AN ABSTRACT OF THE DISSERTATION OF
Donna L. Shaw for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Education presented on November 16, 2009.
Title: Bridging Differences: Saudi Arabian Students Reflect on Their Educational Experiences and Share Success Strategies
LeoNora M. Cohen
This study examines the U.S. educational experiences of Saudi Arabian students. Using qualitative case study and photo-elicitation research methods, this study conducted multiple interviews with 25 Saudi students and explored their perceptions of their American learning environment, how it differed from Saudi Arabia, and the strategies they developed to successfully reach their academic goals. A sizeable sub-group of international students, Saudis are under-represented in the literature. This study is unique because it focuses on success rather than problems, and Saudi voices are rarely heard in studies about international students. Research has been conducted to understand the challenges and needs of international students in general, and studies exist that determine how to support international students, yet there is little that focuses on Saudi Arabian students and success strategies. This study fills that gap. In this study, the Saudi participants reported that classroom practices and cultures were different. They discussed the absence of negotiation and sometimes
found American instructors to be arbitrary. Other dissimilarities described were the gender differences of instructors and classmates, the presence of technology in the university, Oregon‘s climate and natural environment, and the availability of the library and other resources. Success strategies the Saudi participants developed included goal setting, time management, study skills, study groups, taking advantage of campus resources, hard work, and persistence. Two major contributors to their success were the natural environment, which they found to be relaxing and stress relieving, and feeling a member of the campus community. Based on the interviews, two themes arose from this study: the successful Saudi students who participated in this research are resilient, and they have developed intercultural competence. Resilience and intercultural competence are foundational qualities that enabled the participants to bridge the gap between Saudi Arabia and the United States, settle comfortably in a new environment, adjust to rapid-fire changes and challenges, and develop the strategies to successfully work on reaching their academic goals. The author recommends supporting resilience and intercultural competence by helping Saudi students develop and enhance their coping skills and offering assistance that enhances intercultural competence.
© Copyright by Donna L. Shaw November 16, 2009 All Rights Reserved
Bridging Differences: Saudi Arabian Students Reflect on Their Educational Experiences and Share Success Strategies
by Donna L. Shaw
Oregon State University
in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of
Doctor of Philosophy
Presented November 16, 2009 Commencement June 2010
Doctor of Philosophy dissertation of Donna L. Shaw presented on November 16, 2009.
Major Professor, representing Education
Dean of the College of Education
Dean of the Graduate School
I understand that my dissertation will become part of the permanent collection of Oregon State University libraries. My signature below authorized release of my dissertation to any reader upon request.
Donna L. Shaw, Author
The author expresses heart-felt appreciation to Fatimah Almousauri, Yasser Al Janabi, Hassan Alwehaimid, Salman Alturaiki, Mustafa Al Essa and the other 20 Saudi students who generously volunteered to take part in this study. I am especially grateful to major professor LeoNora Cohen, whose gentle guidance made all the difference in the world and committee members Michael Dalton, David Noakes, Dwaine Plaza, and Ken Winograd, all of whom offered assistance and support. Without my sister, Sonjia Gretz, who lightened the dark days and kept me going; mother, Binnie Callender, the originator and consistent supporter of this educational journey; son Cris Bellinger and daughters Meghan Karas, Adrienne Karas, and Emma Barry, around whom my world revolves, this study would never have come to pass. Finally, I would like to thank my colleagues and friends at the English Language Institute, who generously gave me their support and encouragement. I am especially grateful to Jane Averill, Deborah Healey, Debby Kohler, Barbara Dowling, and Carol Odell who read, listened, and offered insight over the course of four long years. Thank you all.
TABLE OF CONTENTS Page Chapter 1 – Background Information for this Study . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Why Study Abroad? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Research Problem . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Researcher‘s Connection to the Study . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
The Setting . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Foundation and Framework of this Research . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Existentialism and Quantum Mechanics . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Research Methods . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Rationale for this Study . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
11 12 13
Purpose . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Concluding Comments . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Chapter 2 – Review of the Relevant Literature . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
The Pertinent Literature Concerning International Students . . . . . . . . . . . .
Perceptions of American Higher Education Experience . . . . . . . . . . International Students‘ Needs and Issues . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . International Students‘ Definitions of and Strategies for Success and Well-Being . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
20 24 28
Common Stereotypes and Misconceptions of Arabs and MiddleEasterners . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Media Perpetuation of Stereotypes . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Orientalism . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Perpetuation of Stereotypes . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
34 35 36
How Arab Muslim and Middle Eastern Students Studying in the United States View Post-September 11th America . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Post September 11th Backlash Perpetuated by U.S. Citizens . . . . . U.S. Government Backlash . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Attitudes Toward Americans vs. American Political Policies . . . . . . . American Media Portrayals of Middle Easterners and Arab Muslims . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
36 38 41 43 45
TABLE OF CONTENTS (continued) Page Thoughts on Middle Easterner and Arab Muslim Views . . . . . . . . . .
Research Concerning Arab Muslim and Middle Eastern Students Studying in the United States . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Studies Involving Saudi Arabian Students Studying in the United States . .
Dissertations Focusing on Saudi Students Studying in the United States Not Relevant to This Study . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Research with Saudi Students in the United States Relevant to This Study . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Comments on the Relevant Research . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
49 51 58
The Saudi Scholarship Program . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
The Saudi Arabian Educational System . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Emphasis on Religion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Separation of the Sexes . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Substantial Financial Support by the Government . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
64 66 67
An Additional Influence of Saudi Students . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Themes of This Study . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Resilience . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Intercultural Competence . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Concluding Comments . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Chapter 3 – Research Methodology . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Purpose . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Research Questions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Strategy of Inquiry . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Case Study . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
The Cases or Participants . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Participants and Interviews . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
TABLE OF CONTENTS (Continued) Page Data Collection Tools . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Semi-Structured Interviews . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Photo-Elicitation Interviews . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Focus Groups . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Reflective Notes: Observation and Journal Keeping . . . . . . . . . . . . .
96 99 101 105
Data Analysis . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Role of the Researcher . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Trustworthiness . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Reflexivity . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Ethics . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Control . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
114 116 117 118
Concluding Comments . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Chapter 4 – Photo-Elicitation Methodology . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
General Description . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
The Advantages of Auto-Driven Photo-Elicitation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
The Advantages of Researcher-Driven Photo-Elicitation . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Disadvantages of Photo-Elicitation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Use of Photo-Elicitation in This Study . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Concluding Comments . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Chapter 5 – Results by Interview Question . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Semi-Structured Interview #1 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Participant Background . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . English Preparation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . School In Saudi Arabia. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Studying in the United States . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
128 129 133 134 140
Photo-Elicitation Interviews . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Focus Groups . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
TABLE OF CONTENTS (continued) Page Semi-Structured Interview #2 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Goals and Accomplishments . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Success Strategies . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Shared Success Strategies . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Interactions with Americans . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
153 154 157 157
Concluding Comments . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Chapter 6 – Results by Research Question . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Why Study Abroad . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Success . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Results by Research Question . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Research Question #1 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Semi-Structured Interview and Focus Group Results . . . . . . . . . . . Photo-Elicitation Results . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Research Question #2 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Semi-Structured Interview and Focus Group Results . . . . . . . . . . . . Photo-Elicitation Results . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Research Question #3 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Concluding Comments . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Chapter 7 – Themes . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Resilience . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Intercultural Competence . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Intercultural Competence: Advice to Future Students . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Why Resilience and Intercultural Competence . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Concluding Comments . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
TABLE OF CONTENTS (Continued) 2 Page Chapter 8 – Conclusion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Overview of the Study . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Participants . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Research Methods . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Data Analysis . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
221 221 224
Summary of Findings . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Differences Between Saudi Arabia and the United States . . . . . . . . Success Strategies . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Shared Success Strategies . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
225 227 229
Themes that Arose from the Research Findings . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Resilience . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Intercultural Competence . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Recommendations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Limitations of This Study . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Implications . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Recommendations for Future Research . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Concluding Comments . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
References . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
LIST OF APPENDICES
Informed Consent Document . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Semi-Structured Interview #1 Questions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Photo-Elicitation Interview Questions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Focus Group Protocol and Questions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Semi-Structured Interview #2 Questions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Invitation to Participants . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Glossary . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
LIST OF FIGURES
English Language Institute Enrollments, Winter 2000 – Winter 2009 . . . . .
Deardorff‘s Framework Arrangement of the Components of Intercultural Competence . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 76
Deardorff‘s Process Model Arrangement of the Components of Intercultural Competence . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 77
Alignment of Data Collection Tools and Research Questions . . . . . . . . . . . . 96
Map of Saudi Arabia Showing Participants‘ Home Cities. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 129
LIST OF TABLES Table
Fall 2007 Participants and Interviews . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 91
Winter 2008 Participants and Interviews . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 91
Summer/Fall 2008 Participants and Interviews . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 91
Background Information for All Research Participants . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 93
Program of Study and Status . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .130
Majors of Participants . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 130
Length of Time in the United States. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 131
Newcomers to the United States . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .131
Family Members Studied in or Visited the United States . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .131
Family Members‘ Education . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 132
Terms at the ELI Studying English . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .132
Level of Schooling Completed in Saudi Arabia . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 132
English Classes in Saudi Arabia . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 133
English Classes as Sufficient Preparation for U.S. Study . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 134 study in the U.S.?
Definition of a Good Student . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 135 homework after school?
Definition of a Successful Student . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 135
Success Strategies in Saudi Arabia . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .136
Things that Did Not Contribute to Success . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 136
Relationship with Teachers in Saudi Arabia . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .138
Relationship with Teachers in the United States . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 139
LIST OF TABLES (Continued)
Student-Teacher Relationships in Saudi Arabia . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .139
Student-Teacher Relationships in the United States . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .139
Goals for Coming to the United States . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 140
Expectations for Studying in the United Stated . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 140
Expectations of the United States Prior to Arrival . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 141
Surprises After Arrival in the United States . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 141
Initial Feelings and Reactions to School in the United States . . . . . . . . . . . 141
Things that were Easy in the United States . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 142
Things that Were Difficult in the United States . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 142
Success Strategies in the United States . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 143
Differences Between Education in the U.S. and Saudi Arabia . . . . . . . . . . 143
Photo-Elicitation of Photographs . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 145
Accomplishments and Goals Met Since the Interviews Began . . . . . . . . . . 153
How Goals and Accomplishments Were Met . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 154
Success Strategies for Meeting the Stress of Studying in English . . . . . . . 154
Success Strategies for Meeting the Demands of Classes . . . . . . . . . . . . . .155
Success Strategies for Homesickness . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 155
Success Strategies for Meeting Educational Goals . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .155
Personal Qualities that Help Participants‘ Success . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .156
Those Who Help Participants‘ Success . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .156
Success Strategies Shared with Peers . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 157
LIST OF TABLES (Continued)
Interactions with American Students on Campus . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .158
Interactions with Americans in General . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 158
Bridging Differences: Saudi Arabian Students Reflect on Their Educational Experiences and Share Success Strategies
2 Chapter 1 - Background Information for this Study This study examines the U.S. educational experience of Saudi Arabian students studying in the English Language Institute (ELI) at Oregon State University (OSU), those fully matriculated to Oregon State University itself, and those enrolled in both institutions. The genesis of this research occurred in the fall of 2005 when the ELI, the intensive English language program at Oregon State University, was unexpectedly inundated with hundreds of applications from students in Saudi Arabia who wished to enter the United States in order to study English and then matriculate to U.S. colleges and universities. Consequently, the ELI, OSU, and other schools across the United States were educating and tending to the needs of unprecedented numbers of Saudi students. I discovered that students from Saudi Arabia were underrepresented in the literature about international students, and almost nothing existed about the Saudi experience in the United States and their success strategies. Using qualitative case study and photo-elicitation research methods, along with grounded theory data analysis, this study explores the Saudi students‘ perceptions of their new learning environment and the strategies they develop to successfully study in their new American schools. Why Study Abroad? Since this study endeavors to understand the educational experiences of Saudi Arabian students in the United States, this dissertation begins with a general question: why study abroad? What motivates young men and women to travel thousands of miles away from friends and family and attempt to meet educational goals in a strange and unfamiliar place—using a non-native language? The answers are not surprising. One early study of hundreds of international students found that
3 most pursue study in the United States to receive schooling and training not available in their home countries and to advance careers with the prestige of a U.S. degree (Spaulding & Flack, 1976). The Spaulding and Flack study also found that international students choose to come to the U.S. in order to take advantage of scholarships, escape unfavorable political conditions at home, and/or to learn more about the United States. The Board of Regents University of the University System of Georgia (2007), The Center for Global Education (n.d.), and Vistawide World Languages and Cultures (2009) maintained that the reasons why students study abroad include the opportunity to learn a language, travel, gain first-hand knowledge of another culture, develop skills and experience not available in classrooms at home, make international friends, learn about themselves, become world citizens and expand their worldviews, experience a different academic system, better their employment opportunities, and enhance their college/university degrees. Erasmus Student Network (2007) added that students who study abroad become culturally competent, develop good communication skills, and become more mature. Clearly, there are great benefits to be gained by studying abroad. Despite these opportunities and benefits, however, study in a foreign country is not easy.
