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Helping Arab women ease into US campuses

 
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nomad soul



Joined: 31 Jan 2010
Posts: 11448
Location: The real world

PostPosted: Mon Jun 01, 2015 4:29 pm    Post subject: Helping Arab women ease into US campuses Reply with quote

For those of you who have Arabic L1 female students in your classes:

Helping Arab Women Ease Into U.S. Campuses
By David Wheeler, Al-Fanar | 1 June 2015
Source: http://www.al-fanarmedia.org/2015/06/helping-arab-women-ease-into-u-s-campuses/

BOSTON— Speakers at a meeting of international educators last week tried to shed some insight into how Western campuses could better welcome Arab women.

In a warm-up exercise for a session on “Best Practices on Integrating Arab Women Into U.S. Universities,” Salma Benhaida, an international admissions counselor at Kent State University, in Ohio, asked members of the audience to use one word to describe how an Arab woman would feel as she prepared to go to the United States to study. “Apprehensive,” said one person. “Anxious,” said another. “Internal screaming,” said another. And lastly, “Excited.” The discussion took place at the annual meeting of Nafsa: Association of International Educators.

For women from those Gulf countries where classrooms are usually segregated by gender, their initial campus experience can be unsettling, speakers said. “It is a shock for them to come and immediately be in a mixed classroom,” said Eshraq Alkhabbaz, a counselor and recruiter of middle eastern students at the University of Northern Iowa. For many Arab women, their families are a central source of support, she added, and a move overseas can strip them of that support.

The speakers brought some written comments from students, mostly from religiously conservative backgrounds. A Jordanian woman who came for a master’s degree in healthcare management said that communicating with Americans after having learned British English was difficult for her. She said getting healthcare when she was pregnant and finding suitable dresses—wide and long—were also hard for her in the United States.

For an Egyptian woman who won a Fulbright scholarship, her problem was not the United States, but her own family, who expected her to stay in her home country and focus on getting married. “They were far from proud,” she said, adding “My biggest problem was not admissions or classwork but my family and culture in Egypt.”

Speakers recommended some specific things that universities could do to help Arab women settle in, including:
    -- Make a point of talking to the future student’s family, said Karen Bauer, regional director of the MENA region for Education USA, a State Department sponsored network of student advising centers. Understanding the student’s family situation—if she is single or married, if her family is coming with her or staying behind, is vital.
    -- Help to arrange for childcare for those women who arrive with children. Arab women are used to having their families help care for their children and may be surprised to discover waiting lists at local daycare centers or the expense of a paid childcare provider.
    -- Provide halal food at social functions so that practicing Muslims following dietary rules aren’t asked the awkward question “Why don’t you eat?”
    -- Break stereotypes when thinking about social activities Arab women might enjoy—go beyond cooking and think about canoeing or ice skating.
    -- Make it everyone’s job on campus to help Arab women, not just the international office. Some departments, such as women’s centers, may turn out to be natural allies. Others may resist until convinced.
Some speakers urged the audience to consider women-only events, such as teas, meetings with women from other countries on campus, or women-only nights at campus recreation centers. Then Arab women could take advantage of features like climbing walls or swimming pools that they might be shy to use when men are around, speakers said. But others at the session said campus regulations (and possibly even federal or state laws) might prohibit campus events if all students, including men, weren’t welcome to attend.

Amal J. Fatani, general supervisor of female affairs at the Saudi Ministry of Higher Education, who attended the session, suggested both Saudi students visiting America and their hosts should relax a little. Saudi female students come to the United States to “Live American life,” she said. “They have to understand that it’s your country, your rules,” she said. Likewise, she advised the Western hosts: “Enjoy them and let them enjoy you.”

(End of article)
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rtm



Joined: 13 Apr 2007
Posts: 1003
Location: US

PostPosted: Mon Jun 01, 2015 8:27 pm    Post subject: Re: Helping Arab women ease into US campuses Reply with quote

Thanks for posting this interesting article, NS.

David Wheeler wrote:
Speakers recommended some specific things that universities could do to help Arab women settle in, including:
    -- Make a point of talking to the future student’s family, said Karen Bauer, regional director of the MENA region for Education USA, a State Department sponsored network of student advising centers. Understanding the student’s family situation—if she is single or married, if her family is coming with her or staying behind, is vital.
    -- Help to arrange for childcare for those women who arrive with children. Arab women are used to having their families help care for their children and may be surprised to discover waiting lists at local daycare centers or the expense of a paid childcare provider.
    -- Provide halal food at social functions so that practicing Muslims following dietary rules aren’t asked the awkward question “Why don’t you eat?”
    -- Break stereotypes when thinking about social activities Arab women might enjoy—go beyond cooking and think about canoeing or ice skating.
    -- Make it everyone’s job on campus to help Arab women, not just the international office. Some departments, such as women’s centers, may turn out to be natural allies. Others may resist until convinced.
Some speakers urged the audience to consider women-only events, such as teas, meetings with women from other countries on campus, or women-only nights at campus recreation centers. Then Arab women could take advantage of features like climbing walls or swimming pools that they might be shy to use when men are around, speakers said. But others at the session said campus regulations (and possibly even federal or state laws) might prohibit campus events if all students, including men, weren’t welcome to attend.

