Category: International Main

International Spouses Learn UA Culture, History

October 21, 2019 | From The Crimson White

While international students and staff members have their own resources for adjusting to UA life, their spouses have found their own community in B.B. Comer Hall. 

ISG Photo by Joe Will Field
ISG Photo by Joe Will Field

The International Spouse Group (ISG) has been serving the partners of foreign students and staff members over recent years. The ISG meets once a week, and faculty advisers are there to answer any questions the members have or just to talk about how their day is going. It is a casual and inviting environment, which is the goal of advisers Melanie Walker and Kay Geno.

Walker, an international staff member herself, noticed the positive attention incoming students and staff members got at the University.

“When I came to UA, I found it welcoming,” Walker said. “The school does a good job with the students and keeps them busy, but I think the spouse gets lost along the way.”

That is why the ISG was formed, Walker said.

“We want to bring people together,” Walker said. “When you come here with your partner, you don’t know anyone. It’s just a way of getting people to meet each other and realize they’re not alone.”

On a typical Wednesday morning, the group gathers at B.B. Comer Hall in a meeting room tucked away in the Capstone International Center. While this intimate setting facilitates conversation, the leaders also like to take things outdoors and give the members a chance to see other parts of the UA campus.

“We’ve done the [Hallowed Grounds] walking tour with Dr. [Hilary] Green, the Gorgas House tour, the Bryant Football museum tour, the Smith Hall History museum, seen the library archives,” Walker said. “We do things quite often.”

While Walker and Geno set up these events and promote the club on Facebook, they say it is all about the members.

“We invite new members all the time and reach back out to people who have already come,” Geno said.

Attendance varies between four to 10 members at a given meeting, but the group is always looking for new people that they can serve.

“Some international students have their own clubs and Facebook pages, like the Bangladeshi students, so we can reach out to new members that way, too,” Walker said. “There are always new students coming into the University, as undergrads or Ph.D. students, so we try to get a hold of them and their partners.”

The ISG currently has members from Nepal, Russia, Sweden, Bangladesh, India, Germany and more. No matter where the spouses are from, the mission of the ISG unites them.

“When people first arrive in the U.S., they find it important to do more than just finding their feet,” Walker said. “They feel lonely and think about what they have left behind. The wives have jobs and careers that their visa does not allow them to practice here. The initial adjustment to the culture can be hard.”

Not only do the members gain support and knowledge from the ISG, but Walker and Geno benefit as well.

“There’s a learning curve for everybody,” Walker said. “No matter where you’re from, you can always teach us something new.”

Antara Das has been a part of the ISG since the spring semester of last year. She moved to Alabama in the summer of 2018, along with her husband, Tonmoy Ghosh, and two-year-old daughter. Ghosh is at The University of Alabama pursuing a Ph.D. in electrical engineering.

“My husband actually gave me a pamphlet about the ISG,” Das said. “He told me about the meetings, and one day I went to one and got added to Facebook group.”

“I came to UA mainly for the scholarship,” Ghosh said. “But I went to the International Coffee Hour event, and that’s where I heard about the ISG. It is a great place to make friends and learn from the different cultures of the people there.”

Since then, Das and her daughter have been frequent attendees to the meetings and events of the ISG. The group helped Das and her family work past the initial growing pains of living in a new country.

“At first, things like transportation were hard,” Das said. “I didn’t know how to drive in the U.S. It was not easy to understand the language and the English accent.”

Das was able to pick up those skills and has since expanded on her involvement with Alabama culture. For this, she thanks the ISG.

“They’ve helped me know America and Tuscaloosa better,” Das said. “We’ve gone on trips to museums, and I have come to know a lot about the culture and history here.”

Das is planning to take the GRE exam and begin studying public health at the University if admitted.

“The people here are very friendly and helpful,” Das said. “My family feels very good here, even though we are far from our country.”

Rona Khadka, another ISG member, has resided in Alabama for approximately two years. Originally from Nepal, Khadka came here alongside her husband, who is pursuing his Ph.D. in data science.

Like Das, Khadka’s husband was the one who told her about the group.

“My favorite part has been getting to know people from the U.S. and making friends with people from other countries,” Khadka said.

Khadka appreciates the practice she has gotten with speaking English in the ISG and says that it has given her confidence to speak it more herself.

