HOMETOWN: TAIF, SAUDI ARABIA
GRADUATE STUDENT AT OKLAHOMA CITY UNIVERSITY (OKLAHOMA CITY, OKLAHOMA)
STUDYING: TEACHING ENGLISH TO SPEAKERS OF OTHER LANGUAGES
Why did you decide to come to the U.S. to study?
I decided to come to pursue my Master of Arts studies and to achieve my goals to become a better teacher of English …. to increase my professional knowledge and to gain a better understanding of a new culture.
How did you choose Oklahoma City University?
I chose Oklahoma City University because of their MA program in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL). The university has a long-established program which emphasizes theory and practical experience. I wanted to teach in the U.S., and it was possible to do this here by taking MA classes, which are smaller and cater to the needs and interests of graduate students. I did my undergraduate degree in English, and I will be a professional English instructor in the future when I return to Saudi Arabia.
Oklahoma City University offers more than 70 undergraduate majors and 20 graduate degrees.
Do you live on or off campus?
I used to live on the OCU campus with an American roommate. However, I recently moved off campus into the community.
What’s your favorite place on campus?
The library is where I spend most of my time. As a graduate student, this becomes your favorite place to do coursework and research that could help with your future.
Do you ever feel homesick? How do you deal with it?
Sometimes, I do. I try to keep myself busy so I don’t preoccupy myself with thoughts about home. I talk to family and friends often, and I know that I will return to my country when I am finished with my work here.
How often do you go home?
Once a year.
What do you think of American food – on and off campus?
I prefer diverse types of food. I am actually not sure what “American” food is. There are so many types of restaurants and food options here that I try to explore all of them. I prefer food that is similar to the type found in Saudi Arabia, since I am used to this style. I do like to try new tastes though.
Are most of your friends American or other nationalities? Do you have any advice about making American friends?
I have American, Korean, Chinese, Jordanian, Iraqi, Libyan, Moroccan, Brazilian and South African friends. As for making American friends, it is just a matter of reaching out and sharing interests and hobbies. At my university, I am active in campus organizations in which I interact with many Americans. I have gotten to know them because I try to reach out and meet people. You have to be open to new people and new situations.
What surprised you the most about the U.S.?
I guess I have not been so surprised about the U.S. since we know quite a bit about the country before coming here. You see and hear about it in movies and in the news. Of course, living here gives you a different picture sometimes. I am surprised sometimes about the American culture. … One thing that I have noticed, which is different from my country, has to do with family. In Saudi Arabia, family ties are very important and relationships among family members play a very important role in daily and weekly life. It is common for the Saudi extended family to meet for lunch or dinner every few weeks. In the U.S., I am surprised to often hear that families rarely meet or that children and siblings are distanced from each other.
What’s the strangest or funniest thing that’s happened to you since coming here?
I think people here have some interesting misconceptions about life in Saudi Arabia. There are many false stereotypes that are humorous and, sometimes, disturbing. My American friends assumed that I own an oil well and am wealthy. Unfortunately, not all Saudis have oil pumps in their backyards as some Americans believe. These are funny moments and are part of what it means to live and learn in another country.
How do you spend your free time?
I was the president of Saudi Student Association, so for the past year I have spent most of my time arranging different activities and participating with various student organizations on the Oklahoma City University campus. I participated in Homecoming 2013 with my department’s TESOL club. I have also been involved in a volunteer community service program called “Us to U.S.” under the supervision of the Saudi Arabian Cultural Mission in Washington. In Oklahoma, I developed a team called “Saudis in Oklahoma” as part of “Us to U.S.” This was a great opportunity for Saudi students to participate in outreach services such as volunteering at the Oklahoma Food Bank, a state organization that helps those in need.
What do you know now that you wish you had known before you came to America to study?
I wish I had had a better understanding of how to interact with American people, and, in particular, the cultural differences that would make my adjustment to my new American life go smoothly. There are often little differences that can lead to misunderstandings or it might makes people feel offended. For example, I had no idea idea before about the American concept of leaving ” personal space” (between you and another person) when you have a conversation with someone in public places or in meetings.
What are the 3 best pieces of advice you would give to students from Saudi Arabia about studying in America?
1. Take this opportunity seriously and try hard to learn more about all aspects of your experience abroad. It is not just about your major but about learning to adjust to all aspects of the new culture you will encounter and the people you will meet.
2. Be open to difference and involve yourself in American society beyond the campus. Participate and volunteer on and off campus.
3. Be a good ambassador of the principles that guide you — faith, culture, language — and be prepared to listen and learn from your surroundings.
What are your plans for after graduation?
I’m planning to do my Optional Practical Training by hopefully working with a U.S. school or educational institution and then continue with my Ph.D.