UC Berkeley class seeks to aid expatriate spouses

A new class at UC Berkeley seeks to help spouses of international students, postdoctoral scholars and researchers more easily transition into American life.

The class, called “Creating a Fulfilling Life in America,” came to campus in May and aids expatriate spouses as they transition to living in the United States. Furthermore, the class seeks to help spouses rebuild their sense of identity in this country, according to Yvonne Lefort, a career counselor and instructor for the course.

The 90-minute class is six weeks long and covers everything from managing culture shock and stress to creating a social life. According to Lefort, inspiration for the class came last fall after she thought about how a program on campus could be helpful in supporting expatriate spouses.

“I think that the most helpful thing for spouses is to know that they are not alone — that the problems they face after coming to the United States are shared by other people in the same situation,” Lefort said in an email.

Explaining that the class also benefits the person working on campus, Lefort added that when the spouse is happy, a lot of pressure is taken off the worker, who can then concentrate on work without worrying about the family.

Lefort said she is hopeful that the course will be offered this fall and that it will expand so that someday there will be an international center for families on campus, but that it is not her decision. The decision to continue is left to Sam Castaneda, director of Visiting Scholar and Postdoctoral Affairs.

Aside from this class on campus, other groups in the area have been created to help the contingency of expatriate spouses.

German expatriate spouse Dorothee Constanze Unger-Lee founded the international spouses group Berkeley Wives just after leaving Germany in March of 2011 with her husband — a doctoral student of history on campus. The group is composed of spouses of UC Berkeley employees and students.

“(I) was looking for a spouse program or club for foreign wives who are accompanying their significant others studying or researching at UC Berkeley,” Unger-Lee said in an email. “During my search, I got in touch with the Stanford Wives who run a cool blog about life as a wife moving to the Bay Area. Unfortunately, I could not find such a website, club or program at UC Berkeley.”

After receiving a great amount of support for her idea to start the group, she founded Berkeley Wives, following the Stanford Wives example. She said in the email that several of the people who attend the group’s monthly “Happy Hour” have taken Lefort’s class.

“Starting your life over in a new place is hard,” Unger-Lee said in the email. “You have to find your way around a new town, make new friends, find a job — when you are authorized to work — or find something to do, if you are not authorized to work. Many women feel isolated and find it challenging to create a new social life. This is where the Berkeley Wives kick in.”

Berkeley Wives member Gabriela Garcia-Escobar took Lefort’s class after moving from Chile last July with her husband, who is studying for his masters degree in information management and systems at UC Berkeley.

Garcia-Escobar said in an email that the class helped her realize that feelings of isolation and loneliness are normal.

“Attending the class made me feel more confident with my self, not feeling sad or insecure about all the mix of emotions that I was feeling,” she said in the email. “(Since joining Berkeley Wives,) I have more independence from my husband, I have my own social life, activities and circle of friends.”

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  • Guest

    “The class, called “Creating a Fulfilling Life in America”

    Can anybody really teach this?  Is it even possible?

  • Marjorie Sauer

    I am writing to correct a false impression that UC Berkeley has no spouse program or club for foreign wives who are accompanying students and scholars to the University.  For 60 years the University Section Club has had a very active International Students and Scholars Committee which provides a variety of services.  Specifically since 1978 a group called The Centre has met weekly throughout the academic year and recently also during the summer. Information is available on the website of the Section Club, the YWCA where we have met for 18 years, and International House Program Office.  The Berkeley International Office includes this information it the handbook given to every international scholar at the required meeting each must attend soon after arrival. Literally thousands of visitors and their families have found these programs invaluable.  We would welcome an opportunity to make more information available.Marjorie Sauer  email [email protected]

    • Thechoicesare

      Maybe poor marketing and communication caused this new club to be formed.

  • Hugen

    This is ignoring the work the University Section Club members has been doing for several decades helping international students and scholars and their family adjust to a new life. Check their web at http://universitysectionclub.berkeley.edu/

  • Anonymous

    The idea of a class for these people making the transitions is reasonable. However, if you the read the Berkeley news report and Sam Casteneda comments, it is laughable. First, he says these spouse struggle because their husbands and wives are working 40 hours a week. That might be a problem for anyone. Secondly, he wants them covered Career services. Lets first find job for our UCB graduates and hundreds of laid off staff, before we cater to newcomers to the UCB community.

    • Anonymous

      Correction to my  comment. Castaneda said working 80  hours per week.

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