SaudiCouples students who study abroad: A Literature Review
Socialand Cultural Factors that Affect Saudi Couples who Study Abroad: ALiterature Review
TheUnited States attracts thousands of students from different parts ofthe world who move into the country to further their education. Thepopularized move has also been felt in conservative Muslim countriessuch as Saudi Arabia. Through King Abdullah’s scholarship program,more than 100, 000 Saudi students have moved to the United States topursue different courses. A significant number of the students areeither married before securing the scholarship while other meet andcourt in the United States.
Thegender environment in Saudi Arabia plays a get a role in thedecisions that men and women make regarding their career and personalgrowth. According to Al-Rasheed (2013), the country is one of themost patriarchal and the citizens are subject to strict religiousrules. It is ranked 129thglobally in terms of women discrimination. According to the author,Women’s participation in development projects is low and it is onlyin the last four years that they have experienced growth inemployment opportunities. The book also provides that although womenin the county and other dominant Muslim states have tried to airtheir views they have faced poor support from fellow women. Theapathy observed in the society has contributed to more men going tocolleges than women. For those who study abroad, more males thanfemales have been beneficiaries of King Aziz Scholarship Program. Another author, Sandhu (2014), shares similar sentiments andindicates that there exists a pronounced imbalance between theplights of men and women in Saudi Arabia. Although the country rankseconomically and in healthy, the same cannot be said of its genderequality. Therefore, when they get a chance to visit othercountries, there is a certain degree of conservativeness. However,most of them gradually open up to new ideas and practices that couldturn vocal were it not for the religious environment that enshroudsthem when they get back home.
Thedynamic and permissive nature of the United States social formationin relation to the Saudi social structure presents various challengesto the couples studying in the country. Consequently, they have tomake various adjustments as dictated by the local gender environment. A research conducted by Taylor and Albasri (2014) revealed that, itis more convenient for students leaving Saudi Arabia as couples sinceit favors the females. According to the authors, the King Abdul Azizscholarship program requires the female beneficiaries to have malecompanions whose expenses are catered for by the program. Thedescriptive study outlines that the students benefiting from thescholarship try as much as a possible to maintain their culturalpractices since they are required to return to their country aftertheir education (Taylor & Albasri, 2014). This study forms aninformative background to address the adjustment challenges faced bycouples in the United States since it provides information on theexpectations of the home government. As a conservative country, thestudents are not expected to lose touch with their practices althoughthe gender environment in the United States is permissive anddynamic.
Genderconfidence and autonomy is also a major factor that triggersadjustment among the student couples. A study conducted byLefdahl-Davis explored the adjustment experiences of Saudi womenstudying in the United States and found out that the progressivegender environment is an inevitable source of influence. The authorrecruited 25 Saudi women attending various colleges in the UnitedStates (Lefdahl-Davis & Perrone-McGovern, 2015). He used thegrounded theory to explore their adjustment experiences and usedthemes to isolate their attitudes. They included acculturativestress, differences in practices between the United States and SaudiArabia, social support and help-seeking behavior and the ability ofthe student to navigate the American culture. The findings of thestudy found that couples relax their dependency on each other andthis is mostly observed in women. Students who arrive in the countryin the company of their spouses learn to make autonomous decisionsmainly due to the influence of their American friends (Lefdahl-Davis& Perrone-McGovern, 2015). However, the author observes that theintensity of the transformation is dependent on the time that couplesspend in the country. Undergraduate students are more likely to adoptthe new practices owing to their four-year stay in the United States.
Althoughthe author conducts a credible and comprehensive research, he failsto touch on the experiences of the male students in relation to theinfluence of the American culture. It is worth noting that thetransformation does not affect one gender. Couples are susceptible tovarious influences and focusing entirely on the adjustment faced bywomen may lead a reader to conclude that the males do not experiencerelatively similar experiences.
Varioussocial-cultural factors also evolve among the couples studying in theUnited States due to the influence of the local gender environment. Astudy conducted by Perez (2013) to determine the changing meaningtowards marriage among students attending college in the UnitedStates demonstrates that the couples are under the influence on anumber of social factors. First, the gender environment in the UnitedStates does not have a strict restriction of the association betweenmarried partners and other members in the society. In college,individuals can interact with others freely (Perez, 2013). Althoughthis appears difficult in the first few days, Saudi students find itnecessary for their social and academic development. Theethnographic study found out that there is a change of attitudetowards dating and marriage depending on the number of months thatstudents spend in the United States. At home, young males and femalesare mostly matched for marriage by their families. However, theauthor notes that most of those who are dating or married in theUnited States cite the inappropriateness of complying with thedemands of their families regarding marriage. The study also notesthat the social factor also affects the responsibilities shared bythe parties in a marriage. It is expected that the females beescorted while doing most of their activities by their partners(Perez, 2013). However, the outgoing nature of American womeninstigates them to relax some of the rules. The author provides thatthe partners are more independent than when they left for the UnitedStates.