“I was worried about that for my medical exams,” Khadka said.

While the members of the ISG are guided through their time at The University of Alabama, they also highlight external opportunities as well, such as job placement. For example, Khadka, 27, obtained her undergraduate degree in nursing while in Nepal. She now has a job lined up in Nebraska and is hoping for a sponsor to secure her green card.

The ISG meets every Wednesday at 10 a.m. in B.B. Comer 105. For more information, visit their Facebook page.

Fifteen UA Students Win Gilman Awards for 2018-2019

Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship Winners are selected by the Institute of International Education through the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs in the U.S. Department of State. Recipients receive up to $5,000 to apply toward study abroad or internship program costs, giving them the opportunity to gain a better understanding of other cultures, countries, languages and economies. The Education Abroad office hosts regular workshops to inform students about the Gilman application process and assist students in choosing a country and program that is right for them. Visit the Education Abroad website for more information, or call 205-348-5256 to find out  more.
Congratulations to the following UA students who won a Gilman for study abroad:
Fall 2018
Michael Rowe, Japan
Fredericka Brinkley, Ghana
Jourdan Kiaupa, Australia
Spring 2019
Evan Morse, Spain
Summer 2019
James Patterson, France
Ashton Ward, Ireland
Genesis Drake, United Kingdom
Donedra Falls, Hungary
Crystal Stone, Ireland
Mary “Maggie” Owens, Austria
Kayla Meeks, Colombia
Alexis Carmichael, Belgium
Ellie Novotny, Dominican Republic
Kathryn “Katy” Crawford, Belize
Aleeyah Ponder, Czech Republic

UA Student Receives Critical Language Scholarship

From UA News | April 23, 2019

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Erin Behland, a University of Alabama graduating senior from Chicago, has received a Critical Language Scholarship to study Mandarin in China.

Behland is majoring in international relations, history and anthropology with a minor in Chinese. She previously received a Critical Language Scholarship in 2017. Since her first scholarship, Behland has studied at The University of Glasgow in Scotland and traveled across Greece studying ancient western civilization via the UA in Greece study abroad program.

In the fall, she was selected as an intern at the U.S. State Department in the Bureau of Human Rights, Democracy, and Labor in the Office of East Asia and the Pacific. After graduation, Behland hopes to attend law school and eventually work as an ambassador on U.S.-China relations.

The Critical Language Scholarship program is part of a U.S. government effort to expand the number of Americans studying and mastering critical foreign languages. CLS scholars gain critical language and cultural skills that enable them to contribute to U.S. economic competitiveness and national security.

The program provides scholarships to U.S. undergraduate and graduate students to spend eight to 10 weeks overseas studying one of 14 critical languages: Arabic, Azerbaijani, Bangla, Chinese, Hindi, Indonesian, Japanese, Korean, Persian, Punjabi, Russian, Swahili, Turkish or Urdu.

The program includes intensive language instruction and structured cultural enrichment experiences designed to promote rapid language gains. CLS scholars are expected to continue their language study beyond the scholarship and apply their critical language skills in their future careers.

Students interested in Critical Language Scholarships, Boren Scholarships or Fulbright Awards may contact the Capstone International Center at for more information.

Two UA Students Earn Boren Scholarships for Foreign Study

From UA News | April 18, 2019

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Two University of Alabama students have received Boren Scholarships for the study of languages in world regions critical to U.S. interests and underrepresented in study abroad.

Michelle DeGeorge, of New Orleans, was selected to study in the Czech Republic; and Nicholas Hayes, of Memphis, Tennessee, was selected to study in Tanzania.

Nicholas Hayes

Hayes is a math and German double major with minors in physics, the Randall Research Scholars Program and a self-designed minor titled “Cultural and Philosophical Neuroscience.” Hayes hopes to nourish his passion for language learning and affinity for analytic problem solving into a career in an intelligence or analyst position. One of his hobbies is spending time with his puppies. He is originally from Simsbury, Connecticut.

DeGeorge is a senior majoring in international studies and French with minors in Russian and political science. During the 2019-2020 academic year, she will study Czech language and Central and Eastern European history and politics at Charles University in Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic. She also studied Russian language and culture in St. Petersburg, Russia, during the 2017-2018 academic year. On her return, she hopes to pursue graduate studies in linguistics and eventually work for the U.S. State Department as a foreign service officer.

