work. In the Twin Cities there are many groups and volunteer opportunities. The Minnesota International Center (612-625-4421) is a good source of information on these activities. The Twin Cities is home to people from all over the world; spouses can find cultural activities, religious assemblies, and ethnic markets, all of which are good opportunities to meet people with common interests. Many libraries, stores and restaurants carry free newspapers such as Asian Pages or La Prensa which advertise local events and businesses.
Refer to the ISSS web site for a listing of ethnic and specialty markets in the Twin Cities.
Minnesota law prohibits individuals from inflicting bodily harm on their spouse or partner and children. Police have the ability, under the law, to arrest and jail a person, even if the victim does not want to press criminal charges. Often police will proceed with such action.
It is important to have an understanding of U.S. law in the Criminal Sexual Conduct Code. Individuals have the right to stop sexual contact at any time. This means that when a person says “no” to any type of sexual contact, it violates the law if the partner attempts to emotionally or verbally coerce or physically force that person into continuing the sexual contact. Violation of the Criminal Sexual Conduct Code ranges from forced rape to improperly (without consent) touching the clothed or unclothed intimate body parts of another person. Violation of these Minnesota laws can result in a prison or jail term of one to forty years and/or a fine from $3,000 to $40,000. If you become a sexual assault victim, contact the local police. The University’s Aurora Center (612/626-2929) can also provide assistance. The Aurora Center’s website is http://www1.umn.edu/aurora/.
Resources for and Regarding Children
For information on finding child care or enrolling children in school, pick up the ISSS brochure “Children: Day Care and School”. Children also need time to adjust to being in a new place. In general they learn English very quickly, but school, daycare, or babysitters may be frightening for them at first. Younger children may want a parent to be with them all of the time, and older children may want their parents to stay with them for a short time at daycare or school. Talk with their teachers to see if this is possible. The teacher may also be a good source of information about other activities, such as sports, music, or art, in which your child can participate. One key issue facing parents who are raising children in another culture is the degree to which they feel comfortable in seeing their children adopt the local ways. Some international students and scholars do not mind if their children seem “American”, but others prefer for their children to behave according to the standards of the culture back home. Such parents want their children to do well in school here and to make friends, but may fear that the children are losing their native identity and are adopting inappropriate behaviors. Children are observant and learn quickly. They may want an American first name and may learn attitudes about independence and choice (from school, friends, and the media) that you believe are not appropriate for your culture.
Each family needs to decide how important it is to them to help their children retain their native culture. The importance of this will probably vary with the child’s age. Please contact ISSS for more specific information.