4 Research Problem As non-immigrant residents in a new country, international students in the United States face a new world that is, in most cases, vastly different from the familiar environment of their home countries. In addition to the difficulties of studying with a non-native language, experiencing cultural changes, and living far from home without family and friends, international students frequently face an educational environment that is quite unfamiliar. In order to succeed in course work and reach their educational goals, international students must become familiar with a new educational system, manage cultural changes, and meet their educational needs, using a non-native language. Research has been conducted to understand the challenges and needs of international students in general (with Asian students as the central focus). However, little research has been undertaken to understand the Saudi Arabian experience. In addition, studies exist that determine how to support international students (again predominantly Asian students), yet there is little that focuses on Saudi Arabian students. A sizeable sub-group of international students, Saudi students are under-represented in investigations of international students. While inquiries have examined and described the educational system and environment in Saudi Arabia, and literature exists that investigates and portrays Saudi Arabian and Islamic culture, very little has been done to capture the students‘ perceptions of the differences between U.S. and Saudi educational environments and how Saudi students bridge these differences. In addition, little is known about the success strategies Saudi students develop to reach their educational goals. Thus, the fundamental problem that this study seeks to solve is the absence of Saudi students‘ voices in the literature about the experiences of international students in the
5 United States, how Saudi students view their new educational environment, and what strategies they develop to succeed in their studies. Researcher’s Connection to the Study During this study, I have been an English as a second language (ESL) instructor and for a portion of time, the International Student Advisor for the English Language Institute (ELI), the intensive English program (IEP) at Oregon State University. All of the ELI students are non-native speakers of English, and their primary goals are generally to polish their English skills in order to gain entry into U.S. universities and colleges. They do this by earning acceptable scores on the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) or, if they wish to enter OSU, securing a recommendation for university study in lieu of a TOEFL score. In addition to working as an ESL instructor, I have also been the International Student Advisor (ISA). This meant that in addition to time spent in the classroom, teaching English and preparing international students to study in American universities, I also was the specialist in all areas concerning the students‘ nonimmigrant status and ensured that the ELI and its students followed the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) regulations concerning non-immigrant study in the United States. One major aspect of the role of the International Student Advisor was to work closely with the Saudi Arabian Cultural Mission and act as the liaison between the ELI‘s Saudi students and the agency that oversees their scholarships and study in the United States. As a result, substantial portions of my day were spent advising and interacting with Saudi students. In addition, I have been closely connected to the academic issues of the ELI‘s students. I have taught one or more classes per term; developed curriculum,
6 materials, and courses; worked on assessment, and coordinated the ELI‘s accreditation effort. As such, my time has been focused on curricular and student success issues. Before I began this study and prior to having Saudi students in our language program, I had a set of preconceived notions and biases concerning Saudi students. In addition, before conducting interviews, I had preconceived ideas about their success strategies. Specifically, I assumed that I would learn that Saudi students relied on argument, persuasion, and negotiation to meet their needs. I thought that they were persistent and determined and used these qualities to move through their studies. I also assumed that because of religious and cultural differences, Saudi students disapproved of Americans and American culture, did not like us very much, and formed cohesive groups the excluded interacting with Americans. I discovered that because of the stereotypes I had been exposed to and the biases I held, my notions were narrow and uninformed. This study widened the preconceived generalities I held and added considerable depth to my understanding of Saudi students. The Setting The setting or context for this study is the English Language Institute and Oregon State University. At the time that this study was conducted, all participants were students of Oregon State University (OSU), the English Language Institute (ELI) at OSU, or in OSU‘s Conditionally Admitted Program (CAP), in which students take a mix of language and university classes. OSU is a land grant university located in Corvallis, Oregon, 90 minutes south of Portland. It began as a private academy in 1858, with college classes added in
7 1865 (Oregon State University, 2009b). The first degrees were awarded in 1870 (Oregon State University, 2009b). Today, OSU has a 400 acre campus, 14 residence halls, 4 cooperative houses, and over 40 sororities and fraternities (Oregon State University, 2009b). Oregon State offers over 80 undergraduate majors and graduate degree programs in 100 areas. Its programs in engineering, environmental sciences, forestry, and pharmacy have received national recognition. As of fall 2009, OSU had a total of 19,753 students, 3,525 of whom were enrolled in graduate school and 928 were international students (Oregon State University, 2009b). Housed on the OSU campus, the English Language Institute has been teaching international students for over 43 years. Over the length of its history, the majority of students enrolled for language study in the ELI have been from Asia. As can be seen in Figure 1, since 2000 the ELI has not had a large percentage of Saudi Arabian students until the 2005-2006 academic year. Figure 1.1. English Language Institute Enrollments, Winter 2000 – Winter 2009
300 250 200 150 100 50
W'00 S p'00 S u'00 F '00 W'01 S p'01 F '01 W'02 S p'02 S u'02 F '02 W'03 S p'03 S u'03 F '03 W'03 S p'04 S u'04 F '04 W'05 S p'05 S u'05 F '05 W'06 S p'06 S u'06 F '06 W'07 S p'07 S u'07 F '07 W'08 S p'08 S u'08 F '08 W'09
number of Saudi students
S eries 1
S eries 2
8 The English Language Institute is self-supporting and relies on student tuition to meet all of its needs. All ELI students pay OSU fees, hold OSU I.D. cards, and enjoy the same benefits of studying on a university campus as OSU students: full access to the library, free email accounts, use of Dixon Recreational Center, access to residence halls, membership in international student clubs, and academic support and tutoring services. In the 2008-2009 academic year, OSU merged the ELI into a joint venture with a British firm, INTO University Partnership Ltd. The ELI is now known as INTO Oregon State University. INTO OSU students have the benefit of the same campus services and study the same curriculum as former ELI students with some minor exceptions. For the purpose of clarity in this dissertation, the name ELI will be used and refers to the intensive English language program in which some of the participants were enrolled during this study. As an intensive English program, the ELI prepares international students for full-time, degree-seeking study at U.S. colleges and universities and focuses on academic English skills rather than conversational, general, or survival English. Studying between 18 and 24 hours per week in a 6-level program, ELI students receive instruction in reading, writing, listening, and speaking in an integrated skills approach. In the academic year prior to this study, 2006-2007, between 150 and 200 students attended the ELI each term, and of these, 70 to 160 were from Saudi Arabia. During the time of this study, in the 2007-2008 academic year, the ELI enrolled between 111 and 169 students, of whom 25-28 were Saudi. For fall and winter terms, 2008-2009, 180-220 students studied at the ELI, and 49-58 were from Saudi Arabia.
9 One unique feature of the ELI was the Conditionally Admitted Program (CAP) which serves as a bridge into OSU for some students who lacked language qualifications to be fully admitted to OSU. ELI undergraduate and graduate students with TOEFL scores that were close to, but below, scores for direct admission into OSU, receive conditional admission. CAP students take both ELI and OSU classes, gradually increasing the number of OSU classes while decreasing the number of ELI classes, until they receive full admission into OSU via an acceptable TOEFL score or recommendation by the ELI. Typical of almost all of the students studying at the ELI, the Saudi students almost universally possess a drive to complete their English studies and move on to their university studies. They feel pressure from the Saudi Arabian Cultural Mission (their advisor and scholarship administrator) to quickly finish their language program and move on to full-time university work. Study in a language program is expensive and usually not considered the students‘ real goal. English is just a hurdle over which to struggle in order to gain entrance into university study. In addition, when considering Saudi Arabian students, their educational backgrounds and English classes in Saudi Arabia don‘t necessarily support their educational goals in the United States. Many students from Saudi Arabia frequently see themselves as passive recipients of knowledge—they are empty vessels into which the teacher must pour knowledge. They often do not see themselves as a locus of control over their learning (Silverman & Casazza, 2000). Rather, their teachers are the determining factor of whether or not learning occurs. This may be due to the fact that Saudi classrooms are teacher-oriented, lecture-style learning environments (Flaitz, 2003). Rote memorization is the norm, and students cram for
10 their exams, which take place at the end of the school year. The learning environment to which they have been accustomed is not duplicated in the United States, which threatens the ability of Saudi students to succeed. It is important to identify areas that pose challenges to Saudi students and identify strategies that contribute to successful academic work and the achievement of academic goals, especially now because there are more Saudi students in the United States than ever before. The ELI and other language programs have experienced an enormous jump in the number of Saudi students. The 2006-2007 academic year saw the first major wave of students, and a second and third wave have entered the U.S. to study. The Saudi Arabian Cultural Mission in Washington, DC said that more students are going to be given scholarships and arrive in the U.S. to study (personal interview with Dr. Sami Kaloti, Student Advisor at the Saudi Arabian Cultural Mission, December 2008). This means that intensive English programs, colleges, and universities are educating more and more Saudis students. It is important to understand their issues and problems, and it behooves schools to do everything possible to help them succeed. Consequently, this research is focused on Saudi Arabian students: their perceptions, their voices, and the means by which they succeed. Foundation and Framework of this Research The decisions made regarding this study, the ways in which I proceeded, the methods used to analyze data, and the conclusions reached have a firm foundation in my epistemology and were informed by my philosophical framework. Thus, this study was philosophically influenced by existentialism and strongly affected by quantum theory.
