Fouad Alfarhan graciously agreed to post here, in English, his earlier Arabic post, which deals with the essence of the 3 types of Saudi scholarship student as he frames them, how to become a heroic one, the importance and desirability of that, and the impact for Saudi of the return of the hero type. He did the initial translation of parts from his Arabic post, I "translated" the rest, and together we edited it to meet the quality of his original. This post complements Advice to Saudi and Other Foreign Students Studying Abroad--Part I Chiara's 10 Recommendations and 10 Tips.
It is not my habit to wear a turban and mentor like a preacher. This role does not suit me. I am well aware of my limitations as a human being, and that all are imperfect. As we say, in the end everything turns to dust. I also do not like to play this role because I am afraid to give the impression of becoming - God forbid - like those whom we are accustomed to have inhabiting our skin day and night; and who exercise the roles of direction, guidance, and thinking on our behalf, usurping our minds--without bothering to try to plant the seeds of thought and in-depth analysis--and our independence.
For today only, I will try to play this role in order to provide a number of recommendations to my brothers and sisters holding Saudi scholarships abroad; and on whom we rely on their return to make a truly effective contribution in building this nation.
The 3 Types of Scholarship Student
This Saudi student is being cool, is not taking life in the West seriously. S/he treats the student years in the West as a tourist would-- trying their best to have as much fun as possible, without being serious in studies or in life generally. S/he chooses a specific major because friends say it's a good one, and might lead to a good, well-paying job in that field, NOT because s/he loves it and feels close to that field. S/he rarely visits the library or does serious reading. S/he spends more time on Facebook/ Twitter/ Youtube and online generally, than on studies, reading, and researching. S/he does not show up for classes, doesn't do home-work or assignments independently, or on time; has low grades--just doesn't care about anything. S/he's busy following Saudi news, affairs, and longstanding cultural wars between religious scholars and newspapers columnists, and following them more closely than need be. This Fool is a lost cause, and a lost hope for us Saudis. This person will come back the exact same person as before the scholarship studies, except for the fun, but still lacking real knowledge or exposure to the true positive aspects of Western society. My point here is, yes, you can have a lot of fun, but still take life and school sufficiently seriously.
This person was either very religious before embarking on scholarship studies, and held very negative views and fears about Western society; or, the person was crushed by the initial "Culture Shock", and felt extremely home-sick. S/he's too afraid to mingle and open up to experiencing the new host society. So, s/he just isolates her/himself, and only mingles with other Saudis/Arabs/Muslims, seeking a buffer from this "lost" society and its people. S/he's counting the days to graduation, and to go back to the home country and people. The Fearful person is also a lost cause for us Saudis, because s/he didn't really try to open up to the new host society, and gain all the needed positives from it. My point here is, you can be a proud religious person, but still gain exposure to Western society, mingle with its people, make a positive impact there, and also receive all the positives from it. You'll not lose your identity or belief, if it's strong and you have enough confidence.
The Hero may or may not be particularly religious. S/he does really well in school, takes it seriously, and most importantly gets very much involved in the new host society. S/he returns a different person than the one who left; made a difference in the host society; and was changed because of all the positive things s/he saw, experienced, and lived in that society. S/he'll find life here in Saudi more difficult on return because people don't like it when people change. Still, this is the kind of person who will make a difference in our life here, and will lead the Change.
Saudi students celebrate Eid Al Fitr on the campus of Purdue University
11 Ways to Return a Hero
1) Absorb the positives and return resilient enough to apply them for positive change in Saudi
Changing one's ideas, views about what is right, and ways of dealing with others is never easy. It is human nature to hate and fear change. A person may be comfortable with self, and others may be comfortable with the person who hasn't changed, saying "God has willed that so and so return to us successful, but before straying from the right path." If you do change, which is almost inevitable, people may wonder about you. However, it is desirable to incorporate into your personality positive aspects of the skills and ideas you learn abroad, and do so thoroughly enough to be able to resist the attempts of others to have you return to your "old self", the one with whom they are most comfortable.
2) Mingle, engage, and interact with the host society to learn most about it and understand it best
Look around you! Is everyone around you an Arab, a Muslim, a brother/sister, a compatriot? If so, your situation is not good. You are not Socrates or Ibn Rushd to sit aside, not get involved in the community, and think that by observation alone you'll be able to know the positives in that society and claim them. You must get involved yourself in order to grasp the positive aspects. It is pure nonsense to believe one could do so based on theory only.
