Graduate says cold US winters all part of the education experience
ABU DHABI // International students from hot climates sometimes have trouble adjusting to the bitterly cold and dark winters of the United States, but not Saad Hamoodi.
“I loved it. As painful as it gets, as cold as it gets, I still miss it,” said Mr Hamoodi, who graduated from Northeastern University in Boston in 2012.
Weather is one of a number of unique challenges that Emirati and other Arab students face while studying in the US, experts say.
“The most obvious of these challenges is difficulty learning and expressing oneself in English, but other challenges exist that extend far outside the classroom, such as experiencing a new culture and living far from family and friends,” Dr Hazza Abu Rabia wrote in the study Undergraduate Arab International Students’ Adjustment to US Universities published online in the International Journal of Higher Education this month.
After interviewing 16 Arab students – including an Emirati – enrolled at two universities in northeastern United States, Dr Rabia found the students experienced different levels of culture shock, language difficulties, cultural differences and isolation.
“The challenges only amplified the participants’ prevailing feelings of homesickness,” Dr Rabia wrote. “The majority of Arab international students were away from their families for the first time and not accustomed to the individualistic atmosphere of an American university.”
The US department of state’s Education USA network of more than 400 international student advising centres in more than 175 countries, including the UAE, organises activities such as pre-departure orientations and offers resources to help students prepare and develop skills to adjust to new challenges in the United States, said Alfred Boll, branch chief for Education USA in the US.
“Topics discussed with students include cultural differences, motivation for studying abroad, changes in their home environment, academic systems and expectations, housing, and coping in a new cultural setting,” said Mr Boll. “If students have specific questions, they can contact the Education USA advising centre at the US embassy in Abu Dhabi or the US consulate general in Dubai, or visit educationusa.state.gov.”
The choice of school can make a big difference in a student’s ability to adjust and have a successful academic career, said Anushka Chugani, director of operations for Hale Education, which counsels international students from the UAE.
“Many international students tend to transfer, we’ve been seeing that a lot in the last year,” said Ms Chugani, who was herself an international student at Tufts University.
“They realise that they’re not at the right school, they’re not happy and for whatever reason it is, whether it’s the place, whether it’s settling in, finding people that they can connect with, that’s probably the most important part of the process in the US.”
Ms Chugani said she advises students abroad to take advantage of their school’s international student centre, which have advisers and counsellors who can help them work through their issues.
Mr Hamoodi described his five years in the US as an “excellent experience”.
He said it helped that he had a strong command of English, which he picked up in the American curriculum school he attended in the capital, and had an easy time making friends.
“For some people, this is all new to them,” said Mr Hamoodi. “You have to give it a chance and you have to be willing. I think it’s more of a life lesson than it is educational. You have to keep an open mind. I mean, you learn to find yourself when you’re out of your comfort zone. You learn to know what you like, what you don’t like, what kind of people you get along with. You’re going to have ups and downs, like anywhere else. I highly recommend it.”