Practice Area Column

Supporting Dependents

Help and guidance for the spouses and children of international students and scholars.
Photo: Toimetaja Tõlkebüroo/Unsplash
Dana Wilkie

Language barriers. Culture shock. Isolation. Financial stress. These are among the challenges a spouse and children can face when they accompany an international scholar or student to a foreign university.

Dependents often quickly discover that their new life looks quite different from that of the scholar or (often, graduate or postdoctoral) student. While the scholar is swept into a campus experience that offers new friendships, collegial interaction, and invigorating work, his or her dependents can find themselves struggling with boredom, a lack of meaningful work, overwhelming culture shock, and a need for social connections.

The international student and scholar services (ISSS) office is typically the primary campus contact for the dependents of international scholars and students, and the office serves as an important resource in preparing for and easing their transition into a new community.

“We feel that we have just as much of a responsibility to our spouses and partners as we do to our students and scholars,” says Molly Hampton, assistant director for programs and communications at Yale University’s Office of International Students and Scholars. 

The dependents’ experience directly affects that of the scholar’s—and if that experience is negative, it is neither good for the visiting scholar nor the institution. However, a positive experience contributes to internationalization and cross-cultural exchange in the wider community.

Starting on the Right Foot

Thousands of international students and scholars bring their children and spouses to the United States for the duration of their program, and the earlier in the process that dependents’

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