However,the implication of the research may be difficult to generalize amongall married couples in the United States since the author did notrecruit a big sample. The rationale for this is that there are morethan100, 000 Saudi students in the country and the research onlyexploits the views of less than 10 participants. However, hisfindings concur with those of Lefdahl-Davis and Perrone-McGovern(2015), that extent of social changes among the couples is dependenton the number of months they spend in the country. Besides, theauthor seems to concentrate on the changes that affect women.Although this may be due to the patriarchal nature of the Saudisociety, it is noteworthy that men also give up some of their rolessuch as accompanying their parties in most activities. They give into the autonomous behavior cultivated by the American socialtendencies.
Theporous social environment in the United States affects Saudi studentswho come to the country as singles. According to the King’sscholarship program, men are permitted to study abroad without thesupervision of a close relative unlike women. Consequently, malestudents often convince American women to convert to Islam duringcourtship. A report by Sawma (2016) indicates that while some ofthese marriages are successful, others are mauled by ethnic andcultural differences to the point of dissolution. Sawma, a lawyerwith a Middle East background, outlines that when the students leavehome, they have no intention of letting the foreign environmentinfiltrate their practices. However, the accommodating socialenvironment leads to them adopting new behaviors (Sawma, 2016). Theauthor also observes that children born to Saudi students married toAmericans must follow the Islamic religion and this is a primarycause of disunity in the families. The author observes that asignificant number of the Saudi’s opt to settle in the UnitedStates where they can bring up their children and allow their wivesto live in a less restrictive environment. However, most of theAmerican women who agree to accompany their Saudi spouses back totheir home country often look for ways to return to the UnitedStates. The rationale for this is that they are disoriented with thepatriarchal society in Saudi Arabia.
Thewriter uses the article as a legal informative piece to createawareness among student couples in America who may decide to go backto the Middle East. Unlike in the United States, the government ofSaudi Arabia does not grant custody orders for women. In addition,married women do not have the right to inherit property or leave thecountry without the consent of their husbands. Although the authortraces the lives of couples back to Saudi Arabia, he provides vitalinformation of how the gender environment changes Muslims to theextent of marrying individuals who are not from their ethnicbackground.
Althoughthe culture is supportive, it sometimes discriminates Saudi couplesattending the various campuses around the country. The dressing codeset aside for engaged and married couples has been a source ofridicule. A study conducted by Tummala-Narra and Claudius (2013)revealed that most of the graduate students in the country hadencountered at least one form of discrimination arising from thestereotypes perceived by the locals. As a social requirement, marriedwomen are not expected to overly participate in social activitiesespecially if married to Saudi husbands. The element ofconservativeness and patriarchy follows them to the United States. According to the author, the participants of the study expressedfeelings of isolation and disorientation in the vibrant Americanculture. However, the author is categorical that most of the studentsrelax their social obligations to fit in the American environment.
Inconclusion, the literature demonstrates that Saudi couples studyingin the United States find the environment intriguing and demanding. Asignificant number of them tend to relax their restrictive socialpractices to benefit both socially and academically. They authors ofthe different works also provide that the gender environment inAmerica is permissive and dynamic. Saudi couples have to alignthemselves with this culture, and it explains why some of the seekjobs in the United States rather than returning to Saudi Arabia. Inaddition, some students are ditching the marriage tradition wherebytheir families recommend their partners. Some Saudi males havecountered and married American citizens, and although some of themarriages have been successful, most of them have been dissolvedowing to the strict religious practices. The increased number ofbeneficiaries of the King Scholarship Program has served as aplatform to expose Saudi strident to foreign practices, and thiscontinues to change their views about their community and theposition of men and women.
Al-Rasheed,M. (2013). Amost masculine state: Gender, politics and religion in Saudi Arabia(Vol. 43).United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press.
Lefdahl-Davis,E. M., & Perrone-McGovern, K. M. (2015). The Cultural Adjustmentof Saudi Women International Students A Qualitative Examination.Journalof Cross-Cultural Psychology,46(3), 406-434.
Perez,S. (2013). Meaningand Ideas towards Marriage from Saudi Arabian College Students.
Sandhu,K. (2014). Womenin Saudi Arabia based on" Desert Royal" by Jean Sasson.GRIN Verlag.
Sawma,G. (2016). American Women Marrying Saudi Men: Legal issues dealingwith international law in general and the Middle East Islamic(Shari`a) laws in particular. InternationalLaw.Retrieved fromhttp://gabrielsawma.blogspot.co.ke/2016/03/american-women-marrying-saudi-men.html
Taylor,C., & Albasri, W. (2014). The impact of Saudi Arabia KingAbdullah’s scholarship program in the US. OpenJournal of Social Sciences,2(10),109.
Tummala-Narra,P., & Claudius, M. (2013). A qualitative examination of Muslimgraduate international students` experiences in the United States.InternationalPerspectives in Psychology: Research, Practice, Consultation,2(2),132.