From Saudi Arabia to Cambridge MA: A Lesley Student’s Journey

In April 2009, I visited the United States as a tourist. I did not think that I would come back to this country again as a student.  But after several years, I came to Boston to study; and so began my journey to explore the American culture and lifestyle. Without any doubt, there are some differences between those two countries ranging from simple things such as weather to the way of life.  Let me explain some of the differences.

Back in Saudi Arabia, we do not have public transportation, and as a woman, if I want to use an automobile, there has to be a male to drive me. (Lately, our government is working to provide trains but it hasn’t happened yet; I don’t think the project will be finished for two more years.)  Also, in my country, I was not able to do a lot of walking outdoors since our weather is usually very hot, plus most of our roads are highways. By contrast here in Boston, I can use the public transportation, and walking outdoors is not difficult at all.

Another big difference is that in the United States, you are free to wear whatever you want; but in Saudi Arabia, the women are expected to wear an abaya, which is a garment that fully covers everything except the hands. Even the non-Muslim women have to wear it because it is a tradition. So in these regards, life in the United States has been easier for me. I wear jeans, and I can have male friends (by the way, it is not a norm in Saudi Arabia for men and women to socialize in public).

Also, in Saudi Arabia, we do not have as much racial diversity as they do in the United States.  Everyone thinks of themselves as Saudis, whether they are Arabs or not. Moreover, we are all Muslims, no matter where our parents came from.  I had friends whose grandparents were from Nigeria, and friends whose parents were from Uzbekistan. None of that matters in KSA (the abbreviation for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia), because we are all united under Islam. When I was in public school, the majority of the students were Saudi Muslims; most of foreigners came from countries such as Sudan or Egypt, but they were usually Muslims too.  In fact, I never met a student who was a Non-Muslim at my school. This is very different from the United States where there are many different religions and beliefs; and everybody knows and is ‘proud’ of their ethnic group– such as being Irish or Italian.  So, people live in “their neighborhoods,”– like many Hispanic or black people live in Mattapan, many Irish live in South Boston, many Italians live in  the North End.  To me, America seems very divided because of this.

Another thing that I had never experienced, because I come from a country where people are the same, is religious discrimination. Of course, we have religious problems in our country, and religious minorities would have a different story, like the Shiites who live in the North East of Saudi Arabia; but I am Sunni, so religious prejudice never touched me until I came to the US.  Here is what happened. I do not wear the hijab, so I have never faced any experience of being bothered. However, my mom does wear a hijab, and when she and I were in New York, some guys in Times Square were talking to each other as my mom and I passed by them. They gestured towards my mom, saying; “She is a Muslim! Allah Akbar, Boom.” It is sorrowful that some people insult you because of your religion or your skin color. But this was a very different and interesting moment for me, because that was the first time someone hurt my feelings based on my religious views. I suddenly understood how minorities in my country must feel all the time.  I promised myself that anytime someone says something bad about others based on religion in my country, I will stop them and say that this is wrong.

Another thing I encountered in the US was how many stereotypes people had about Saudis, and also how curious people genuinely were. I remember when I was studying in the English Language Institute, a lot of students, when they heard that I’m from Saudi Arabia, said, “Oh, you are a rich girl! Ha, do you have oil in your house? Do you ride a camel?” Seriously, people, calm down! Another thing I also faced was a lot of questions: “Is it true that women cannot drive in your country? Can the men marry more than one woman? Why don’t you cover your hair? Why don’t you drink?” Actually, I drink — water. But these questions drove me crazy, at first! Sometimes, I thought that I came from another planet because of the curiosity that people have about my country and our attitudes. Now, I am used to hearing and answering; I know some people are just curious, and they don’t mean to be rude.

And in spite of that bad experience my mom faced, I refuse to say Americans are bad because I know that people are not all the same! I find here in Boston that there are a lot of friendly people, who do not care about what you look like; they open the door for you, asking you if you want some help to find something, and they are so helpful and kind.  It reminds me of back home, where hospitality is one of the main things any visitor would find. During my stay at Lesley, while I have not made a lot of close friends, I have met many kind people and found that we have a lot in common.  I know we are all human beings, and we have the same needs, fears, and dreams.  Boston has actually become my second home and I am very comfortable here.

In conclusion, my time in the US has given me a lot of experience, expanded my knowledge about the world and myself, and led me to meet a lot of people who come from different places. I’ve discovered new cultures and traditions, and learned new words from different languages; I’ve also tried different food. Living alone gives me a more independent life. One more year studying here, and then I will return to my country; but definitely, I know I will miss Lesley, and I will miss Boston.

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