3) Join mainstream university clubs not just the MSA and other like-minded ones
While I did join the MSA, it is not sufficient to do so, because most of your friends there will be Saudis, Arabs, or other Muslims, whom you meet constantly anyway at the mosque or in residence. There are many university clubs and associations: academic, scientific, cultural, and recreational. You can join more than one club at a time--you have lots of free time, as you well know. Joining these clubs is a great opportunity to get to know the host culture and society, and know its members well.
4) Join civil society or civics minded groups in your city
In order to enrich your knowledge, and gain positive experiences faster, it's good to learn about civil societies in your Western city. There are definitely specialized associations in your field of study: computer, economics, politics, environment, urbanization, media, human rights, etc. Western communities could not exist without such free associations which are the strength of every free and independent community. By joining them, you will expand your awareness and greatly increase your experience in a way you c annot imagine now; and certainly, you will be a significant addition to those associations.
It is true that there is no civil society in Arabia now; but there is no doubt that it is coming, because it is the only solution--there is no other solution. Building a civil society, where independence is the right of all members of society, is the natural development of any society which seeks to progress. It is largely up to us, the thousands of young men and women who, thanks to scholarships, have lived closely for several years in a civil society, and are the most likely to be ready to be the nucleus of our civil social institutions, those coming in the future of Saudi Arabia.
5) Participate as a non-voter in elections
It is true that you do not hold the nationality of the country in which you are studying, and thus you are not entitled to vote in elections. However, you can introduce yourself to the campaign workers of a candidate for upcoming elections whose ideas you feel are acceptable to you. Tell them that you can help in promoting a promising candidate to the Arab and Muslim community. They will welcome you warmly, and you will become a member of the team. The experience of working in parliamentary and presidential elections is a unique one; and, a wonderful, inspiring help in the development of your cultural knowledge of politics and civil rights. It is also true that today here in Saudi we have only municipal council elections-which have been postponed-but what may be the situation several years from now?
6) Write articles for the university and local papers
If you are a skilled writer, you can send articles and comments to the university or local papers. As there is freedom of the press in the West, if your articles and comments are good there is a reasonable expectation that they will be published.
Saudi scholarship students, in South Korea, reading The Korea Times
7) Choose a mosque free of chronic internal strife
Are there problems in your mosque of Salafists vs the Muslim Brotherhood vs Sufis? Are there sensitivities among Saudis/Gulf Arabs, and others, or with African Americans, etc? Are there problems with a place for women to pray, or with mixing at dinners, or at weekly or monthly meetings? Are there problems about the start dates of Ramadan and the Eids? My advice is not to be biased, and not to fall yourself into these chronic problems among Muslims, which have not yet been resolved, and will not be resolved in the near future. Select a mosque in which to find calm and rest only. Listen to local directions, and break your fast with those around you. Forget Saudi Arabian timings.
8) Visit a church
Are you knowledgeable about your culture and your religion? Visit a church and ask for an interview with the cleric. Tell him or her that you wish, at some time, to have the opportunity to speak to the parishioners about Islam. Unfortunately, the image of Islam has suffered a terrible distortion in the West because of the violence and murder associated with extremism, and because of the extreme right-wing media as well. You can help to correct this image by speaking with a group, however small, in one of the churches, and trying to correct this negative image.
9) Work on campus, and off, if your visa allows
I worked in a restaurant, even as a barman. Universities in the West often provide on-campus employment opportunities for foreign students. Try to work on campus, no matter what the job, even if you don't need the money. If your legal status allows you to work off campus, this is an opportunity not to be missed. Interaction with others in a work setting is a wonderful and priceless human experience.
10) Be honest
Do you have unpaid bills? Do you have a bad credit rating? Are your credit card payments overdue? Have you avoided paying your rent? Be honest in your financial dealings, and correct honestly any past financial misdeeds, or rue the day if you don't.
11) Avoid fruitless, crazy, pseudo-intellectual debates
Stop all the forums, groups, and sites full of nonsense about Saudi intellectual and social wars. These wars have nothing to do with you. It is enough that others continue to engage in them. Please, don't you get involved in these delusional battles too.