11 Existentialism and Quantum Mechanics Briefly, existentialism is a philosophical approach that emphasizes the subjectivity of existence, reality, freedom, and morality. Merriam-Webster defines existentialism as the chiefly 20th century philosophical movement embracing diverse doctrines but centering on analysis of individual existence in an unfathomable universe and the plight of the individual who must assume ultimate responsibility for acts of free will without any certain knowledge of what is right or wrong or good or bad. (Existentialism, 2009, para. 1) For existentialists, life is the pursuit of finding oneself through free-will choices, based on beliefs, experiences, and outlook—not on objective truth (Existentialism—A Philosophy, 2009). Existentialism is based on the writings of Soren Kierkegaard and Friedrich Nietzsche (who were precursors of the existentialist movement),and famous existentialists are such notables as Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Albert Camus, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Henrik Ibsen, Franz Kafka, Igmar Bergman, and Woody Allen (Crowell, 2008). To an existentialist, reality is subjective, changeable, and resides in the individual. Humans create meaning because the world lacks an inherent meaning in and of itself. Quantum theory is an explanation of the nature and behavior of matter and energy that is easily morphed into a Zen-like philosophy. Basically, quantum theory maintains that there is no objective reality and asserts that the universe is interconnected. Max Planck is acknowledged as the father of quantum theory. Heisenberg formulated one of the most important laws of quantum theory, the Uncertainty Principle. The Uncertainty Principle posits that there are no states which describe a particle with both a definite position and a definite momentum; as one measures the momentum of a particle, the measurement of its position becomes
12 more uncertain (Knierim, 2009). Later, Niels Bohr asserted, in what became known as the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum theory, that particles or whatever one is measuring do not have properties, nor do they exist until one measures them. In addition, if one measures them, one changes them (Quantiki, 2009). There is, therefore, no objective reality, and matter can exist in any state as long as it is not observed. Thus, what one observes is simply the state of the object when one observes it; it isn‘t the only state. And since there are different observations, there must be different realities—all which depend on the observer. Contrary to the Newtonian notion of an objective reality—a universe that exists in and of itself and is apart from human interaction and observation—quantum theory holds that the universe is really something that requires presence, exploration, and observation to exist. ―There is no objective reality; the environment we experience does not exist ‗out there‘‖ (Wheatley, 1999, p. 37) because the world exists to the degree that we are present and observe it. And because the world lacks objective reality, the universe is not fixed and measurable. Rather, as Fritjof Capra explained, the universe is a collection of ―dynamic patterns continually changing into another— the continuous dance of energy‖ (Capra, 1983, quoted in Wheatley, 1999, p. 33). Humans, I believe, are partners in the continuous dance of energy. We are entangled in a relationship with the world and cannot be separated from it because it only exists or becomes real when the world is observed or interacted with. Research Methods Because of philosophical beliefs in existentialism and quantum theory, I used qualitative research methods because of the clear, unbridgeable distinction I saw between quantitative and qualitative research in world view and paradigm. Whereas
13 quantitative research has a positivistic/scientific world view, qualitative research has a naturalistic/subjective world view (Cohen, 2004). A more comprehensive explanation of this study‘s research methods can be found in Chapter 3. Rationale for this Study I chose to conduct research about the educational experiences and success strategies of Saudi students in the United States because it behooves ESL programs, colleges, and universities to turn their attention to this special group of students for several reasons. First, the number of Saudi students in the United States and entering the ELI and OSU is noteworthy and increasing. From the beginning of academic year 20052006 to the beginning of academic year 2006-2007, the number of students from Saudi Arabia grew 166 percent for OSU (Rosenberg & Schulte, 2007) and 1,083 percent for the ELI (Shaw, 2007). During the spring of academic year 2007, Saudi students made up 17% of OSU‘s undergraduates, .013% of graduate students, and .07% of total students (C. Pena, personal communication, February 19, 2009). For the ELI, Saudi students averaged 39.9% of the 2007 enrollment. Looking at enrollment nationally, in the 2007/2008 academic year, 623,805 international students were studying in the United States (Institute of International Education, 2008). Of these, 9,873 were from Saudi Arabia (Institute of International Education, 2008). This was an increase of 25.2% from the year before. These numbers show that Saudis are a significant portion of international students studying in the United States. Second, Saudi students bring important resources to schools and surrounding communities. At the ELI and OSU, all international students are required to have an individual, annual budget of over $20,000 (ELI) and over $28,000 (OSU), which
14 includes their tuition, educational expenses, and living costs. There were approximately 130 Saudi students at the ELI (Shaw, 2007) and 24 Saudi students at OSU (Rosenberg & Schulte, 2007) in fall 2006 and 28 Saudi students (Shaw, 2009) at the ELI and 62 at OSU (C. Pena, personal communication, February 19, 2009) in spring 2008. Thus, considerable revenue has been brought to both institutions and to the community. In addition, according to Pedersen (1994), after military equipment and agricultural goods, education is the most important generator of foreign income coming into the United States. In 1986, international students spent $3.3 billion more in the U.S. than American students spent abroad; in 1990, this education surplus was $4.3 billion; by 1991 the surplus rose to $4.7 billion (Pedersen, 1994). In addition, each year international students add more than $15.5 billion to the U.S. economy (IIE Network, 2008). Specifically, international students provide revenue to both the United States and to the state in which they are living with tourism dollars, tuition, room and board, books and supplies, transportation, health insurance, support for accompanying family members, and other miscellaneous items (IIE Network, 2008). The Institute of International Education (2008) reports that ―62% of all international students receive the majority of their funds from personal and family sources. When other sources of foreign funding are included, such as assistance from their home country governments or universities, 67% of all international students‘ primary funding comes from sources outside of the United States‖ (IIE Network, 2008, para. 12). Third, Saudi students bring diversity to the schools they attend and specifically to the ELI, OSU, and the surrounding community. OSU‘s Mission Statement contains the following words: ―We recognize that diversity and excellence go hand-in-hand,
15 enhancing our teaching, scholarship, and service as well as our ability to welcome, respect, and interact with other people‖ (Oregon State University, 2009a). Also, OSU has the stated objective of creating a ―diverse educational institution in which the cultures, gifts, histories, and life situations of all members are embraced, appreciated, and respected‖ (Diversity at OSU, n.d.). Finally, the Office of Affirmative Action at OSU wrote that there is a ―continuing need to improve the climate on campus in order to create a welcoming environment‖ (Affirmative Action and Equal Opportunity, 2007). This study contributes to diversity objectives of Oregon State University and other educational institutions because its purpose is to create a better understanding of the Saudi educational experience in the U.S., and it has the ultimate aim to enable language programs, colleges, and universities to welcome, interact with, learn from, and contribute to the achievement of Saudi students‘ academic goals and success. In addition, given today‘s post-September 11 political climate and the on-going conflict in Iraq, it can be argued that increasing the understanding of the Saudi educational experience in the United States and enhancing the academic success of Saudi students will help promote intercultural understanding because international education can promote greater world understanding. As sojourners in the United States, international students take home with them increased understanding of American culture, and (hopefully) a more fully developed appreciation for the United States (Shabeeb, 1996). It can be assumed that the Saudis are no exception. Finally, at present there is a dearth of research about the Saudi experience and little is known of their strategies for bridging the differences between their home educational environments and the new, U.S. educational environment. A discussion of this issue and what literature exists concerning Saudi students and their American
16 experiences can be found in Chapter 2. This study proposes to close the gap of missing information about this group of international students and add Saudi voices to what is known about Middle Eastern students. As Terkla, Roscoe, and EtishAndrews (2005) wrote It appears that international students‘ experiences are fairly similar across the continents and that many of the differences can be attributed to the regions of the world from which the students hail. Thus, it seems that it might be beneficial for institutions to consider developing targeted strategies to address the needs of specific sub-groups of international students. (p. 27) Purpose This study has the purpose of contributing to the greater understanding of Saudi Arabian students studying in the United States and helping language programs, colleges, and universities gain greater understanding of the success strategies this group of students use to reach their academic goals. It also wishes to furnish information that will enable language programs, colleges, and universities to help their Saudi students succeed. In addition, this study can be of use to the Saudi Arabian Cultural Mission and the Ministry of Higher Education, Saudi Arabia as they select students to study abroad, orient students before they travel to the U.S., and advise students while they are here. This study is one of the few that focus on Saudi students in the United States; thus, it contributes the Saudi voice to the literature about international students. Of the literature about Saudi students, it is, I believe, the only one that examines their success strategies. As such, it adds important data about what is known about Saudi students.
17 Concluding Comments This chapter described some of the strands that are woven into this study. It began with an explanation of the research problem, explained my connection to the study, and described the epistemology and philosophy that served as its foundation. Furthermore, I discussed this study‘s rationale and purpose. The next chapter provides a review of the literature that is relevant to this study and forms the context surrounding it. First, it begins with a general discussion of the research about international students‘ perceptions of their American higher education experiences, needs and issues, and strategies for success and well-being. Next, in order to provide the American context in which the Saudi students are living and studying, the stereotypes and preconceived notions Westerners have about Middle Easterners are investigated, and, in turn, the perceptions that Arab/Muslim and Middle Eastern students have of the United States in a post-September 11th world are explored. Third, because few scholarly articles have been published about Saudi Arabian students studying in the United States, the research that has been conducted with Arab and Middle Eastern students is turned to, and the dissertations concerning Saudi Arabian students are explored. Finally, the next chapter provides background for this study by examining the scholarship program that brought so many Saudi Arabian students to America and explores the educational system in Saudi Arabia.
