Students from Arabian Gulf states are finding academic homes where they can thrive at U.S. colleges and universities. The ranks of Saudi Arabian students especially are surging, up fourfold since 2010. Saudis now make up the third-largest contingent among the 1 million international students on American campuses.
Faisal bin Hawil, 23, was drawn by the opportunity to study political science and communications. “It was my dream since I was 15,” said Hawil, who has attended universities in Oregon, Virginia and Washington while working toward a bachelor’s degree and aspiring to become a diplomat.
He is already doing his part to dispel misconceptions that Americans have about Saudis and vice versa. He explains the modern Saudi Arabia to classmates and, back home, debunks stereotypes about the U.S.
“Some think Americans are just having fun most of the time,” he says. “I tell them, ‘No, they are working hard and [their] universities, institutions and governmental agencies make this country great.'”
George Washington University senior Rozana Saklou, 24, of Jeddah, once a chemistry major, is now working toward her bachelor’s degree and preparing to become a speech therapist to help Saudi children overcome disabilities. “I didn’t even know this major existed. It’s an amazing department. Everyone teaches from the heart,” she says. “Our classes on multicultural education are wonderful. We get the chance to speak up and compare our cultures.”
Rayan Alhazmi, 29, from Mecca, is completing a doctorate in transportation engineering at Catholic University. He has ambitions to reduce highway accidents back home. Catholic University “is very diverse. I love the atmosphere,” says Alhazmi, one of 180 Saudi students there.
He’s done volunteer work, including a blood drive and clean-ups at churches, temples and mosques, with Hand By Hand, a nonprofit that engages Saudi students at a number of universities and promotes interfaith and interreligious dialogue. It is supported by the Saudi Arabian Cultural Mission.
Thousands of students hail from other Gulf countries. Essa Al-Jehani, 22, of Doha, Qatar, a senior biochemistry major at Marymount University in Virginia, came “because of better opportunities, better experiences and more freedom with class choices.”
While bound for research science after he completes his bachelor’s degree, Al-Jehani loves classic English and Arabic poetry — as well as “the poetry in hip-hop.”
The gregarious Al-Jehani has many friends, American and international. He advises newly arrived students to get to know everyone they can. “You can hang out with your people, but don’t self-segregate,” he says. “Your language is not going to improve, and you’re not going to understand others’ perspectives.”
The departments of State and Education celebrate students like these during International Education Week November 14–18. Watch for the release of the Open Doors 2016 report, the nonprofit Institute of International Education’s census of international students and Americans studying abroad. Follow #IEW2016.