Update with recommendations from a fellow blogger: learn about local history, visit museums, and monuments; have the old guy at the coffee shop tell you about earlier times; visit Arab restaurants as a last resort; inform your doctor you are an Arab to strengthen the physician-patient relationship; remember to congratulate friends on special occasions and events; get to know the families of your friends.
Newly arrived Saudi scholarship students preparing an iftar,
for University dignitaries, faculty, and students,
for University dignitaries, faculty, and students,
University of Sydney, Australia, Ramadan 2005 (article).
Advantages Gained by Engagement with the Host Community
Your interaction with the host community, in a genuine and positive way, will have a number of benefits for our Saudi society:
A civil society is the basis of any advanced society; one that takes it beyond daily routines. Without a civil society, a society is only a group of individuals who live to eat and drink, while waiting for the Angel of Death to come and take them to the Afterlife, in the hope that God in Heaven awaits them there. They forget their duty to God and life here on earth.
Intellectual pluralism is the essence of any healthy normal society. Those who come from a totalitarian society, which tries to force its members to believe in a single way of life and a single discourse, find pluralism impossible to conceptualize. Learn for yourself the strengths of pluralism; watch the groups, parties, and currents rising from the richness and diversity of the community; and note the improvements generated by this internal competition. It is this, in the end, which makes developed nations, the ones to which we send our young people in order that they may draw from their knowledge of those nations to our social benefit.
Women's Roles and Rights
Women are living organisms who can carry out roles beyond baby-making and cooking. While you will find humiliation of women in places such as discotheques, and in other forms of semi-nudity, you'll find women are active members in all aspects of society. Hopefully you will become more convinced of an expanded role for women in our society, one which we badly need.
There is nothing like it. You'll find yourself a free individual in a society that does not tie down your energies and your personal opinions. When you come back and live here in Saudi for a while, you will understand very well what freedom means, that which we once had, then lost! Probably this experience will increase the value of freedom for you personally, and for the society in which you must live!
Transparency, equality, justice, democracy, fighting corruption
All are very much a part of your host society. It is true that, contrary to these values and mores, there are some stories, appearances, and attitudes that may be monitored, but what surveillance there may be is most often the exception, rather than the norm. Transparency is necessary to combat corruption, and to fight for equality, justice, and democracy, for the progress of society. These are all important in order for us to reach the level of those nations where we send students so that they may draw upon the knowledge of those progressive societies.
Saudi and American students hip-hop dancing, 2007,
from an interesting article in InsideHigherEd,
from an interesting article in InsideHigherEd,
on how host universities can support Saudi students academically and socially
The 3 Choices for Scholarship Students
So, Dear Friend, you've 3 choices:
- Either you'll come back as a Fool: you might finish your program, with low grades; you didn't really learn a lot from Western society because you were acting like you were on a long tourist trip. You'll be the same person as you were before you left, and your friends and family will still like you easily on return because you didn't change!
- Or, you will come back Fearful: as one who could not overcome the culture shock. You didn't have as much fun as the Fool, and you might have done well academically, but you never got involved in the new host society. So, you didn't really learn much from it. People here will still like you--unfortunately.
- Or, you can come back as a Hero: you finished school in the specialty and major you love. You got very involved in the new host society. You learned a lot from it. You made real friends from all around the world; and, you left a very good impression on them as a Saudi. At the same time, you gained a lot from them, and from everyday life in your host society.
Saudi students, Leeds, UK
Thank you to Fouad for sharing his post here, and for his help with rendering it into English. If you read Arabic, please do read the Arabic original, and the comments there
What are your impressions of Fouad's typology?
Do they apply more universally, as well as to Saudi scholarship students, in your experience?
What are the implications for Saudi scholarship students who do return changed (sometimes in ways they didn't recognize themselves)?
How can they maintain the gains of the Hero after their return, while not suffering unduly?
How much is gained/ wasted for Saudi society by having the Fearful graduates return with technical skills only?
How does the structure of the Saudi scholarship contribute or not to the perpetuation of the Fool's behaviour?
Any additions to, or comments on Fouad's advice?
Any other comments, thoughts, impressions, experiences?
Any other comments, thoughts, impressions, experiences?
Advice to Saudi and Other Foreign Students Studying Abroad--Part I Chiara's 10 Recommendations and 10 Tips