Do Saudi students abroad defy stereotypes?

saudi studentsAn article on the website of the Saudi newspaper, Arab News, last week has caused something of a debate. The article written under the byline of Ali Harbi, Detroit, says that “Saudi students studying in the United States are defying stereotypes by adjusting quickly to university and community life.”

Harbi says that “Their presence on American campuses has grown significantly over the past seven years, amounting to 4.5 percent of international students in the country, according to The Arab American News publication.Saudis rank fifth in the number of international students at universities throughout Michigan. They make up 5 percent of the state’s foreign student body. They are the beneficiaries of the Saudi Higher Education Ministry’s scholarship program set up in 2006″.

The article says that the Saudi government funds official Saudi associations at universities, in collaboration with the host universities. Their purpose is to help accommodate new Saudi students, assist them with living arrangements and help them assimilate into American college life.

The article cites Walid Alomar, the president of the Saudi Student Association at the University of Michigan, as saying that culture shock is no longer a major problem for Saudi students, who are already familiar with American customs and way of life from movies and the Internet. “When students come here, they know what to expect,” he said.

You can read the full article on Arab News here

In many ways the return of Saudi students to the United States and to Europe is a welcome development. After 9/11 there was a backlash from American authorities which resulted in many student visas being rejected. However the system eventually adjusted itself and it seems that Saudi students are back with a vengeance.

The article on Arab News however created a bit of a stir. Several commented about the absence of women among Saudi students studying overseas, and others said that Saudi students still tended to congregate in Arab districts and mix only with their own.

Regardless however, the presence of many young Saudi students in US and European universities is good for all sides, and the opportunity for dialogue and friendships to develop should not be missed. American and European students need also to reach out to Saudi students in their midst who may not be familiar with all the western customs and may feel isolated.We like to hear from Saudi students in Oxford and other British Universities about their experience.

One of the aims of OxGAPS is to offer a space for such dialogue, especially among the student community in Oxford. So if you have an opinion on this article, post a comment, or if you want to participate in any of our events drop us a line.

OxGAPS Team, Oxford University.

photo courtesy of Arab News.

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