In addition, two UA students were named as alternates: Benjamin  Jones is an alternate for Hungary; and Jacob Dennis is an alternate for Morocco.

Boren Scholarships, an initiative of the National Security Education Program, provide funding opportunities for U.S. undergraduate students to study less commonly taught language in such regions as Africa, Asia, Central and Eastern Europe, Latin America and the Middle East.

Boren Scholarship recipients represent a vital pool of highly motivated individuals who wish to work in the federal national security arena. In exchange for funding, Boren Scholarship recipients commit to working in the federal government for at least one year after graduation. Amounts range from $8,000 for a summer program to $20,000 for six-to-12 months of study.

Make a Friend, Be a Friend: International Spouse Group

April 3, 2019 | From UA News

International Spouse Group

When Melanie Walker’s husband got a job as an associate professor of educational psychology at The University of Alabama in August last year, they packed up and moved from their home in Durham, England, to Tuscaloosa.

But while he worked, she was left alone and unable to pursue her own career because for now the type of visa she was given doesn’t allow international spouses to work.

“As a spouse you’re basically an alien,” Walker said. “Everything you do has to go through the working spouse or the student. That’s possibly the hardest thing that people coming here have to deal with because when you are in your home country your identity and finances are your own, but when you come here as the spouse of a student, your identity and finances are connected to your spouse.”

With this not being her first international move due to her husband’s career, she quickly found ways to occupy her time and get involved. One of those ways she discovered was UA’s International Spouse Group, where she is now a co-leader.

“My husband and I saw the group on the website and I saw where they met and when, and I turned up one day to say hello and I was welcomed in,” she said.

The International Spouse Group brings together the spouses of international students, faculty, staff and scholars for activities and interaction by learning from each other and sharing unique knowledge and experiences, according to its website.

The home countries of current group members include Nepal, Brazil, Uganda, Bangladesh, Japan, England, the Netherlands, Germany and America. The group is open to American spouses who want to make international friends and support those friends in the process of acculturation.

The current American in the group, co-leader Kay Geno, is from south Louisiana and has been a member for a year and a half. She said she joined because she was new to Tuscaloosa and sought fellowship. She also wanted to help non-Americans acclimate.

“What I hope happens is that the camaraderie that they feel makes them understand that they aren’t the only ones who feel like they’re going through this struggle,” she said.

“We try to plug them into other places to volunteer and meet other people. Sometimes people come to our group for a long time and then others come here during their first year, get their footing and then go to other groups.”

Geno said group members generally have a lot of cultural questions, but also questions about how to properly conduct themselves in America.

“They ask things like, ‘how do I address someone in an email?’ ‘How many times should I call someone?’ They want help navigating through health care, purchasing a house, which of the 50 brands of toothpaste to buy, what cleaning supplies.

“So it’s just reassuring them that they were doing the right thing and helping them with next steps.”

The group also visits local and state hot spots.

Geno said the largest contingent in the group are spouses of graduate students.

The group meets each Wednesday during the school year from 10 to 11:30 a.m. in the International Student and Scholar Services offices in 105 BB Comer Hall.

To become a member of the International Spouse Group, simply attend a meeting. For more information, email, or join their Facebook page.

Rwanda genocide survivor visits annual commemoration

Photo courtesy of Angelique Umutoniwase

Shahriyar Emami, Staff Reporter
April 1, 2019
The Crimson White

When Angelique Umutoniwase was five years old, the Rwanda genocide terrorized her country.

The genocide, which took place from April 7-mid July, 1994, resulted in more than 800,000 deaths. As Umutoniwase described it, the killings are officially called the 1994 Genocide Against Tutsi.

Some of Umutoniwase’s family members were victims of the the genocide. After the tragedy, she and her two sisters survived by staying together.

“It did affect me,” said Umutoniwase, who is now a Fulbright scholar at the University of Alabama. “I lost my parents and my brother.”

Umutoniwase said she lost other family members because of the killings, also. After the genocide, the sisters stayed in orphanages. Umutoniwase said children and adults were split up throughout Rwanda.

“Some kids don’t have parents,” Umutoniwase said. “Some parents don’t have children.”

The Rwandan government tried to help victims after the genocide. However, it was not enough, Umutoniwase said, and the entire country had to start over from scratch.