Chapter 2 – Review of the Relevant Literature Chapter 1 described some of the strands that are woven together to become the contextual framework of this study: the research problem, the author‘s personal connection to and interest in this study, the epistemology and belief system that influenced the study, and its rational and purpose. This chapter includes a discussion of the literature (with the search ending October 2009) that is relevant to the study. Because there is so little known about Arab and Saudi Arabian students studying in the United States, this literature review begins generally and moves more specifically. As an initial broad sweep and because there is an absence of scholarly research about the Saudi experience, the pertinent literature concerning international students is reviewed: international students‘ perceptions of their American higher education experiences, their needs and issues, and their strategies for success and well-being. Next, since Saudi students are studying in a post-September 11th era, it is important to offer a discussion of two aspects of the American context in which they are studying in the United States. Therefore, what follows is an investigation of the stereotypes and preconceived notions Westerners have about Middle Easterners and, in turn, an exploration of how Muslim Arab and Middle Eastern students studying in the United States view post-September 11th United States. Moving more specifically, there is an overview of the research conducted with Arab and Middle Eastern students and then this chapter progresses to studies involving Saudi students in the United States. The exploration is finished with research conducted with Saudi participants by examining the literature that relates to
19 this study. Next, as background and context for this study and because it provides information on the current Saudi experience, the scholarship program that brought so many Saudi Arabian students to America is examined. In addition, a description the educational system in Saudi Arabia is included. Finally, this chapter reviews and discusses the literature that is associated with two themes that arose from the study‘s interviews: resilience and intercultural competence. Resilience is a characteristic of those who survive, or bounce back, from traumatic or stressful events. Aside from the work done by Wang (2004), little research has been conducted that investigates the resilience of successful international students. Nevertheless, it can be shown that the Saudi students who participated in this study are resilient. In addition, while intercultural competence is commonly associated with international students, no research investigates the intercultural competence of successful Saudi students. A conclusion drawn from this study is that resilience and intercultural competence contribute to Saudi students‘ success in important ways. The Pertinent Literature Concerning International Students When looking into perceptions of international students concerning their higher educational experiences, two general types of studies were found. The older research (which was uniformly quantitative) tended to compartmentalize perceptions into general categories of problems. The later research was largely qualitative (and also tended to focus on problems) and included student narratives to give voice to international student perceptions. In order to bring the two together, I have arranged the following material chronologically into three main categories. First, the general perceptions international students have of their higher education experiences are
20 reviewed. Next, the problems, issues, and needs of international students are examined. Finally, a discussion of international students‘ strategies for success and well-being follows. Perceptions of American Higher Education Experience In an early and thorough review of 433 studies concerning international students studying in the United States, Spaulding and Flack (1976) included findings about the commonly held perceptions of international students studying in the United States. Despite the age of the Spaulding and Flack literature review, the authors provided a foundational overview of the perceptions of international students, which are echoed in subsequent literature. From the 433 studies reviewed in their book, Spaulding and Flack (1976) concluded that most international students see coming in the United States as an opportunity to receive an education and training not available at home, a chance to receive a prestigious U.S. degree and advance careers, a way to take advantage of scholarships, an escape from hostile or adverse political conditions at home, and/or an opportunity to learn more about the U.S. While here, international students showed little change in their attitudes toward their basic culture and religion, but they moved toward greater open-mindedness and placing a higher value on education (Spaulding & Flack, 1976). Spaulding and Flack (1976) also reported that international students arrived for study with perceptions about the U.S. that they received from local media in their home countries, and that most students had positive perceptions of the U.S. They reported that international students found Americans to be immature, superficial, and disinterested in forming close friendships. International students also perceived
21 American students as being uninformed or poorly informed about foreign countries, with misconceptions about the social life and level of education and civilization of people abroad. The authors also noted that the perception of the unfriendliness of Americans is probably related to the frequency with which international students formed co-national groups. The formation of national groups offered international students help coping with the differences in environments and helped them keep national values and customs alive. A sub-group, Black African international students, voiced perceptions of racial discrimination in the U. S., were apprehensive about studying in the U.S., and maintained distinctions between themselves and African American students (Spaulding & Flack, 1976). In addition, Spaulding and Flack (1976) reported that a great deal of research attention was paid to international students‘ perceptions of success and failure when adjusting to U.S. social and academic environments. Not surprisingly, the research found that the students who succeeded academically had the strongest perceptions of satisfaction. Students‘ concerns were focused on finances, inadequate academic advising, and orientation. Some studies, Spaulding and Flack (1976) reported, found that international students perceived their interactions with American students to be important and concluded that schools should encourage activities that encouraged mingling of the two groups. Other studies concluded that international students perceived a great deal of benefit from co-national groups and recommended that schools encourage national student organizations (Spaulding & Flack, 1976). Concerning more recent research examining the perceptions of international students of their higher education experiences (research that often echoes the earlier studies), Schmidtt, Spears, and Branscombe (2003) found that international students
22 perceived prejudice and discrimination in their U.S. environments. In an earlier study (conducted in 2000), these researchers predicted that these perceptions would result in international students‘ closer sense of identification with other international students, thus mediating the negative effects of perceiving themselves rejected by the host culture. The 2003 study confirmed the prediction and found that perceptions of rejection did not result in international students‘ increased identity with their home countries. Rather, international students turned to groups of other international students (from a variety of countries) due to common feelings of difference from the majority (Schmitt, Spears & Branscombe, 2003). Lee and Rice (2007) discussed the perceptions students have of ―entrance obstacles‖ and racism (p. 385). International students perceived the post-September 11 difficulties and delays in obtaining visas, rising fees, lengthy entrance and exit interviews and fingerprinting requirements at airports as unwelcoming signs from the United States. In response, some students have turned to other countries for their studies, such as England and Australia. In addition, Lee and Rice‘s (2007) study reported that non-European (and non-Canadian and non-Australian) students perceived neo-racial discrimination (subtle, non-overt racism) in the form of degrees of disrespect, assumptions of inferiority, and hostility. After being in the United States and hearing negative comments and news reports about Mexican Americans, one Mexican student, studying in Arizona, said, I notice sometimes many Americans have a very bad image about Mexico. I mean, in the news I can see a lot of stories or whatever that help to build this bad image . . . . At least once a week something comes on about Mexicans. . . They are people from my country and I feel bad for them, and I feel like second class. (quoted. in Lee & Rice, 2007, p. 396)
23 If international students did not experience overt racism, they did perceive feelings of marginalization and the discomfort of being outsiders (Lee & Rice, 2007). This occurred when international students were left out of group work, when assumptions were made that they did not understand something because they had an accent, when stereotypes were imposed because of misperceptions about the student‘s cultures, when they were ignored due to communication barriers, and when they heard negative remarks about their home countries (Lee & Rice, 2007). One dominant perception that came to the fore is associated with using English (Li, Fox, & Almarza, 2007; Luzio-Lockett, 1998; Qin & Lykes, 2006; Robertson, Line, Jones & Thomas, 2000; Tompson & Tompson 1996). Even students, who arrived in the United States as graduate students, proficient in English, found being in an English-only context as torturous. When conversing with native speakers, I often felt helpless because I could not speak freely what was exactly on my mind. I often became easily lost in conversations just due to missing a word or a sentence. The worst situation occurred when I sometimes heard only the sound of people‘s voices but knew nothing of what they were saying. Whenever this happened, the feeling of being illiterate, struggling in a modern society, tortured me. (quoted in Li, Fox, & Almarza, 2007, p. 1) I am worried about the medium of communication. (quoted in Jackson, 2004, p. 265) I am afraid to speak to my tutors; sometimes when I talk to them I forget my English, I am so nervous that my English gets worse so I cannot speak properly. (quoted in Luzio-Lockett, 1998, p. 6) Before I came to the United States, I studied English in my home country of Venezuela for nine years at grade schools, the college, and language institutes. Despite all those years of ―learning‖ English, I was not prepared to survive in either the academic world or the real world in America. (quoted in Li, Fox, & Almarza, 2007, p.1)
24 Thus, international students studying in the U.S. have had a variety of perceptions. The older studies reported that international students‘ perceptions included issues concerning finances, academic advising, using English, notions about Americans, and the importance of joining co-national groups. The more recent research found that international students have perceptions involving discrimination and racism. These are related to the difficulties they encountered getting visas and gaining entrance into the U.S. and to the U.S. environment in which they are studying. Finally, a dominant perception is the difficulty of using English socially and academically in both the older and newer research. International Students’ Needs and Issues While studying in the United States, international students are faced with myriad problems, needs, and issues. As Pederson (1994) wrote, International students are expected to learn a new language, new rules for interpersonal behavior, and a new set of rules that all the other students on campus have spent their whole life learning . . . they are expected to ‗adjust‘ to a relatively narrowly defined set of behaviors in order for them to succeed. (p. 157) Obviously, in the adjustment process, international students have problems, needs, and issues. Hull (1978) conducted an early study on the problems and difficulties of international students that is often cited in later research. Hull (1978) noted that international students are adapting to a different culture and a new academic experience while under strong pressure to succeed. In the Hull study (1978) financial problems were the most significant for many international students, followed by lack of contact with Americans, depression, and issues with adjusting to a new climate, food, and language. Academic issues, such as examinations, advising, motivation,
25 and space to study, also posed problems. He noted that financial problems were not surprising because international students pay high tuition rates and were not allowed to seek off-campus employment. Finally, students from different geographical areas experience different problems. Arabic speaking students have the least number of financial difficulties but have had the greatest number of difficulties with religion and lack of previous education or training (Hull, 1978). Lin and Yi (1997) conducted research similar to Hull‘s. Their study focused on Asian students and found that the students struggled to maintain a balance between acculturation and maintaining their own culture. In addition, Asian international students suffered from academic demands, language problems, financial issues, anxiety, depression, loneliness, homesickness, relationship problems, prejudice, stereotyping, and non-assertiveness (Lin & Yee, 1997). A few years earlier, Stafford, Marion, and Salter (1980) had conducted a study with 53 international undergraduate students and 225 international graduate students. Two-thirds of the students reported problems with homesickness as their most significant issue. This was followed with difficulty in obtaining housing, social relationships, using English, and problems with finances. Stafford, Marion, and Salter (1980) found that undergraduate students had more problems than graduates. Overall, the fewest issues were with maintaining religious practices and relationships with spouses. Leong and Chou (1996), in a qualitative study, supported the findings of Hull and Stafford. They wrote that hundreds of thousands of international citizens have studied in the United States. ―As international sojourners, many of these students experience a whole range of adjustment problems including culture shock, language
26 problems, isolation, and the loneliness of living in a strange country for extended periods‖ (Leong & Chou, 1996, p. 210). International students can also suffer from a host of illnesses because of the somatization of emotional problems due to stress: anxiety, depression, and insomnia. Common stressors are feelings of loss, grief, resentment, isolation, alienation, and discrimination. These feelings and the physical problems associated with them can be mitigated, to some degree, with social support (Leong & Chou, 1996). In addition to the issues (difficulties using English, feeling unprepared for academic work in their non-native language, prejudice and neo-racial discrimination, and entrance obstacles) stated earlier, international students have adaptation issues and problems—what Luzio-Lockett (1998) called the squeezing effect—which leads to issues in the perceptions of self. When international students try to accommodate themselves or fit into the frames of reference of the host culture, they experience a blow to self-concept (Luzio-Lockett, 1998). In addition, the inability to clearly express themselves in English contributes to their sense of failure and loss of self-worth. One student said, I feel now I can‘t perform my personality; I feel I am losing my previous position, my personality and this is unacceptable for you [sic]. It is like reidentifying yourself over and over; I did it after the first 2 months in accepting my role as a student, forgetting who I was, but this process carries on as you cannot forget your personality, still the environment doesn‘t help to let it come out. (quoted in Luzio-Lockett, 1998, p. 219) Somewhat similar to Luzio-Lockett‘s (1998) squeezing effect is Qin and Lykes‘ (2006) research in which the issues and problems of international women students were studied. Qin and Lykes (2006) examined the psychological process of weaving self, fragmented self, and reweaving self as their research participants described the
27 process of becoming students in China and subsequently becoming international students in the United States. As the women negotiated critical elements of study in the United States, they negotiated critical elements of self-understanding. As international students, they experienced problems and issues when labeled foreign, alien, and poor as a marginalized group in a new country, which forced a new understanding of self and others (Qin & Lykes, 2006). Maundeni (1999) also worked with a group of women students studying in the United States. Her study echoed the findings of Luzio-Locket (1998) and Qin and Lykes (2006). This study focused on students from Africa and contends that women international students are disadvantaged in general. However, women African students are particularly disadvantaged, especially when they study abroad (Maundeni, 1999). The double disadvantage stems from the fact that Western society encourages women to be assertive. However, if African women adopt assertive personalities, they run the risk of abandoning their own identities with the consequence of internal conflicts interfering with academic success. In addition, some women bring their children with them to the United States and face the burden and expense of single parenting. Finally, the African students who participated in Maundeni‘s study faced education and language-related problems. At home, the women were expected to sit quietly in class and take notes, which were later reproduced on tests. Male students, at home, were encouraged to speak out in class. When studying in the United States, the women had difficulty participating in class and seeking help from professors (Maundeni, 1999). The problems, issues, and needs of international students in the United States are numerous and are what one would expect of anyone living thousands of miles
28 from home, studying in a foreign environment. In addition to the obvious problem of speaking English and other academic problems, international students have worries about finances because studying in the U.S. is expensive. They miss their families and friends, and they experience stress, which for some students leads to physical illnesses. In addition, international students have problems with their senses of personal identity and self-worth, magnified by their struggles with English. International Students’ Definitions of and Strategies for Success and WellBeing Despite the difficulties that international students experience when studying in the U.S., they do succeed (Stoynoff, 1997). Hull (1976) included the following quote in his discussion of the success strategies for international students: ―One, learn to ride a bike; two, operate a car; then three, study English well; and four, prepare a lot of vitamin M (MONEY),‖ (p. 184). Hull (1976) concluded his study of international students with a discussion of how they cope and successfully adjust to the United States. Success, he noted meant attaining educational goals and doing well school. Hull‘s international students were generally satisfied with their sojourn, although they were happier with the academic, rather than non-academic, aspects of their stays. This is not surprising since international students are in the U.S. with the goal of completing their university educations; thus, they focus more on the academic aspects (Hull, 1976). However, more than half of the students in Hull‘s study reported that they were less than satisfied with their contact with Americans. He, therefore, emphasized the importance of interaction with Americans as a contributor to success and wrote that ―contact with Americans seems to be a factor that relates to the wide area of satisfactions with and positive expressions towards, the sojourn as a whole‖ (Hull,
29 1976, p. 187). ―Contact with Americans is important for the foreign student‖ (Hull, 1976, p. 188) and crucial to their success. In later research, Boyer and Sedlacek (1988) identified eight non-cognitive predictors of international student success (with success defined as persistence and GPA). The predictors include (1) self-confidence, (2) realistic self-appraisal, especially concerning academic skills, (3) involvement in community activities, (4) knowledge acquired in the field, (5) successful leadership experiences, (6) long-range goals over short-term goals, (7) ability to understand and cope with racism, and (8) availability of a support person. They found that the eight non-cognitive variables were predictors of success at different points during a student‘s academic career. Of the eight variables, community service and understanding racism were the most highly associated with persistence. Self-confidence and the availability of a strong support person consistently predicted GPA across all points of the students‘ period of study in the U.S. (Boyer & Sedlacek, 1988). One study of international student success (where success is defined as reaching academic goals) described the acculturation process international students experience to successfully study in the United States. Pederson (1994) maintained that in order to adjust to studying in the United States, international students must acculturate. Pederson (1994) quoted Adler‘s acculturation process as (1) the honeymoon stage, when the student feels like a tourist, (2) depression, when the student is overwhelmed by personal inadequacy in the new culture, (3) autonomy, when the student sees both good and bad aspects in the host culture, and (4) biculturalism, when the student is as comfortable in the host culture as back home. (Adler, 1985 quoted in Pedersen, 1994, p. 159.)
