The UNC Spouses and Partners Group is an organization that welcomes spouses and partners of all international students, scholars and other affiliates. The group meets every Friday at 10 a.m. on the fourth floor of the FedEx Global Education Center.
The group enjoys food together, exchanges experiences about coping with American culture and shares different cultures in its weekly meetings.
Lola Tasar, a social work intern at International Student and Scholar Services, created the group and established it four weeks ago.
Tasar said she hopes the group fosters a sense of belonging for international spouses and partners.
She said once the group reaches a certain number of members, she wants to add activities such as cooking classes, hiking classes and reading clubs.
“This is my goal ... to help them and other people share resources and meet outside the group,” she said.
Elizabeth Barnum, director of International Student and Scholar Services, said the group was established to help form close relationships between the local community and international spouses or partners.
“What we found is that, many times, the accompanying spouses or partners may need some assistance to (connect) with friends and communities so that they are aware of various resources that might be available,” she said.
Barnum said child care and schooling could be one potential problem, and for non-native English speakers, the language barrier poses daily challenges.
She said they sometimes face simple problems like what to bring to a friend’s birthday party because of unfamiliarity with American culture.
Manal Alfaouri, the spouse of a UNC postdoctoral fellow, has been in the United States for three years and moved to Chapel Hill with her husband three months ago. Originally from Syria, she said speaking English itself is difficult and understanding the culture poses more challenges.
Alfaouri said even cracking a joke becomes difficult in English.
“Socializing is not easy, actually,” she said. “Like, you speak English very well, but sometimes you might say a flat joke and people won’t laugh. You would be like, ‘What’s going on? I thought I was joking but no one was laughing.’”
Alfaouri added she also meets difficulties of finding a job in the community.
She said she met Tasar at a social event and has been to the group a few times.
She said the group members come from five different countries, and some of them did presentations about their home countries during one meeting.
“I am very thankful, you know, for this opportunity,” she said. “We’re just hoping to expand the group, do more activities, do more projects, meet more often, you know.”