Temple: take opportunity to learn from international students

Students have mixed reactions about what could help.

Ayah AlkersAs an international student, I’ve heard it all. “Your English is too good for it to be a second language,” is one, or more shocking, “So did you go through female circumcision back home?”

My replies to those statements would be thank you, and no.

Late in December 2013 I landed in Dulles International Airport in Washington D.C., my first time in the United States. I come from Kuwait, in the westernmost part of Asia, and the northeastern part of the Arabian peninsula. My first language is Arabic, but we learn English and French in school.

When some people learn I am a Kuwaiti national I sometimes am asked how I cope with the war back home. I’ll reply, but I know they’re wondering about the Iraq war of 1990, which ended in 1991, five years before I was born. Some will wonder about ISIS’ presence in Kuwait, which is ridiculous—Kuwait is 350 miles away from any area under the group’s control.

I understand people aren’t going to know everything about my country. It’s a very small country—even smaller than New Jersey. But I have noticed something: administrators I’ve dealt with, and several of my classmates, don’t know much about countries outside of the U.S., which makes me wonder: are the international students and students of different backgrounds actually making a significant impact on the school? Will each group of people be an exclusive group, where they let their culture and history “live” or will they share it with people from outside?

Rana Alamri, a junior information sciences and technologies major from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, feels like this is true of her country too.

“Sometimes Americans can be very ignorant, most of the time,” she said. “I like them, but it’s ridiculous. Like, ‘Oh you drink oil, you have oil money, you must be rich!’ which I am not, or ‘Where is Saudi Arabia?’ or questioning whether I was allowed to talk to men or not.”

Thao Duong, a freshman chemistry major from Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam, said he has also found difficulty interacting with American friends.

“There is still space for Temple to create a diverse, yet not segregated campus,” Duong said.

You might have seen or noticed this phenomenon on Temple’s Main Campus, where students of a certain race will stick together, especially international students.

It’s important to keep in mind that some of these students come from a different culture and might be extremely overwhelmed by how Americans act around each other, so they will resort to interacting with people from their own country.

Some student organizations like the Asian Students Association, have been working to break that self-segregation. Their events promote Asian culture across campus and boasts members from all over the world, including foreign exchange students from the United Kingdom.

“Our number one goal in Temple ASA is to provide a safe and welcoming space for all students to be themselves and grow together,” said Lue Vang, a senior biology and teaching major and President of ASA. “There’s an atmosphere where new members can feel that they truly matter and where they know there are other members who would sincerely like to meet them.”

Some students said they want to be segregated because of their differences from American students. Alamri feels like teachers do not take her situation under consideration as an international student.

“I have difficulty writing a full English paper for my Gen-Ed classes,” she said. Alamri added she would like to see more classes geared toward the needs of international students. Hameedah Taqi, a freshman biology major agreed, asking for more classes for non-native English speakers.

Alamri added the activities that are supposed to help international students mingle with domestic students could be better advertised.

She also said she doesn’t ever fear wearing her hijab on campus and hasn’t faced discrimination for doing so.

“People fear what they don’t know and they tend to label people and stick them into categories, it is much easier to give common judgement than try to understand something,” she said.

Temple’s campus has been advertised as diverse, and it certainly is. The mix of international students can offer a lot to the university, but it might take a while for all students to come to that understanding.

Ayah Alkhars can be reached at ayah.alkhars@temple.edu.


  1. I know this about Kuwait…

    The Palestinian expulsion from Kuwait or 1991 Palestinian exodus from Kuwait took place at the end of the Gulf War, when Kuwait expelled almost 450,000 Palestinians.[1] The policy which led to this exodus was a response to the alignment of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and the PLO with Saddam Hussein, who had earlier invaded Kuwait. The exodus took place during one week in March 1991, following Kuwait’s liberation from Iraqi occupation. The story received little media attention in the aftermath of the liberation of Kuwait.

    The policy which led to this expulsion was a response to the alignment of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and the PLO with Saddam Hussein, who had earlier invaded Kuwait. The expulsion took place during one week in March 1991, following Kuwait’s liberation from Iraqi occupation. On March 14, only 150,000 Palestinians were still residing in Kuwait, out of initial 450,000 – many of them fearful for their fate.[4]

    In total, Kuwait expelled 443,000 Palestinians.[1] Several Palestinians were killed by vigilante groups including some with links to the royal family.[5] With the completion of the exodus only 7,000 Palestinians remained.[1]
    Kuwaitis said that Palestinians leaving the country could move to Jordan, and that most Palestinians held Jordanian passports.[4] No reports of where the Palestinans actually went to after the expulsion have appeared.

  2. And I know this about Saudi Arabia…

    “To clarify: Wahhabism is the only officially recognized and allowed religion in Saudi Arabia. Other forms of Islam and other religions are banned and persecuted by the state.

    Saudi Arabia is the only Islamic state in which there is no church, no synagogue and no other place of worship of any other religion.

    Shiite Muslims have been systematically discriminated against for decades. Jews are even forbidden to enter the Kingdom.

    Saudi Arabia practices a form of Sharia law that is one of the most brutal systems in the world. Saudi Arabia has at all times rejected the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948.

    Women may not drive a car and can be punished by flogging. Corporal punishment, including amputations and executions, are part of everyday life in the country. Just two weeks ago a Sudanese immigrant in Saudi Arabia was publicly beheaded for ‘sorcery.’ Saudi Arabia is one of the few countries in the world in which the death penalty is enforced even on teenagers,” the paper said.

  3. I wish I took the time to refine my comment but I am compelled to post immediately.
    I will not seek a political debate on the issues of Kuwait or KSA, as that is not the purpose of this article written by Ayah. In fact, it furthers her point that little effort by many to understand the students of other backgrounds makes for a feeling of non-inclusivity on campus. The campus hardly wants to be known for this and most students are unintentionally contributing to the problem. Foreign students are not defined by their country of origin, and walking around with a list of facts hardly demonstrates a knowledge, respect, or appreciation for culture. Again, this is not a political post and my views on American, Kuwaiti, or Saudi politics are not being argued in this.
    I know this…
    A Kuwaiti student born in 1991 or even 1971 was not a decision-maker or key element in the state decision to expel anyone in 1991.
    I also know this…
    A Saudi student carrying out corporal punishment in their spare time while studying here in the great United States of America.

    If politics of another’s state is a source of concern or even anger, then all the more reason to connect with those students and make an honest attempt to know them. Students eventually graduate and have the capacity to effect change and improvement in all of our countries. This article is about knowing the student, not the state. Imagine this, our relationships and interactions may have a direct impact on not only a visiting students’ view of America and Americans, but what they bring back to their home country. It is counterproductive to engage with people holding an already assumed judgment on that person. Let’s realize that on the macro level, [all of] us students are the source of change and improvement in the years to come and we should want things better in the world than the many examples of bad decisions countries have made in the past. Finally, on the micro and personal level, these students visiting from other countries are people (and not faceless states) deserving of the equal treatment and inclusion of any other student on campus; not one of these students would have written the policy or norms of their country.

    The only thing I truly know…
    Understanding another person does not require agreeing with them, and if we get to know each other better, then we all benefit. The students around us today are who we will build the future with, let’s get to know them and avoid applying what others did in the past.

  4. Correction to my post!!
    A Saudi student IS NOT carrying out corporal punishment in their spare time while studying here in the great United States of America.

    What a terrible oversight, I hope the intent of my original post still gets across.

  5. Even more personal, it just sucks to pay a bunch of money and travel halfway around the world to a school only feel left out.

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