30 Pedersen (1994) found Adler‘s process of acculturation to be problematical because it is oversimplified, linear, and has vague outcome criteria. However, he also agreed that Alder‘s process is useful, simple, and is often referenced in studies examining how international students adjust to the U.S. because it describes the stages international students go through in order to reach their academic goals in the U.S. (thus attaining success). In two studies, Stoynoff (1996, 1997) examined the factors associated with academic achievement (a success factor) and noted that language proficiency and appropriate leaning study strategies correlated with successful academic performance (high GPA, large number of credits earned, and small number of withdrawals).
While all students used learning strategies, the more successful
students (those with higher GPAs) used strategies more often. In addition, the successful students regularly availed themselves of social and academic assistance. The more successful students managed their study time, prepared well for tests, could identify the main ideas of spoken and written discourse, made use of support systems (study groups, tutors, and friends) and spent more time studying than less successful students (Stoynoff, 1997). A repetition of the importance of support communities is found in the work of Abel, 2002; Al-Sharideh and Goe, 1998; Faid-Douglas, 2000; and Tseng and Newton, 2002. Al-Sharideh and Goe (1998) measured success by levels of self-esteem. They found that the development of strong ties with others assists adjustment because the relationships provide comfort, security, and help with coping (AlSharideh & Goe, 1998). The Al-Sharideh and Goe (1998) study also found that
31 support communities were the most helpful when international students participated in ethnic groups and also associated with Americans. Able (2002) agreed that successful (defined by the ability to reach academic goals) international students should rely on support communities. He also recommended that international students prepare well for their American experience by understanding that they will be expected to be independent, not overly dependent on professors for direction, and realize that the American university has a competitive atmosphere. Abel (2002) also recommended that in order to be successful, international students should determine the learning time each course requires by reading syllabi and course descriptions, carefully plan study and recreation time, locate peer tutoring and make use of it, create visuals and maps of courses and important features of lectures or readings, join study groups, seek professors who lecture well and encourage class participation, and look for structured seminars and classes that use simulations and games. Faid-Douglas (2000) conducted a phenomenological study of international female students. In this study, she focused on how the students described success and the strategies they used to attain success. Success, again, was defined as attaining academic goals and GPA. As with the other studies that investigated the
32 problems international student face, Faid-Douglas found that her research participants faced struggles with culture shock, language proficiency, stress, time management, teaching philosophy, family responsibility, relationships with professors and American peers, money and discrimination. The success strategies included building a support system, relying on religion to alleviate stress, and developing the skills to overcome language problems (Faid-Douglas 2000). The Tseng and Newton (2002) study found that international students can be successful (achieve study goals and enhance personal well-being) by (1) knowing themselves and others, (2) making friends and building communities, (3) expanding their world-views, (4) asking for help when encountering a problem, (5) establishing social and cultural contacts, (6) building relationships with advisors, (7) increasing proficiency in English, and (8) ―letting go‖—knowing when to pursue something and when to let a problem go. A common thread that runs through most of the success strategies that Tseng and Newton outline and one that they stress is building and using supportive communities. Finally, a study conducted by Wang (2004) investigated resilience factors and how they correlated to adjustment by international students studying in the U.S. Resilient people are positive about life and themselves, flexible in thoughts and in social relationships, focused, organized, and proactive. Wang (2004) found a high degree of correlation between resilience and successful adjustment. Wang‘s recommendations to international students for success suggest that students improve English proficiency before leaving home and gain knowledge of the general and academic cultures of the U.S., understand that adjustment is a process,
33 be prepared mentally to encounter difficulties in life and academics, know that understanding resilience helps one become more resilient, focus on priorities, understand that one‘s father‘s educational level informs how many difficulties one encounters (those with fathers having higher educational levels encountered fewer difficulties), know that Asian students often have more problems than European students, and set up social networks and engage in activities to learn the culture of the U.S. In the above discussion of international students in the United States, I looked at three main topics: their general perceptions of American higher education experience; their problems, needs, and issues; and their strategies for success and well-being. I discovered that the research concerning international students‘ perceptions of higher education in the U.S. included a variety issues related to finances, advising, using English, Americans and the American environment, the importance of joining co-national groups, discrimination and racism, and entrance obstacles. Of the problems and worries international students have while studying in the U.S., the dominant problem is speaking and using English, along with other academic problems. In addition, international students worry about finances, experience homesickness, and sometimes struggle with a sense of identity loss. Finally, I examined how the literature defined success and described the success and well-being strategies students use as they study in the United States. These
34 strategies include seeking out and using support groups, making use of available assistance, developing good study skills, managing time, and building self-reliance. Common Stereotypes and Misconceptions of Arabs and Middle Easterners While the literature discussed the many influences that affect international students and their success, there is one factor that uniquely concerns the educational experiences of Saudi students studying the in U.S. This is the misconceptions and stereotypes that Americans have for Saudis, Arabs, Arab/Muslims, and Middle Easterners. Particularly after September 11th, but going back much, much earlier to early European colonialism and continuing through more recent U.S. imperialism, Western consciousness has been bombarded with images that inform opinions of and knowledge about a sizeable portion of the world, the Middle East. Media Perpetuation of Stereotypes American news media and broadcast journalism have promoted stereotypical images of Middle Easterners, Arabs, Muslims and Islam by using negative collocations (El-Farra, 1996). The terms ―Islamic terrorist, Muslim fundamentalist, Wahhabi zealot, Shia extremist, Sunni bombers, Islamic Jihadi, Arab Killer, Islamic suicide bomber‖ have been used in the media (Abdullah, n.d. para. 11). In addition, the American film industry is also responsible for negative portrayals of Middle Eastern men, women, and children and has been doing so for over 100 years. Masin Qumsiyeh, who served on the faculties of both Duke and Yale Universities, classified American movies into three categories that stereotypically represent people of the Middle East as ―belly dancers, billionaires, or bombers‖ (Qumsiyeh, n.d., para. 5). The belly dancing image was born in 1897 with Thomas Edison‘s short film entitled Fatima Dances in which an Arab woman danced to seduce a male audience
35 (Qumsiyeh, 1998). Later, the billionaire stereotype dominated in the 1970s around the time of the oil crisis with images of oil rich sheiks, oil wells, and limousines (McGowan, 1993). For the last 30 years, the angry bomber Muslim image has appeared in an array of movies such as Rules of Engagement, True Lies, and Black Sunday (McGowan, 1993; Qumsiyeh, 1998; Shaheen, 2003). Orientalism The genesis of the negative stereotypes and misunderstandings of the Middle East was analyzed by Edward Said (1979) in his book Orientalism, and no examination of the Middle East and Arabs is complete without a look into this work. Said explained that Orientalism is a pervasive world view of the Middle East that began with the European colonial attempt to understand indigenous people. Orientalism was the West‘s attitude, which achieved hegemonic status, to support imperialistic policies, condescending treatment, and an unquestioned belief that the West was superior (Marcuse, 2004). Said (1979) wrote that current concepts of Middle Easterners, Arabs, and Muslims emerged against the firmly held notion that Europeans were the yardstick against which all others were to be measured. The notions of Orientalism were perpetuated by academic scholarship and literary tradition. More than 60,000 books dealing with the Near Orient were written between 1800 and 1950 (Said, 1979). It is an influential academic tradition that created a sense of difference between the East and the West that is alive and well today in the ways in which popular culture and media depict Muslims, Arabs, and Islam (AbuFadil, 2005).
