For most new students, postdocs and visiting faculty, beginning their education or continuing their career at MIT can be exciting. But for their significant others, the experience may be fraught with trepidation and confusion, particularly if they are new to the United States. These spouses and partners may find themselves struggling to adapt to unfamiliar customs and cultural norms and coping with isolation and the possible loss of employment in their home country.
To address these issues, MIT Medical provides new arrivals with a vibrant, welcoming community in the form of its Spouses & Partners program. On Nov. 1, the program celebrated its 40th anniversary at a reception in the Bush Room, with a convivial atmosphere that gave members a chance to mingle, sample food from a variety of countries, and celebrate their successes. “Spouses & Partners continues to support MIT’s culture of inclusivity and excellence by helping people warmly assimilate here,” said Christine Ortiz, MIT's dean for graduate education. “You help make MIT a home for everyone.”
Spouses & Partners, originally known as The MIT Wives’ Group, was created in 1972 by Dr. Charlotte Schwartz, then a psychologist and researcher at MIT Medical. When psychiatrist-in-chief Dr. Merton Kahne asked her to develop programs for international members of the MIT community, she interviewed international students, visiting scientists and their wives to identify their greatest concerns and needs. She found that the wives were the group with the fewest available supports. “We wanted to draw on our resources to help women make the connections that would allow them to feel comfortable in a new place,” she said at the reception. That meant establishing weekly meetings for spouses, creating groups based on interests and hobbies, and linking the women to support services, from language classes to childcare.
Something for everyone
Today, the program remains much the same — with a few key changes. The new name better represents MIT’s inclusivity, while an increased focus on members’ professional interests allows them to hone their skills and stretch their network within a new country. “For me, Spouses & Partners isn’t just about meeting people,” explained Sevdalena Lazarova, who arrived at MIT from Bulgaria nearly seven years ago when her husband began classes. “I had a background in software development but didn’t have a work visa. I could volunteer to help create the program’s website, which gave me valuable professional experience in the U.S.”
Members also enjoy the emotional support Spouses & Partners provides, whether that means connecting with those with similar backgrounds, learning about a new culture together, or forming friendships that last even after they leave MIT.
“I am honored that you have shared your stories with me and that I have had the chance to witness and support your experience here at MIT,” said Jennifer Recklet Tassi, the program’s manager, speaking to group members during her keynote. “I am continually amazed by your bravery and your resilience in the face of so many challenges, and your willingness to share your time, talents, and energy with the MIT community and with each other.”