In the two years since the Saudi Arabian government began a scholarship program aiming to send more students to American colleges, thousands of Saudis have flowed onto campuses across the country. According a report from the online publication Inside Higher Ed, many universities – including one in Colorado – are trying to educate faculty, staff, and students on how to reach out to the new arrivals:
The interest in better supporting the Saudi Arabian student population – and averting any backlash to their presence in large numbers in unexpected places like Missoula, Montana – remains high. “In addition to reaching out to them in a proactive sense, one could easily state that we’ve reached out to the campus as a whole practically,” says Brian Lofink, the liaison for international programs at the University of Montana. “It’s a two-way street.”
The Office of International Programs at Colorado State University in Fort Collins held a series of workshops last spring called Understanding and Serving Middle Eastern and Arabic Speaking Students. The workshops, which were funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of State, were designed to help staff and faculty better understand Middle Eastern higher education.
With such a big influx of Saudi students in a short time period, universities have been lagging in creating effective programs, according to Inside Higher Ed reporter Elizabeth Redden.
But by and large, the recent history of Saudi-U.S. interaction on U.S. campuses is characterized by “broad failures,” says Grant Smith, director of research for the Institute for Research: Middle Eastern Policy, a Washington think tank supportive of increased relations with the Arab world that conducted an online survey this spring of Saudi students in the United States. The results suggested that Saudi students are spending more time with other Saudis than they are with either American students or foreign students from other countries, and many feel they’re receiving only “average treatment” from tutors and teaching assistants.
“Some of the reasons that you’d think we’d want these students here in terms of integration, getting to know us, our way of life – they’re not happening,” says Smith.