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

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

The number of Saudi students studying in the United States quintupled from 3,035 students in 2005 to 15,810 students in 2010 due to a fully funded Saudi government scholarship (Open Doors, 2010). As students originating in a cultural background differing from the prevailing principles of their higher education institutions, Saudi students face several challenges. The cultural challenges are one of the most frequently apparent among these challenges (Constantine, Okazaki, & Utsey, 2004; Miller, 2002). Building upon the relationship between the cultural beliefs and student academic achievement, this study aimed at examining the cultural aspects of the increased presence of Saudi students enrolled in the various academic programs at a Mid-Western research university, Riverside State University, a pseudonym. The study followed the qualitative method for data collection and analysis. After conducting initial site observations and document reviews, primary data were collected from open ended interviews with students, administrators, and professors at the university. Study findings revealed various cultural implications arising from the continuous increase of Saudi students on American higher education campuses. The cultural construct was shown to have several subsequent aspects including: transition, academic life, and social life. University support systems were explored to demonstrate a replicable model that can be adopted to ease the cultural adjustment of these students. Recommendations demonstrate how various techniques can be utilized to increase Saudi students' engagement for academic success.

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). …