36 Perpetuation of Stereotypes It is undeniable that negative stereotypes concerning Arabs and Saudi Arabians have been present in the United States (Abdullah, n.d; El-Farra, 1996; McGowan, 1993; Qumsiyeh, n.d; Qumsiyeh, 1998; Shaheen, 2003). In addition, Abouchedid and Nasser (2006) charged the American media with ―info-bias‖ and maintained that it has consistently framed the Arab world in terms of dictators, human rights abuse, discrimination against women, corruption, and illiteracy. The Saudi students studying here are not unconscious of the negative attitudes that form an important element of the context in which they are studying. They are confronted with info-bias and negative stereotyping when they turn on the TV, watch movies, listen to the radio, surf the Internet, or read newspapers. Negative attitudes about Arabs are present in educational institutions, too. Abouchedid and Nasser (2006) found that American college students with little knowledge of the Middle East had the greatest negative attitudes about Arabs. A study conducted by Nader Ayish (2003) examined the impact of negative stereotyping on Arab American Muslim high school students. Ayish concluded that these students are aware of the stereotypes, and the stereotypes limited their academic achievement. How Arab Muslim and Middle Eastern Students Studying in the United States View Post-September 11th America Answering the question of how Arab Muslim and Middle Eastern students studying in the United States view America and Americans is difficult because it is a complex issue that resists a single, clear answer. Chiozza (2004) wrote that Americans commonly assume that all Middle Easterners and Arab Muslims oppose the United States, and he said that the question, ―Why do they hate us?‖ has been persistently asked since September 11th. A Pew Research Center survey conducted
37 in the summer of 2003 reported that 44% of Americans believed that Islam is more likely than other religions "to encourage violence among its believers . . . and 49% believe that a significant portion of Muslims around the world hold anti-American views‖ (Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, 2003, para. 2). However, the matter is not this simple and straightforward. The views Middle Easterners and Arab Muslims hold about Americans and the U.S. is marked with a great deal of ambivalence, and they hold a variety of views, some of which have changed over time (particularly once the shock and backlash of September 11 began to fade) and some of which have remained consistent (Chiozza, 2004; Dunham, 2002). Some perceptions and views, which were initially strongly negative, have tended to change since September 11th because the fear of persecution Middle Eastern and Arab Muslim students felt immediately after the tragic events has dulled over time. However, how Middle Eastern and Arab Muslim students view the American government and its policies remains negative. As a consequence of September 11th, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (which later became part of the Department of Homeland Security) instituted stricter non-immigrant regulations, which negatively affected international students wishing to study in the U.S. (and in particular Middle Eastern and Arab Muslim students). Perceived as stumbling blocks in the path of students wishing to study in the U.S., the new regulations influence how the U.S. government is viewed. Finally, Middle Eastern and Arab Muslim students are exposed to the American media‘s negative portrayals, both at home and during their studies here, and Arab audiences are ―upset at the demonization of [their] people‖ (Hanley, 2007, p. 85). At the same time, however, opinion polls have shown that in general Middle Easterners and Arab Muslims view Americans and some
38 aspects of American culture positively, and the attitudes they leave home with affect their sojourns here (Hanley, 2004). Thus, in order to proceed with an investigation of and answer the question of how Arab Muslim and Middle Eastern Students studying in the United States view post-September 11th United States, it is necessary to look at the views of Middle Easterners and Arab Muslims living in their home countries in addition to the views and perceptions of those students studying in the United States. The two must be taken together because students bring their perceptions with them when they come to the U.S. to study. It is also necessary to look into the backlash that occurred postSeptember 11, which included U.S. governmental regulations that were put into place after the terrorist attacks and continue to impact international students and, in particular, Middle Eastern and Arab Muslim students, today. There is an additional need to explore the differences that exist between the views Middle Easterners and Arab Muslims hold for Americans and U.S. political policy because there is a distinction made between Americans and the U.S. government. Finally, it is necessary to examine the negative impact American media images have had on the views Middle Easterners and Arab Muslims hold of the United States. Post-September 11th Backlash Perpetuated by U.S. Citizens In the aftermath of September 11th, Arab Muslims and Middle Easterners (students, permanent residents, and citizens) living in the United States were subjected to anti-Muslim backlash by U.S citizens. This backlash has had negative effects on the views Middle Eastern and Arab Muslims hold for Americans. Concerning the general backlash brought to bear by citizens, on September 19, 2001,
39 U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige issued a letter to all American educators, which included the following: I write to ask your help in responding to a problem that has arisen following the terrible events of the past several days, and that threatens some of our nation's students. There have been increasing news reports of incidents of harassment and violence directed at persons perceived to be Arab-Americans or of Middle Eastern or South Asian origin, including children. Arab-American parents have publicly expressed fear about the safety of their children at school. (Paige, 2005, para. 1) The ―incidents of harassment and violence‖ (Paige, 2005, para. 1), extended across the country. In Dearborn, Michigan, an area where Arab-Americans are one of the largest segments of the population, Arab residents and students reported threats to safety and discriminatory behavior directed against them (Boulard, 2001). A Boston, Massachusetts Saudi Arabian student was stabbed in the arm (Boal, 2001), and across the country in Santa Monica, California, Middle Eastern students were attacked. In El Cajon, California, two Middle Eastern students were arrested and held for several months (Boulard, 2001). In Arizona, a Muslim was murdered, and a mosque was rammed by a car in Ohio (Boal, 2001). By October 5, 2001, around 360 calls were made to the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, reporting verifiable incidents of criminal incidents, 50 of which involved students (Boal, 2001). Arab students reported acts of discrimination and violence, and found that Americans had changed their attitudes almost overnight toward Middle Easterners and Arab Muslims after the terrorist attacks: People are afraid to sit next to you on the bus. Random strangers on the street point their finger, shouting that you are a terrorist. Kids on the opposing soccer team throw rocks at you while you‘re trying to play. (quoted in Boyden, 2002, para. 3)
40 I‘ve been spit at in the face. This guy literally tried to run over me and called me a suicide bomber. (quoted in Boyden, 2002, para. 5) The first few days after it happened, I‘m riding the subway and a business woman comes up to me on the platform and just stares at me for like fifteen seconds – one of those hard stares that really says, ―I fear you.‖ When the train came, she didn‘t get on, because I was getting on. (quoted Boal, 2001, para. 5) Muslim women stopped wearing their head covering, the hijab. Some Sikh men cut their hair and beards and removed their turbans. Some even changed their names. (Boyden, 2002, para. 6) In the wake of September 11, the views Middle Eastern and Arab Muslim students had of America and Americans were dominated by fear, and the watchword was caution (Bedard, Makovsky, Simon, & Parker, 2002; Boal, 2002; Boulard, 2001; Kandil, 2004; Kenan, 2005). Some students responded by returning home. Kuwait, with 3,200 students in the U.S. on September 11, 2001, offered free airfare home (McMurtrie, Bollag, Brender, del Castillo, Cheng, & Overland, 2001). Saudi Arabia, with 5,100 students in the U.S. at the time, also flew some students home (McMurtrie, et. al., 2001). The United Arab Emirates, with 2,500 students, gave 600 students open-ended tickets home (McMurtrie, et. al., 2001). For those students who remained in the U.S., Middle Eastern and Arab students were advised to ―keep low profiles or travel in groups‖ (Boal, 2002, para. 8). They were also told to avoid attention from ―terrorist-obsessed lawmen‖ (Bedard, et. al., 2002, para. 1) by doing everything they could do to avoid attention, which ranged from completing homework to obeying traffic laws. In response, some students felt the need to subdue Palestinian activism by canceling events scheduled for the anniversary of the Palestinian Al-Aqsa intifada (Boal, 2002), and students on campuses across the U.S. began efforts to educate peers about Islam by outreach
41 efforts including hosting dinners and sharing Islamic poetry, music, and literature (Lampman, 2001). U.S. Government Backlash Furthering the negative views Middle Eastern and Arab Muslim students had of the United States post-September 11, the U.S. government has been involved in what Middle Eastern and Arab Muslim students have seen as anti-Muslim/anti-Arab backlash. Louise Cainkar (2002) wrote that the greatest source of discrimination against Arabs and Muslims in the US today is the US government, mostly the Department of Justice and the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). According to a Council on American-Islamic Relations report released in April, more than 60,000 individuals have been affected by government actions of discrimination, interrogation, raids, arrests, detentions and institutional closures. (para. 3) Immediately upon the heels of September 11, immigration and national security came to be viewed as identical. A series of actions were undertaken which have been, and continue to be, seen as anti-Muslim/anti-Arab (Boulard, 2001; Cainkar, 2002; Kandil, 2004). The U.S. detained nearly 1,200 citizens and noncitizens most of whom were Middle Eastern (Cainkar, 2002). As of October 2001, 220 colleges were contacted by FBI or INS agents seeking information and access to students‘ records (Boulard, 2001). In October, a 20-day mandatory hold was placed on all non-immigrant visa applications of men 18-25 from selected countries (most of them Arab), and Middle Eastern and Muslim Arab students are still experiencing lengthy waits in obtaining their visas. May 2002, according to Cainkar (2002), saw the Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act, which called for the integration of INS databases into the new SEVIS (Student and Exchange Visitor Information System) environment, a database that tracks and monitors all students and exchange visitors. The Reform Act also
42 called for machine readable visas and airline submission of lists of all passengers bound for the U.S. SEVIS is still in use, and restrictions remain on non-immigrant visas for those living in countries identified as state sponsors of terrorism: currently Cuba, Iran, Syria, and Sudan. Iraq, Libya, North Korea, and South Yemen have been removed from the list (U.S. Department of State, 2008). After September 11, the INS began enforcing the requirement for all F-1 students to register a change of address within 10 days of moving (a requirement which was later dropped after the adoption of SEVIS), and implemented the National Security Entry/Exit Registration System (NSEERS). Beginning on September 11, 2002, NSEERS required that nationals (including students) of certain countries be fingerprinted, photographed, and interviewed when entering the U.S. (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, 2003). Later, all individuals who registered because of NSEERS at their port-of-entry were required to report for interviews at the one-year anniversary of their dates of registration (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, 2003). Finally, all NSEERS registrants needed to report for exit interviews at their ports-of-departure (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, 2003). While the requirement to report for interviews at every one-year anniversary has been dropped, NSEERS registrants still must submit to entry and exit interviews, and these interviews can take a number of hours. Subject to NSEERS are certain citizens or nationals of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Sudan and Syria, as designated by the DHA Secretary in the Federal Register; nonimmigrants who have been designated by the State Department; and any other nonimmigrant, male or female regardless of nationality, identified by immigration officers at airports, seaports and land ports of entry in accordance with 8 CFR 264.1(f)(2). (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, 2008, para. 4)
43 Those identified by immigration officers can include citizens of Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Egypt, Eritrea, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Libya, Lebanon, Morocco, North Korea, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Somalia, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen. However, to date, individuals from more than 150 countries have been registered in the NSEERS program. (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, 2003, para. 3). The above outlined Department of Homeland Security and anti-terrorism procedures that occurred as backlash to the events of September 11th are realities for all Middle Eastern and Arab Muslim students studying in the U.S. and color their views of the United States government. In a 2002 Gallup Poll of the Islamic World, a large percentage of citizens of Middle Eastern countries held negative views of the United States: 70% in Iran, 62% in Jordan, 51% in Morocco, 68% in Pakistan, 64% in Saudi Arabia (Newton, 2002). According to the Pew Global Attitudes Project (2005), perceptions and attitudes of the Muslim world toward the U.S. government and its policies remain highly negative today and ―solid majorities in . . . five predominantly Muslim countries surveyed still express unfavorable views of the United States‖ (para. 2). These 5 countries are Jordan, Pakistan, Lebanon, Indonesia, and Turkey. Attitudes Toward Americans vs. American Political Policies The immediate post-September 11 backlash against Arabs and Muslims has faded. Dunham (2002) reported that a Zogby international poll found that while Middle Easterners and Muslim Arabs ―ha[d] overwhelmingly negative reaction[s] to U.S. policy positions, Arabs and Muslims were not opposed to all things American‖ (para. 6). Arab and Islamic countries were favorable toward capitalism, U.S.-made products, technology, scientific advances, films, TV, and the U.S. educational system (Dunham, 2002). In addition, younger Middle Easterners and Arab Muslims were more pro-Americans than their elders, including 66% of those under 30 in Lebanon
44 and 54% in Saudi Arabia (Dunham, 2002). In addition, Arab and Muslim Internet users had more favorable views of Americans: 72% of Internet users in Egypt had favorable attitudes to Americans, and 63% of Saudis felt the same (Dunham, 2002). This is significant because over half of the Saudi population is under 21 years of age, and young Saudis in large numbers are coming to the U.S. to study, predisposed to have more favorable attitudes about Americans (Dunham, 2002). Chiozza (2004) agreed with the above assessment of Middle Easterners‘ and Arab Muslims‘ views of the United States and Americans. He wrote that ―ambivalence surrounds the image of Americans among the general public in Islamic countries. . . . The general public in Islamic societies simultaneously hold positive and negative views of America‖ (Chiozza, 2004, p. 9). Positive attitudes surround Americans, capitalism, technology and education. General attitudes shift decidedly to the negative when considering American politics. A majority of Middle Easterners and Arab Muslims disapprove of America‘s policies toward Arab nations, Palestinians, and Iraq (Al-Arian, 2004; Boal, 2001; Chandler, 2001; Chiozza, 2004; Dunham, 2002; Hanley, 2007). Again, Middle Easterners and Arab Muslims, while having positive views of Americans, held the opposite views of American political policies, particularly those concerning Palestine. Why are home country views of Americans and America important? In a study of Saudi Arabian students, Alreshoud and Koeske (1997) found that the attitudes that students bring with them when they come to the United States affect their desires to establish contact with and understand Americans. Therefore, more favorable contacts can be expected to occur with students who have more favorable initial attitudes; home attitudes affect sojourns.