“After the genocide, we had to strive for our future,” she said. “We decided to keep going.”

A commemoration of the genocide will be held in Washington, D.C. on April 7, the day the genocide began in 1994. This will be the Rwanda genocide’s 25th anniversary.

The University of Alabama’s Capstone International Center will sponsor Umutoniwase’s first trip to the Rwanda genocide commemoration.

For Umutoniwase, the commemoration will serve as a way to learn from the past.

Annual commemorations are held in Rwanda from April 7-13. After that week, an honorary three months of remembrance takes place. This period is in observance of the three months the genocide spanned.

“The purpose of the commemoration is to make perpetrators learn that they did the wrong thing,” Umutoniwase said.

Survivors like Umutoniwase will use the annual commemoration as part of their healing process, she said, and in her case, the University is supporting her trip.

“Because Angelique was really directly affected by the Rwandan genocide, we felt it was important for us to support her in being able to attend the commemoration event,” said Teresa Wise, associate provost of international education and outreach.

The University has been involved with Fulbright since the program was established in 1946, Wise said.

“The Rwandan genocide is a horrible example of the kind of violence that takes place across the world sometimes,” Wise said. “It’s important for us to support [Umutoniwase] in being able to continue to process that event for herself and for her family and for her nation.”

Wise said the Fulbright Commission receives funding through the U.S. government’s state department.

“The individual countries’ governments or sometimes private organizations also contribute to that funding,” Wise said. “So it’s a combination of governmental funding from specific countries, including our own and then sometimes private funding.”

The Fulbright Commission came into effect as an agreement between the United States and the United Kingdom based on educational values across nations.

Wise oversees the international outreach operations for the Capstone International Center. The UA English Language Institute (ELI) is included under that umbrella.

Currently, Umutoniwase is studying with the ELI, and she said she is the only Rwandan student in the ELI and Fulbright program at the University.

“A big part of our mission is to serve as a gateway for international students into The University of Alabama into degree programs,” said Bill Wallace, director of the ELI.

Wallace said the ELI has been on campus since 1982.

“We help recruit international students, help them get ready in terms of their English proficiency and readiness to be undergraduate or graduate degree-seeking students,” Wallace said.

According to the ELI website, the program offers a year-round, six-level intensive English program for international students. These six courses start at a beginner level and finish at advanced. Wallace said there is no specific time frame that students need to finish their ELI courses in.

Umutoniwase is currently at level six, the advanced level.

“Near the end of their ELI time, [students] can begin taking one or two academic credit classes along with their ELI classes,” Wallace said. “So they’re pure ELI until they get to a certain level, and if they so desire, they can take one or two academic classes.”

After her time with the ELI, Umutoniwase plans to attend graduate school. Before that, however, she must make a sufficient score on the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL).

“To be admitted to a graduate program, she’ll have to prove that her English is ready,” Wallace said. “We’re here to help her improve, get her English ready and to help her get that TOEFL score that she’ll need to be accepted for a master’s degree program.”

Umutoniwase will study civil engineering with the Fulbright program. After her time at the University, Fulbright will sponsor her graduate degree in the U.S.

“I just gravitate towards civil engineering,” Umutoniwase said.

Fulbright gave Umutoniwase the chance to come to the University to improve her English before she pursues her graduate degree.

One of Wallace’s hopes is that more international students attend the University and feel welcomed on campus.

“When Angelique comes back, I hope we’ll have some kind of report or presentation from her about her experience there [at the commemoration],” Wallace said.

For Umutoniwase, it is important for students and Americans in general to learn about Rwanda’s history.

“I realize many people here don’t know about Rwanda,” Umutoniwase said. “I encourage Americans to know more, to read about Rwanda.”

Capstone International Center Staff Inducted Into NAFSA Academy

NAFSA Academy 2019-20
NAFSA Academy 2019-20

Education Abroad Advisors Raven McKenzie and Sarah Kidwell and International Student & Scholar Advisor Chris Larkin were inducted into the NAFSA Academy for 2019-20.

The current Academy class of 61 trainees and 11 coaches met in Atlanta, Georgia on the Georgia Tech campus, where they spent an energizing and intense four days broadening their knowledge of the international education field, participating in 5 knowledge community based workshops, convening evening roundtable discussions, and connecting with a community of International Education peers.

