Yale international students and scholars who study in the United States often face an array of challenges. Rigorous academics aside, they must also cope with relocating to a new country, overcoming language barriers, and acclimating to a new culture with little help from their network of friends and family who remain back at home.
The spouses and partners of those same students and scholars face equal, if not greater, challenges. Adjusting to a new life while their spouses are away the greater part of each day can lead to anxiety, loneliness, and even depression. In many instances, these couples are newlyweds or young families with babies, which can make the transition all the more difficult.
Ann Kuhlman, director of Yale’s Office of International Students and Scholars (OISS), recognized the need for additional support for these international spouses and families and in 2000, she founded the International Spouses and Partners at Yale program (ISPY). The program helps support the spouses, partners, and families of new international Yale students and scholars, so they can feel have a home away from home.
Maria del Rosario Castellanos de Padilla, known as Rosario, is one of ISPY’s lead coordinators. She says the program presents an invaluable opportunity for spouses and partners to meet people and make friends, enabling them to quickly and more easily acclimate to their new environment.
Padilla knows about the challenges of acclimating first hand, having arrived at Yale from Guatemala in 2014, along with her husband, Victor Padilla-Taylor, and her four teenagers: Victor, Laura, Ana and Natalia. At that time, her husband was studying at Yale School of Management in the Master Advanced Management program. Since then, he has graduated and is working at the World Economic Forum, a nonprofit organization with offices in New York. In addition, just last year, their oldest son, Victor Jose Padilla Castellanos. was accepted into Yale College, where he is now a freshman.
“When we first came here, the transition was certainly not easy. Leaving our country, our extended family, and our culture was extremely difficult,” says Padilla. “For me it was unique and a bit easier than is typically the case, because my children were at an age where they were much easier to manage than a baby or toddler. Even so it’s not easy for anyone.”
ISPY members come from countries all around the world, including Austria, Guatemala, India, Turkey, Israel, Italia, Bolivia, Greece, Korea, Denmark, Egypt, Colombia, Kenya, Switzerland, Japan, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and Mexico. This year, Yale and OISS welcomed 1,052 new international students from 92 different countries to campus. In total, Yale’s international student enrollment for the fall 2016 semester reached 2,635 students, the largest in Yale’s history.
“The diversity and differences among all the members is something that is readily embraced,” says Padilla. “I’ve had members literally come to me in happiness, telling me how time spent with others in ISPY is like time spent with an entirely new family, a community family.”
Padilla says when she arrived for her first year at Yale, her top priority was helping everyone in her family get settled and fully acclimated to their new home. After that, she started connecting with various ISPY groups at OISS. With encouragement from Kuhlman, she started volunteering at the semi-annual orientations sessions for new spouses because she wanted to give back to the community. Later, as an ISPY coordinator, she was placed in charge of managing both the Knitting/Crocheting and “Crafty Thursdays,” groups, just two of many ISPY groups, each with its own unique focus or theme. There is an ISPY group for parents with babies, language learning groups, and groups where hobbies such as knitting, cooking, and arts and crafts are the focus. (See sidebar story for a detailed explanation of each group, and coordinator contact information.)
Group coordinators volunteer to manage each group. “During OISS orientation we encourage any spouse with a unique skill or knowledge that others may enjoy or need to learn to get involved and apply to become a coordinator,” said Kuhlman. “If you don’t wish to be a coordinator it’s incredibly easy to join a group. You need to do nothing more than simply show up at the next group meeting and you are in.”
In addition to offering opportunities to learn a new hobby or language, the groups provide a strong way for spouses and partners to network in the Yale and New Haven communities.
“Engaging in ISPY activities tends to be very rewarding,” says Padilla. “It’s an amazing way for spouses or partners to find a ‘space’ of their own that enables them to feel they belong and to quickly become a part of the community around them.”
In addition to helping and supporting their members, ISPY groups work to engage and help the local community. For example, The Paper Arts at OISS members made and delivered a Christmas tree made of paper flowers to decorate Yale New Haven Hospital last semester. They are now working to make homemade cards to welcome new patients at the hospital.
There is also the Knitting group, which supports “Little Hats, Big Hearts,” an American Heart Association program with the mission of crocheting warm little caps for newborn babies in New Haven hospitals and beyond. The Knitting group has also volunteered to create Plarn (Plastic Bag Yarn), which they make into thick mats, bags, and many other items — thereby recycling plastic bags and helping the environment. Currently, the Knitting members are looking for an organization to help them distribute the sleeping mats they are making to local homeless people. This past year volunteers of the ISPY Crafty Thursday group helped the New Haven Downtown Soup Kitchen by donating time and resources to adorn eating areas with festive holiday decorations.
“ISPY members generously volunteer every day because we all know how important it is to stay connected with one another and to our community — here — where we all live together,” says Padilla. “You can’t experience the close, warm blanket that comes from being part of a community until you become an active participant and engage with it. We are truly blessed to have programs like ISPY that enable us to support one another, Yale, and our New Haven community.”
Paper Arts at OISS
Mondays from 2 p.m.to 4 p.m.
Here you will use many different techniques to create different figures out of paper and donate the creations for a good cause.
Contact Karen Brailovsky, (email@example.com)
Babies @ Yale
Mondays and Fridays 10:30 a.m.
Teach babies to socialize, network, learn language skills, and share experiences, tips, and ideas for acclimating to life in the United States with a newborn.
Contact: Maki Shirado (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Yale International Cooking Circle
Meeting Times TBD
Share new recipes from all around the world with people from the Yale.
Contact: Karina Wolf (email@example.com)
Wednesdays 10 a.m.-noon
Join with fellow knitters (or those who crochet and do other needlework), or learn how.
Contact: Rosario Padilla (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Traditional Chinese Painting and Calligraphy
Wednesdays 2 p.m.- 4 p.m.
Learn Chinese painting and calligraphy and share the love of Chinese art.
Contact Xiaoxing Cao (YaleCPCgroup@gmail.com)
Spanish Conversation Group
Every Friday, 11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m.
Practice Spanish language skills, whether you are a beginner, advanced, or native speaker.
Contact: Antonella Stroppa and Pilar Patino (email@example.com)
Mandarin (Chinese) Conversation Group
Every Friday, 10-11 a.m.
Hone Chinese language skills within a Chinese cultural context.
Every Thursday, 10a.m.-noon
Learn techniques for constructing assorted crafts, creating one unique craft for each season and learn about select U.S. holidays.
Contact: Rosario Padilla (Rosario.firstname.lastname@example.org)