This guest blog is based on the doctoral dissertation entitled “From the Middle East to the Midwest: The Transition Experiences of Saudi Female International Students at a Midwest Campus University” by Alia Arafeh. If you interested in sharing research, news, or practice on international students, please email at SharpTalent@interEDGE.org.
How do Saudi female international students navigate their transitional experiences to study and live during their first two academic years in an urban Midwest university? This study explored the essence of the transition experiences of 10 female international students when they made the decision to study and live in the U.S. through their third semester in college.
Most research about international students does not account for their national, religious, cultural, and linguistic differences. Much of this previous research focuses on the students’ academic challenges and language barriers and non-academic challenges such as acculturation difficulties, alienation, and discrimination. The few studies that have addressed the specific experiences of Saudi female international students emphasized the social and academic challenges they encountered in the U.S.
Because Saudi female students come from a segregated culture where historic and current conditions for women leave them without many human rights in Saudi Arabia, I sought to understand their experiences in a U.S. university from their own perspectives. Schlossberg’s (1983) transition theory provided the theoretical foundation for understanding how Saudi female sophomore students progressed through moving into a Midwestern university in the U.S., moving through their first year, and moving on to their second year of study at the university.
Phenomenological inquiry approach was implemented to understand the essence of the 10 Saudi sophomores lived experiences. In-depth individual interviews followed by a focus interview with four of the participants elicited their reflections about their transition experiences evolved over time and the coping resources they employed to facilitate their transition.
Data analysis proceeded across five time periods starting from Time One, when the Saudi females made the decision to study and live in the U.S. Time Two, addressed their first semester in the U.S. and Time Three addressed their experiences in the second semester of their freshman year. Time Four encompassed the transition experiences of six of the participants who visited Saudi Arabia in summer, and Time Five addressed their transition experiences during the first semester of their sophomore year. Data analysis within each time period used the four Ss, of transition theory (Schlossberg, 1983): situation, support, self, and strategies, to understand the Saudi females own perspectives about their transitions over time.
Five main findings emerged from the data analysis:
1. Saudi females who participated in this study described primarily positive feelings about their experiences during the five stages of their transition to live and study in the U.S.
2. There was a strong relationship between the support these participants received from their fathers and their initial and emerging self- confidence.
3. Although they enjoyed life in the U.S., almost all Saudi females expressed their desire to go back to Saudi Arabia upon graduation to create positive changes in their home county.
4. The interrelationship between the four coping resources, situation, support, self, and strategies, fostered the emergence of self as a primary asset for all the participants.
5. Because of the inadequate campus support they received during their first academic year, these Saudi female students began to find ways to gain support from other resources during their second year.
This study also suggested four implications for practice and two implications for future research:
1. Because campus support for international students is inadequate, their services should be improved.
2. The English language support program that is expected to prepare international students linguistically and academically for college life needs to be improved to enable them to do college level work in English.
3. As Saudi students were not fully aware of the education system on U.S. campuses, a one credit course on college study skills would enhance their academic preparation for academic programs.
4. Fostering cultural awareness among domestic students would be through holding cultural events on campus. These events would break the ice between both domestic and international students that would foster healthy campus climate.
Future research should address the following two issues:
1. The transition experiences of Saudi female students when they go back to their home country upon completion of their academic programs should be explored to improve understanding of the repatriate experience life in Saudi Arabia.
2. More research is needed on American students’ perceptions of international students, particularly Muslim students.
Alia Arafeh holds a Ph.D. in Urban Education: Adult, Continuing, and Higher Education Leadership from the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee, a M.S. in Educational Leadership in Higher Education from the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh. Her research interests include international students, internationalization of higher education, multiculturalism, diversity, and globalization.