Getting through college is hard enough, but doing it away from your home is a real challenge. With the rise of Islamophic attacks in the US attacks following the recent presidential election, it can even be dangerous. It’s every parent’s job to worry about their children, so Muslim parents worked with The Jubilee Project to make a video telling their children to be comfortable with their culture.
KSA students in US colleges are definitely aware of Islamophobia, but all of the students interviewed by Sayidaty say that they don’t feel directly discriminated against.
“I never felt outcast or any of its synonyms,” says Dona Alburi, a biology student at Boston University. “Whether in college or outside, I've always felt like I blended in with my surroundings.”
It helps that US universities often have clubs focusing on Arab, Muslim, and Saudi culture, and give resources to help international students get used to their new surroundings. Still, Muslim students sometimes stand out from the rest.
“I sometimes get stared at by people just because of speaking in another language, Arabic,” says Khalid Alturki, a mechanical engineering student at Boston University.
“Although it sometimes is a simple glance, I get the vibe of an outsider every now and then.”
But the cultural exchange goes both ways. Just as others may be curious or confused by Saudi culture, Saudi students want to learn more about their peers. “Learning about cultures fosters understanding and helps you realize that there’s more than one way to do something. As an international student at BU, I’m glad to have made friends from different walks of life who challenge my thinking.”
Finding a balance between fitting in and retaining their culture is difficult, and everyone has their own way of doing it. Melfi Alrashidi, a graduate student at the University of Toledo, says that prayer keeps him in touch with his culture. For Alturki, surrounding himself with Arab friends keeps him close to home.
“Whether it is going to an Arabic restaurant, playing card games, or studying together, a community to fall back on is very helpful,” Alturki says. “Especially after the rumpus the recent election has caused.”
But there are some situations where it’s beneficial to hide Saudi culture. “When Saudis say hi they kiss each other on the cheek,” says Alrashidi. “Here, this can be interpreted in the wrong way.”
Although these small gestures have to be adapted to new surroundings, KSA students are proud of their heritage and emphasize its importance. Alturki notes that culture doesn’t change based on your location – whether in the US or at home, he is still Saudi.
“Developing your ideologies is vital,” Alturki says. “However, understanding the essence of our culture and sticking to its values is equally essential. This is how stereotypes are broken.”