Cultural Impacts on Saudi Students at a Mid-Western American University

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

The increased presence of a unique group of international students enrolled in the various master programs in the college of education attracted our academic and professional attention. Although the literature available at the time did not address the phenomenon, a quick review of the 2007 media reports and national statistics of international enrollment revealed a surge in the numbers of Saudi students enrolled at American institutions due to a fully-funded Saudi government scholarship that sends students to American universities to obtain graduate or undergraduate degrees (Institute of International Education, 2007). This confirmed the value of informed and structured research. We conducted an exploratory case study involving two Saudi students, one administrator, and one faculty member. The study revealed that different aspects of the cultural construct are central to this group of students while studying in the United States.

RATIONALE OF THE STUDY

American higher learning institutions have witnessed an increasing influx of Saudi students since 2005 as compared to their numbers in previous decades (Institute of International Education, 2007). The academic year 2009-2010 has been a peak year for international students' enrollment in the United States with Saudi Arabia ranking tenth among the countries of origin of international students for the first time with 12,661 students (Open Doors, 2009). The presence of this growing student group on American campuses has significant implications for student affairs professionals, college professors and university administrators. Saudi students are experiencing circumstances different from other international students due to distinctive economic, academic, psychological, social, cultural, religious, and political factors (Miller, 2002). At RSU, Saudi students represent one fourth of the international population on campus comparable to Chinese and Indian students (Office of International Programs, 2009). In this article we explore one aspect of this phenomenon at RSU concerning the cultural construct of a sample of these students and its influence on their academic and social performance.

Scholars have addressed social, economic, and academic issues related to international students. Recently, researchers began investigating international students' adjustment patterns, linguistic problems, campus involvement, and academic achievement (McClure, 2007; Poyrazli & Grahame, 2007; Wang, 2004). Though not fully comprehensive, a limited number of studies examined the cultural aspects regarding international students (Constantine, Okazaki, & Utsey, 2004; Wang, 2004). The current study, therefore, comes as a logical step considering the scarcity of studies of cultural constructs and the increasing Saudi student presence as part of the international student body on American campuses. Findings of the study reveal several essential aspects that can be helpful to stake holders of higher education in accommodating Saudi students.

PURPOSE AND RESEARCH QUESTIONS

As cultural constructs impact student success in colleges, this study explores cultural constructs of a group of Saudi students studying for a college degree in the United States in an effort to explore the multifaceted dimensions of their cultural background and the measures that can address their adjustment challenges to maximize success and benefits from their college experience. The study also offers a deeper understanding of the psychological alienation created by their presence outside their zones of comfort. Related to academic achievement, the patterns of cultural behaviors influencing these students while pursuing their degrees will also reveal rarely visited areas unique to the Saudi case. The research aimed to discover: 1) what Saudi students expect when applying to RSU and the extent to which they perceive their expectations were met, 2) what perceived challenges faced these students, and 3) the effectiveness of support systems employed by RSU with respect to easing the adjustment of these students and providing them with necessary college survival skills. …