Corvallis’ International Moms Group: Kinship and More

Founder Sandy Wong Goeke (second on the left) with some members of
the International Moms Group.

Corvallis’ International Moms Group, founded and operated by Sandy Wong Goeke, is for mothers, mothers-to-be, and children from outside the U.S., helping them acclimate to U.S. culture and inviting them to share their own cultures with activities and demonstrations. The group provides resources and education in parenting topics, American customs and holidays, and English language practice, as well as friendships and connections to their new community. The IMG features guest speakers, cultural presentations, and activities, as well as field trips that the rest of the family is welcome to join in on. 

During the fall, winter, and spring academic terms, the IMG holds weekly meetings at 3405 NW Orchard Ave, in a meeting room provided for free by Oregon State University. IMG meetings also include an onsite co-op childcare component for children while the moms are attending meetings. Since the academic year began this fall, Goeke has had 57 group members from 25 different countries. 

The aim is “… to educate, empower, and encourage international moms on their parenting journey,” said Goeke.

Goeke started the group five years ago, after her first child was born. She’d had many international friends who were new mothers, who wanted to learn more about parenting. Being new to a country is isolating in many ways, and the added language and cultural barriers can make a conventional parenting group or class especially daunting for international parents. 

She was never an international mother herself, but having studied and interned abroad in China, Goeke knew these intercultural barriers firsthand. She was aware of local mothers groups, but none that focused on the experience and needs of mothers and children who have emigrated from other nations, so she made her own. Her background in public health and international relations helped her catalyze the idea to fruition. 

Heading the group is no doubt a tremendous achievement and commitment, but Sandy has quite a modest air about her hard work and accomplishments when mentioned, shifting the topic to the generosity of her community and her gratitude towards all the businesses, organizations, groups, and people who have in any way supported her vision, and her wish to recognize each of them.

“I’m just so grateful that we have such an amazing community,” she said. Her program has been recently awarded with grants from the City of Corvallis’s Community Involvement and Diversity Advisory Board and the King Legacy Advisory Board. 

Most of the meetings feature a guest speaker, a local professional in a topic chosen by the mothers. Guests have included various health professionals, Benton County Sheriff’s Department, and the Albany Fire Department.

The childcare portion is staffed by volunteers who have undergone background checks and the moms themselves, who sign up and trade off from week to week. The young children benefit from socializing, interacting, and learning with other children from various cultures.

The IMG also runs a program called Moms Crossing International Borders, which connects international moms with local US mothers of children who are close in age, many of whom are recruited from a partnering mother’s group. Not only does this provide opportunities for the international moms to practice English conversation and gain familiarity with US culture, but it also gives the American mothers and their children exposure to other cultures and customs. 

The social interaction, language practice, and potential for many new friendships is valuable to these families. The group is always in need of American moms for this program, who can get in touch with Sandy through the website to match with international mothers.

A monthly feature of the IMG is a highlighted international culture, with presentations from group members themselves. The moms share their cultures in diverse and creative activities, such as cooking demonstrations, country profiles, PowerPoint presentations, dances, calligraphy, and various kinds of art. Mothers even recently visited another local moms group to give presentations about their cultures.

The instruction in American customs includes holiday parties and activities. When a mother in the group gives birth, they have a baby shower, and bags of baby gifts are provided by Love, INC. A Mother’s Day celebration is planned, with a lesson on the origin of the holiday, how it was practiced before versus now, and a craft activity with flowers donated every year by Trader Joe’s.

Goeke shared some testimonials of mothers from the evaluations she collects every term. Maricel from the Philippines, said, “IMG literally do the best they can to help moms like me to understand more about parenting issues, health for kids and family, learning more about American culture and many more.” 

Ola from Iraq wrote, “When I first came to the US, I was not able to speak English at all. Currently, I can speak and communicate in English clearly and easily.”

And Sisil from Bangladesh had this to say: “If IMG didn’t exist I would have fallen in depression… Through IMG I got so many new friends like Sandy who are always supportive and helpful.”

All three of these mothers travelled here with husbands who came to study at OSU, so they shared the commonality of difficulty connecting with other people they could relate to, until they found the group. So if you know any international mothers in need of community or US mothers interested in participating, tell them about Corvallis’s International Moms Group.

By Eric Austin