45 American Media Portrayals of Middle Easterners and Arab Muslims Finally, the Arab press has been the recipient of U.S. media, and Middle Easterners and Arab Muslims are consumers of American news media, movies, and TV (Hanley, 2007). Middle Eastern and Arab Muslim students studying in the United States are exposed to news media, movies, and TV. Unfortunately, the American media depict generally negative images of Middle Easterners, Arab Muslims, and Saudi Arabians (Abdullah, n.d.; BBC News, 2003; El-Farra, 1996; Findley, 2001; Mandel, 2001; McGowan, 1993; Omaar, 2006; Qumsiyeh, 1998; Rees, 1997; R.M. 1996; Shaheen, 2003; Suleiman, 1993). U.S. media images of Middle Easterners and Arabs are troublesome for two reasons. First, as has been said, Arab audiences dislike the negative representation of the Middle East, Muslims, and Islam (Hanley, 2004). Second, the media portrays Arabs as menaces without focusing on the real problem of U.S. foreign policy (Al-Arian, 2004). The media reinforces the negative image of Arab anger at the U.S. However, generally the anger is directed not at Americans but at governmental policies concerning the Middle East. Thoughts on Middle Easterner and Arab Muslim Views It has not been easy to characterize the views Middle Easterners and Arab Muslims have of America and Americans. As Chiozza (2004) wrote, the question consistently asked is, ―Why do they hate us?‖ but the answer is not simple. After September 11th, the notion that Middle Easterners and Arab Muslims are strongly opposed to the United States has been repeated in diverse media (Chiozza, 2004). This notion, in turn, perpetuated the idea of an ―irreconcilable divide between the West and what it stands for, and Islam and what it stands for‖ (Chiozza, 2004, p. 2). However, further research into the question of the views Middle Eastern and Arab
46 Muslim students hold for the U.S. revealed that an irreconcilable divide does not exist, and Americans (and America) are not universally hated. There is ambivalence. While Middle Eastern and Arab Muslim students have held negative views for American political policies, the road blocks that hamper their ability to enter the U.S. and study here, American political policies, and military actions in the Middle East, they hold positive views for certain aspects of American culture (such as the Internet, technology, education, and capitalism) and Americans themselves. Thus, the short answer to the question of the views Middle Eastern and Arab Muslim students hold for the U.S. is simply, ―It depends.‖ Research Concerning Arab Muslim and Middle Eastern Students Studying in the United States When reviewing the literature that is related to the research questions of this study, very little could be found that explores Arab and Middle Eastern students in their U.S. educational environments, the differences they perceive between home and the United States, and their success strategies. Many English language databases were searched for scholarly research (Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost, Dissertation Abstracts International, Education Research Complete, Encyclopedia of Education, Encyclopedia of Islam and the Muslim World, ERIC, Google, Google Scholar, Ingenta, OASIS, Summit, World Cat) using combinations of the following search terms: Arab, Middle East, Middle Eastern, Muslim, success, strategies, perceptions, problems, issues, education, higher education, adjustment. Very little was found except for dissertations. A search of dissertations in English did yield some results, but only a handful informs this research as of October 2009, when the literature search ended.
47 Of the studies found, some examined Arab university students‘ motivations and attitudes for learning English (Suleiman, 1993); the linguistic, educational, and cultural difficulties Arab students encounter (Alghazo, 2000); the cultural adaptation, social and learning experiences of Arab elementary, middle, and high school students and their perceptions of those experiences (Al-Mekhlafi, 1998; Amin, 2000; Enayah, 2002; Roumayah, 1997) and the construction of identity for Arab graduate students through conversations about literacy (Jan, 2006). Another study explored Arab students as an ―invisible minority‖—an underrepresented group in school curricula that, when represented, is visible in negative ways (Ahmed, 1998). The author‘s purpose was to describe the educational and social experiences of young Arab Americans and discover what influences these experiences have had on their perceptions of self and culture. Also, while nothing could be found that looked into Arab students‘ success strategies, there is research that explored the success strategies of Iranian American leaders (Amin, 2006) which investigated the personal traits that contributed to their success. The traits include self-confidence, self-discovery, values, vision, humility, commitment, persistence, optimism, family orientation, creativity, drive, interest in learning, communication skills, and passion, responsibility. In order to overcome cultural, social, financial, and work-related challenges, these leaders relied on the success strategies of self-awareness, biculturalism, use of social skills, motivation, and education. Studies Involving Saudi Arabian Students Studying in the United States As with Arab and Middle Eastern students, little was available that looked into the educational experiences of Saudi Arabians studying in the United States. It is
48 interesting to note that all the research discussed in this section consists of dissertations written by Saudi Arabians. There was no pertinent research in journals or other publications, with one exception. El-Banyan‘s 1974 study was later published, under the name of Al-Banyan, in 1980 by Ithaca Press. An exploration for scholarly research was conducted in a number of English databases (Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost, Dissertation Abstracts International, Education Research Complete, Encyclopedia of Education, Encyclopedia of Islam and the Muslim World, ERIC, Google, Google Scholar, Ingenta, OASIS, Summit, World Cat) using a combination of a number of search terms: Saudi, Arabian, study, United States, and nothing was found. However, a search of Dissertations Abstracts, uncovered 1,816 dissertations with the word Saudi in the title. Double-checking the search with a list of all of the U.S. dissertations written by Saudi students (Directory of Doctoral Dissertations by Saudi Graduates from U.S. Universities, 2006) found 623 dissertations involving educational experiences. The end date of this search was October 2009. There is an explanation for the lack of journal publications about Saudi students, I believe. Since the expectation is that these Ph.D. students will complete their studies and return home, one can conclude that the authors did not remain in the U.S. to publish articles or continue their research. This, perhaps, explains the absence of U.S.-published research other than dissertations. While it would be interesting to investigate the question of how much Saudi Arabian publication has been occurring in Saudi Arabia, the articles would be written in Arabic, and I could not read them.
49 During the course of the query into the dissertations written in the United States and Canada with the word Saudi in the title, it was discovered that research into Saudi students did not exist prior to 1973. In fact, the first dissertation ever written about Saudi Arabia at all was done in 1949, and this study was concerned with ground water in Al Kharj district. A second dissertation followed in 1958 (about the prevention of malaria in oases), and two others appeared in 1960 (concerning epidemiology in an oasis) and 1970 (foreign policy). After the early 1970s, momentum gathered and more research appeared—especially that investigating educational issues. This lack of early research may be due to historical factors. Prior to the discovery of oil in the 1930s, Saudi Arabia was characterized by isolationism, and a significant percentage of its population was nomadic Bedouins (Al-Banyan, 1980). Oil money (and the country‘s increased control over oil revenues) dramatically changed Saudi Arabia‘s deeply traditional society. The nation opened its doors to outside influence and began sending its students abroad a decade later (Al-Banyan, 1980). Dissertations Focusing on Saudi Students Studying in the United States Not Relevant to This Study Of the studies found focusing on Saudi students sojourning in the United States, none studied the issues of this research: students‘ perceptions of differences in their educational environments and their success strategies. In addition, none of the extant studies of Saudi students studying in the United States were qualitative studies. Although they did not specifically inform this research, some studies examined the concerns of Saudi students in the U.S. A handful concentrated on the students‘
50 perceptions of issues while they were studying in the United States: satisfaction with the Saudi Arabian Educational Mission‘s student services (Al-Nassar, 1982), attitudes towards religion (Kershaw, 1973), the relationship between experiences in the United States and the changes that occurred in attitudes toward Saudi cultural values (ElBanyan,1980), attitudes about Americans (Al-Dakheelallah, 1984), perceptions of the cost effectiveness of the scholarship program (Hassan, 1992), and general cultural perceptions of Saudi males (Al-Khedaire, 1978). Other studies investigated study/academic-related issues in the United States: pronunciation issues (Homiedan, 1985; Mousa, 1994); learning styles, motivation, and academic achievement (AlGhalib, 2004); writing processes (Aljamhoor, 1996); code switching (Al-Mansour, 1998); and uses of the Internet (Zakari, 2000). A few studies looked into non-study related issues: attitudes of Saudi wives while their husbands were studying in the U.S. (Dumiati, 1986), relationship between length of stay in the United States and attitudes about fertility and family size (Al-Said, 1988), intercultural and cross-cultural communicative difficulties (Basfar, 1995) and a comparison between moral judgments of American and Saudi students (Ismail, 1976). There is research that was conducted with participants in the United States, but the research addressed issues in Saudi Arabia: attitudes of Saudi students about the educational practices at home (Sahabi, 1987), perceptions of married students on the quality of their relationships in the context of Saudi Arabia‘s rapid changes (Bin Manie, 1985), and family problems and the need to set up family counseling services at home (Al-Mosharraf, 1990).
51 Finally, Nesreen Badi Akhtarkhavari (1994) conducted a study in which she compared the perceptions of satisfaction of Saudi students who studied in the United States with those who graduated from Saudi universities and the perceptions of the effects of their educations on both groups. Research with Saudi Students in the United States Relevant to This Study After a thorough search of databases in English, I could find no research that that directly examined Saudi students‘ success strategies. However, some parallel issues were found, such as Saudi students‘ general problems, academic problems, adjustment issues, and perceptions of educational gains. Abdulrahman Jammaz and Mohammed Rasheed conducted two of the earliest investigations of Saudi students‘ academic experiences in 1972. Several pertinent studies followed with Mustafa‘s study in 1985, the work of Saad Al-Shedokhi in 1986, Al-Harthi‘s 1987 study, Ali AlShehry‘s replication of Al-Shedoki‘s work in 1989, Shabeeb‘s 1996 research, and in 2000 Dalal Al-nusair‘s work. These studies are of interest because they form a context into which this study can be placed. Jammaz’ research. Jammaz‘ (1972) quantitative study of issues and problems of Saudi students studying in the United States focused on adjustment problems. He sent questionnaires to 400 students studying in the United States and received 345 replies. Jammaz reported that younger students were less well adjusted than older students, married students were less well adjusted than unmarried students, and those majoring in the humanities and social science were less well adjusted than students majoring in science and engineering. He also found that there was a low association between length of stay in the U.S. and adjustment and that many students reported having problems with English. Most experiencing
52 difficulties with English found writing to be the greatest obstacle, with reading, taking notes and participating in class discussions were nearly as problematic. Jammaz (1972) also found that the Saudi students who had the greatest association and socialization with Americans had the highest degrees of adjustment. In addition, this association with Americans had a major, positive effect on academic achievement. Rasheed’s research. In 1972, Mohammed Rasheed conducted a quantitative study to determine how a group of Saudi university students assessed a set of goals defined by universities. Furthermore, he determined the relationship of goals against a set of variables that affect perceptions of issues: majors, educational levels, existence of past work experience and its nature, expected employment after graduation, length of stay in the U.S., regional background, and marital status. The goals Rasheed worked with were those published by Edward Gross and Paul Grambsch in their book University Goals and Academic Power (American Council on Education, 1968) and the goals of higher education in Saudi Arabia as identified in the Educational Policy in Saudi Arabia. Rasheed created a list of 50 university goals and asked 695 Saudi students to indicate, on a five-point scale, how much emphasis they felt each goal should receive. He received 413 responses and determined that the top-ranked goals a university should focus on were keeping up-to-date, developing objectivity, insuring efficient goal attainment, running a university democratically, cultivating students‘ intellect, conducting research, training students for scholarship and research, and preparing students for useful careers. While Rasheed‘s work was not directly related to Saudi students‘ issues, his study does shed light on students‘ perceptions of what their universities should be focusing on
53 and doing for students. Indirectly, these findings offer some information about students‘ perceptions of their university experience. Mustafa’s work. A few years later, Mustafa (1985) surveyed the academic problems of Saudi students at Western Michigan University. This quantitative study looked into how the students, administrators, advisors, and faculty members perceived the problems the students were having. He administered 101 surveys to 47 students, 22 faculty members, 24 administrators, and 8 advisors. His findings were similar to Jammaz‘ work: the students identified academic English to be the most problematic aspect of study in the United States. Specifically, giving oral presentations, participating in discussions, pronunciation, writing essays and papers, and writing essay exams were aspects of study that were identified as the most troublesome. This study found that academic level had no effect on the students‘ perceptions their problems. Marital status had little effect with the exception of the students‘ ability to understand the wording on tests, and completing tests in the same amount of time as American students was more difficult for married students (which may due to the fact that unmarried students tend to associate with Americans more often. Married students, especially males, tended to speak in Arabic with their spouses, thus spending less time using English). Considering the length of time spent in the United States, Mustafa (1985) reported that students who had shorter stays perceived more problems in the areas of writing essay exams, taking notes, keeping appointments, understanding the American educational system, and having too many credit hours of study. These findings agree with studies conducted of international students in general. Most international students report that their biggest challenges come from studying in a foreign language and the requirement of full-time
54 study when one is struggling with a new language (Boyer & Sedlack, 1988; Li, Fox, & Almarza, 2007; Lin & Yi, 1997; Luzio-Lockett, 1998; Tseng & Newton, 2002). Al-Shedokhi’s research. Shortly after Mustafa‘s study was completed, Saad Al-Shedokhi (1986) surveyed 379 male and 51 female Saudi students studying in higher education institutions. Al-Shedokhi‘s study, also quantitative, examined students‘ perceived areas of problems. However, this study did not focus on strictly academic issues. This study used the Michigan International Student Problem Inventory (MISPI), which was identifies international students‘ problems. The MISPI contains 132 items grouped into 11 major problem areas with 12 items each and was developed by John Porter in 1962, then revised in 1977. Three hundred and seventynine males and fifty-one female Saudi students returned Al-Shedokhi‘s questionnaires. Al-Shedokhi‘s findings reported that the students‘ greatest concern was financial assistance, followed by academic records (grades, writing papers, advice from advisors), living-dining issues, and admission. The areas of least concern for these students were student activities, health services, and interactions with the opposite sex. Students at higher academic levels had fewer problems—probably due to the fact that the students had spent more time in American educational institutions and had more time to understand how to maneuver through the academic system. Younger students had more problems, possibly due to levels of maturity and experience. Those students who had participated in a pre-departure orientation program experienced fewer problems, with the exception of experiencing problems using English.