The above seem like good things for people in, e.g., a university's international recruitment or international advising office to keep in mind. However, I wonder what, if anything, classroom teachers should do.

Ms. Fatani says that Saudi female students come to “live American life,” and that “They have to understand that it’s your country, your rules.” However, the reality in the classroom can be much different, with, for example, some male and female students refusing to work together, even if doing so is a part of "American life". To what degree should classroom instructors treat such students any differently from other students?
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santi84



Joined: 14 Mar 2008
Posts: 1317
Location: under da sea

PostPosted: Wed Jun 03, 2015 3:54 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Good article. I would extend the same thoughts to women from other conservative countries as well (particularly my Pakistani students).
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esl_prof



Joined: 30 Nov 2013
Posts: 2006
Location: peyi kote solèy frèt

PostPosted: Wed Jun 03, 2015 4:01 pm    Post subject: Re: Helping Arab women ease into US campuses Reply with quote

nomad soul wrote:
For those of you who have Arabic L1 female students in your classes:


Thanks for sharing, Nomad! Very interesting. I've had maybe a dozen or so Arabic L1 female students during my nearly six years teaching in a diverse urban U.S. community college, representing a diversity of countries such as Morocco, Libya, Jordan, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia. Without going through my old attendance records to crunch the numbers, I'd say close to half have been from Iraq followed by Morocco in a very distant second place. A much larger demographic in our program is Muslim women from countries such as Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia, and Sudan.

That being said, our Arabic L1 female students are typically immigrants, always live with their families (typically with husbands and children with the exception of one single student who lives with her parents and brother) and, for the most part, seem to have a substantive family and community support network to support them in their studies. A couple of these women may eventually return to their countries of origin following completion of their studies. One indicated that she and her husband were not comfortable raising their young children here in the U.S. Another, I believe, will go back because her husband's employer has relocated him temporarily. The rest, as far as I can tell, are here to stay and have pretty much done a great job of striking a balance between embracing what they're comfortable with in American culture while maintaining the elements of their Arab culture that are important to them.

In short, the Arabic L1 women that we work with in our program don't seem to face many, if any, of the challenges described in this article largely, I think, because they are here as immigrants and have deeper roots in the local community which provides them a much stronger family and community support network.

There are, however, many Arabic L1 female immigrants who might wish to study in a program like ours but can't or don't for a variety of reasons that may well intersect with some of the issues described in the article.
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spiral78



Joined: 05 Apr 2004
Posts: 11524
Location: On a Short Leash

PostPosted: Wed Jun 03, 2015 5:50 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Quote:
The above seem like good things for people in, e.g., a university's international recruitment or international advising office to keep in mind. However, I wonder what, if anything, classroom teachers should do.


The university where I used to work ran a program for Saudi pre-med students of both genders for a number of years. The first three semesters of the program the Saudi students received EFL/EAP bridging instruction and were not integrated with the rest of the students in classes - but their classes were mixed gender. In some ways, this provided a nice bridge as the Saudi men in their classes were of course well aware of the cultural challenges the women were facing.

We made planned efforts to encourage the men and women to work together on tasks and projects, though we didn't mandate mixed seating or in any way force them into unnecessary physical proximity (other than sharing a classroom).

One task type that worked well was ranking tasks (eg. ranking possible recipients for a heart transplant). We usually allowed the men and women to work in separate teams to come up with a ranking and rationale, then required the whole class to negotiate an agreement together. Usually early in the program, the volunteer to chair the negotiation was male, but soon the women started taking turns as well. In fact, some became quite bossy and managerial;-)

In general, task types that required students to lead the group or teams within it (from very briefly to periods up to 30 minutes or more) seemed to work well to give the women confidence to make their own contributions. Small group work (5 or fewer) was also usually successful.. It helped to give the weaker students an early heads-up on what was planned for the next class, so they could practice or think about their contributions.

Out of class, the Saudi students were invited to whole-campus events, and also had their own calendar of events to which others were invited. They remained somewhat socially isolated (never going to deeply integrate into the campus society which involves a lot of drinking of alcohol in our case - fair enough), but they reported feeling comfortable to live and study in the environment, and reported that they felt they had the support they needed from faculty, staff and other students to succeed. So overall probably the best outcome possible, though I also have to report an approximate 40% failure rate in each year's cohort. Mostly due to the fact that they simply weren't used to the hard work required to succeed.

I should also say that ours weren't immigrants and were usually in the country on their own or with brothers or cousins or some other male relative as a chaperon. A few were flocked together with female cousins and etc. The ultimate goal was for them to return to Saudi with a medical degree and to work in hospitals there. They were all relatively young and unmarried, and probably had higher levels of family support for their study than most of the immigrant Saudis in US universities might have.
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