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Group offers support to survive the shock of the new

Approaching holidays may increase stress

For many of the spouses and partners of MIT students, the first semester starts out exciting, but the second half is often when culture shock sets in, said Jessica Barton, director of the MIT Spouses and Partners Group, which is holding its biannual meeting to address the issue.

The two-hour meeting will be held Nov. 1 in W20-400 from 3-5 p.m.; it will be an opportunity for the spouses and partners to meet one another and discuss the topic at hand: "Culture Shock, Delayed Culture Shock and Reverse Culture Shock."

Although the meeting has traditionally attracted international spouses and partners, it is also open to people from other parts of the United States who also experience culture shock upon arriving at MIT, "mostly around driving," Barton said.

This time of year--a traditional period of academic intensity as well as pre-holiday planning--can prove to be the most challenging, Barton said. And it can be especially difficult for the international spouses and partners who are often without the support of family or friends and who thus might spend hours alone. Their isolation may be increased, as well as frustration, since many do not have work visas.

About 60 percent of the international student spouses at MIT have visa restrictions that say they cannot work, Barton said. "They need to be creative and find ways to structure their days."

Often it is in the colder, darker months of late fall when fatigue starts to set in. "This is a time when people get very busy at MIT," said Barton. "It is normal for both them and their families to feel irritable and have trouble adjusting."

The meeting will provide an opportunity to chat with people in similar circumstances and perhaps spark the kinds of friendships that help people make it through their years at MIT. "A lot of our job is to help them network," Barton said.

For many, the adjustment is easier because they are only here for a few months at a time. But for those who have spouses in the Ph.D. programs, they could be at MIT and in Boston for years. "The adjustment all depends on how long people will be here," said Barton.

Currently the spouses and partners group has a mailing list 400 people long. They typically get about 140 new members a year and there are currently 30 active members who go on the field trips and attend the meetings and seminars. "A lot of people meet each other through the program and then we might not see them again," Barton said.

In many ways, independence is the goal of the program. By providing the spouses and partners with a network, the students themselves are also less stressed. "It is a great group for everyone," Barton said.

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A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on November 1, 2006 (download PDF).

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