The Academy for International Education is a selective program, in which trainees are provided foundational training around nine international education professional proficiencies and the primary knowledge areas of international education. The foundational training is enhanced by a personalized learning plan the Academy trainee develops, which guides and measures the trainee’s learning throughout the Academy year, in addition to individualized coaching from a international education coach.


International Student Receives Premier Award

Sakina Dhondia Receives William P. and Estan J. Bloom Award

The William P. and Estan J. Bloom Award honors a student who has improved relations among different groups. Past recipients have been chosen primarily for improving understanding and supporting interaction among groups for a common cause.

Sakina Dhondia finds that bringing people together for festivals – or even just coffee – can help UA students connect in ways they could not otherwise.

Thanks to her work with the International Students Association and as director of cultural experiences and diversity for the Honors College Assembly, she helped arrange activities, including the International Coffee Hour, the Diwali festival and the Crimson Culture Gala, that inspired interaction among the diverse student body of UA.

Dhondia, a finance and economics major, moved with her family from Delft in the Netherlands and now lives in Tuscaloosa. She has served as treasurer, vice president and president of the International Students Association, as well as a design partner for the Design for American project and budget director for Night to Shine, an Honors College initiative that creates a prom-like experience for students with special needs. She also works with the Alabama Transportation Institute.

Her parents are Juzer and Rashida Dhondia.

From – 2019 Premier Awards.

The ELI Welcomes Fulbright Students

This semester the English Language Institute (ELI) at UA welcomed ten Friends of Fulbright students from Argentina, as well as six Fulbright Long-Term English Placement students from Colombia, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Rwanda and Venezuela.

The Friends of Fulbright students take nine hours of English instruction per week and observe three University of Alabama classes related to their majors. The goal of the program is for students from Argentina to gain familiarity with attending U.S. universities and experiencing life in the U.S. In addition to classes, the students participate in cultural activities on and off campus. These students plan to pursue graduate degrees after completing their undergraduate studies in Argentina.

The Fulbright Long-Term English Placement students came to the ELI to improve their English language skills while seeking admission to U.S. university graduate programs. The students are enrolled in 20 hours of English classes per week and participate in seminars and cultural activities.

This is the second year the ELI was selected to host Friends of Fulbright and Fulbright Long-Term English Placement students. Abigail Stricker, a former Friends of Fulbright student studying biotechnology, said of the experience, “I enjoyed getting to know about American culture and getting more experience outside the Argentinian university.”

The ELI is pleased to partner with the Fulbright organization to support international exchanges.


International Exchange Students Welcomed to UA

In early January the Education Abroad staff collected UA’s new international exchange students from the Birmingham, Alabama airport. The University of Alabama is excited to host seven new exchange students and eight returning exchange students this spring. These students come from institutions in Italy, Australia, Scotland, France, Japan, Wales, England and China! They spent their first day in Alabama driving to Tuscaloosa and checking into their on-campus housing, as well as making other necessary trips through their new college town to get them fully settled-in. The majority of exchange students stay in an internationally focused on-campus housing program, which offers a small co-ed atmosphere for international students and other UA students who are interested in interacting with students from other nations. For an authentic American experience they ate lunch at Buffalo Wild Wings, an American sports bar and restaurant. The Education Abroad staff enjoys introducing the exchange students to sweet tea, fried pickles, and ranch every semester.

Exchange students enjoying the ice rink in downtown Tuscaloosa.

The exchange students are always welcomed to The University of Alabama with an international student orientation where they are taught the classic fight song and taught how and when to say Roll Tide so that they can be accustomed to using it every day.  The Capstone Men and Women spent an afternoon introducing the students to the beautiful campus and surrounding areas. The students really enjoyed getting to know campus and the staff even learned some interesting new fun facts as well. All together, we had a great day that concluded with a run to Target, because who doesn’t love Target?

Exchange students seeing Bryant Denny stadium for the first time!

The University of Alabama Education Abroad office also takes our exchange students on regular monthly expeditions and events. In the past, events such as trips to the Huntsville Space and Rocket Center, going to see a play in Birmingham, having dinner at local restaurants, and cooking a classic homemade Thanksgiving dinner have been educational and fun.

A campus tour led by a Capstone Woman.