55 Al-Harthi’s study. Al-Harthi (1987) studied the academic problems of Saudi students studying in the United States, this time with attention turned to answering the question of why students change their majors after enrolling in U.S. schools. AlHarthi‘s quantitative study used three questionnaires (created by an earlier doctoral researcher) and mailed them to 200 undergraduate students (114 responded), 30 academic advisors at the Saudi Arabian Educational Mission (19 responded), and 50 representatives at government sponsoring agencies in Saudi Arabia (43 responded). Al-Harthi (1987) found that Saudi high schools did not prepare students for higher education in the United States because no match was made between the student‘s high school studies and the U.S. university major, and there was a lack of a strong academic background (especially in math and science). Additionally, students reported that they were not given enough support and guidance from their advising agency (the Saudi Arabian Cultural Mission), their academic preferences were ignored when they were selected for a scholarship to study in the U.S. and assigned a major, there was a lack of procedure for monitoring the students‘ progress, and they received inadequate academic advising at their U.S. university. In addition, when making a decision as to whom to award scholarships, the selection standards were not high. The students‘ academic desires were not considered when making scholarship decisions, student progress was not monitored, and there was little communication between sponsoring agencies and the Educational Mission. Al-Harthi‘s work is informative to this study because it adds to the understanding of why Saudi students might not be completely successful in their U.S. studies. By focusing on why students change their majors, the author begins the process of identifying some of the elements of the gap that exists between the goal of
56 obtaining a U.S. university education and the actuality of attaining that goal. While it is good to grant thousands of Saudi students the opportunity to study in the U.S. with full scholarships, the ability of the students to successfully undertake and complete the study is another matter. This study also identifies the non-academic hurdles that are specific to Saudi scholarship students, for example not considering students‘ interests when awarding scholarships and the lack of high standards in scholarship selection criteria. These hurdles may have an impact on success. Al-Shehry’s work. Ali Al-Shehry (1989) undertook research very similar to Al-Shedokhi‘s (1986) with the exception that he surveyed only graduate students. Both Al-Shehry and Al-Shedokhi used the same instrument, the Michigan International Student Problem Inventory (MISPI). The population of Saudi students in the United States at the time of the study, spring term of 1989, was 1,210. The sample size was 780 males and 70 females, and 354 students returned the survey instrument. Al-Shehry (1989) found that the areas of the greatest concern to Saudi students were using English, academic records (grades, writing essays, and academic advising), and financial aid. The areas of least concern were admission selection and health services. Al-Shehry also found that students who were married to a spouse without an education had more problems and concerns with English and financial aid than those with an educated wife; women had more problems in the area of academic records than men. Students who lived in non-private housing had more problems with English than those who lived in an apartment or house. In addition, students did not attend a pre-departure orientation, and those who had their English training in the
57 U.S. reported more problems with admission-selection, English language and academic records (grades, writing essays, and academic advising). Shabeeb’s study. Shabeeb (1996) also used the MISPI to study Saudi student adjustment problems. Shabeeb was interested in whether or not adjustment problems were influenced by length of stay, gender, marital status, age, scholarship status, level of study, and major. Shabeeb found that the students‘ biggest adjustment problems centered on studying and using English. Other adjustment issues were social, living-dining, orientation, admission, placement, student activities, religious services, health services, and financial aid—in that order. This quantitative research was conducted with Saudi and Arabian Gulf undergraduate and graduate students in six colleges and universities in Washington: Eastern Washington University, Gonzga University, Spokane Community College, Spokane Falls Community College, Washington State University, and Whitworth College. International student advisors at the six schools helped the researcher identify 150 students who were mailed the questionnaire. Of those, 103 responded. Al-nusair’s research. Using a different quantitative instrument, the College Student Experiences Questionnaire (CSEQ), Dalal Al-nusair (2000) examined how 171 (a response rate of 62%) university students perceived educational gains against expended effort. The CSEQ is focused on what students did in college, the conditions that influenced what they did and what they achieved. Student quality of effort is measured by levels of involvement in the school, perceptions of the campus environment, and personal belief in how much the student had gained by attending college. This questionnaire was originally developed in 1979 by Robert Pace and was revised in 1983, 1986, and 1988. There are 18 background questions, 109
58 questions devoted to college activities, 10 questions about perceptions of the college environment, and 2 questions about students‘ opinions about college. Al-nusair investigated how Saudi students devoted their time and energy in college and asked if this expenditure of energy resulted in academic gains and overall satisfaction. Al-nusair found that while the Saudi students were more involved, when compared with a national group (this group is not defined), in academic, conversational, and scholarly activities (and less involved in writing, interpersonal, and social activities), they were less satisfied and had lower scores in educational gains. Al-nusair‘s research also found a strong relationship between the effort the Saudi students spent on a range of activities and their educational gains. Satisfaction was also positively correlated with self-reported gains. Comments on the Relevant Research When considering making generalizations from the findings of the pertinent research discussed the foregoing pages, a common thread moving through all, of course, was the Saudi students‘ perceived problems with learning and using English. Other issues included those associated with academic work: writing essays and papers, studying, taking notes, and making oral presentations. This is to be expected because the students are studying in a foreign language at institutions that are very different from those to which they are accustomed. Non-academic issues included worries about financial issues and living/dining issues. In particular, Al-Harthi‘s (1987) study is informative because it identified issues and hurdles that the Saudi students must deal with in order to achieve their U.S. educational goals. According to Al-Harthi, not all of their problems and issues were academic and language-related, and some of the problems were unique to Saudi
59 students—dealing with the issues of being a Saudi scholarship recipient. In addition, Al-nusair‘s (2000) work informed this study because it examined expenditure of effort and perceptions of gains. Thus, it began examining areas of success. Also, most of the aims of all of the aforementioned studies were to assist the students‘ success by bolstering either the support systems in the U.S. (university advisors and programs and/or the Saudi Arabian Cultural Mission) or informing predeparture/orientation programs in Saudi Arabia. Thus, these studies are pertinent to this research as well because one of its goals is to contribute, in part, to a better understanding of the Saudi students by the Saudi Arabian Cultural Mission and the Ministry of Higher Education of Saudi Arabia. All of the above studies are related to this study, in addition, because of a common purpose. The studies focused on Saudi Arabian students studying in U.S. higher education institutions, sought to understand the Saudi educational experience here, and aimed to help those involved with Saudi students render better advising, orientation, and academic experiences in order to assist students achieve their goals. This study, too, has this goal and weaves additional threads within the fabric of these earlier studies because it aims to gain a better understanding of the Saudi experience in U.S. schools and wishes to help them succeed. However, my study is unique from those that went before it in that, first, it‘s qualitative; and second, it has a central focus on success, while the other studies centered on examining problems. During the course of this study, I learned about the success strategies the students developed to be successful, and I gathered advice from my research participants as to how schools and language programs can help future Saudi students be more successful. Finally, this work is unique because it
60 is one of the very rare studies conducted with Saudi Arabian students by a non-Arab. Of the studies cited in this literature review, only four have been written by authors with an Anglo name. The Saudi Scholarship Program In order to better understand the context of the Saudi students who are currently studying in U.S. higher education institutions, it is necessary to understand the events that brought them here. One significant event was the granting of Saudi government scholarships. All but one of the research participants are recipients of the Ministry of Higher Education of Saudi Arabia scholarship; a scholarship program that began in 2005. On April 25, 2005, King Abdullah bin Abdullaziz al Saud (then crown prince of Saudi Arabia) met with President George Bush in Crawford, Texas. At the time, many commentators considered the meeting a significant event in Saudi-U.S. relations in the wake of September 11 (Bollang, 2006; Saudi-U.S. Relations Information Service, 2005). After the meeting, King Abdullah and President Bush released a lengthy joint statement. The final words of the joint statement were these: Finally, the United States and Saudi Arabia agree that our future relations must rest on a foundation of broad cooperation. We must work to expand dialogue, understanding, and interactions between our citizens. This will include programs designed to (1) increase the number of young Saudi students to travel and study in the United States; (2) increase our military exchange programs so that more Saudi officers visit the United States for military education and training; and (3) increase the number of Americans traveling to work and study in the Kingdom. The United States recognizes we must exert great efforts to overcome obstacles facing Saudi businessmen and students who wish to enter the United States and we pledge to our Saudi friends that we will take on this effort. (Saudi-U.S. Relations Information Service, 2005, para. 14) The words that are pertinent to this study are, of course, ―increase the number of young Saudi students to travel and study in the United States.‖ In the fall of 2005
61 King Abdullah Abdulaziz and the Ministry of Higher Education invited more than 25,000 students to apply for scholarships over the next five years (AME Info FZ LLC/Emap Communications, 2007). The scholarships included a monthly allowance for the student and dependents, tuition, textbook allowance, and medical insurance. The tuition allowance covered at least one year of intensive English study (which has frequently been extended to one and a half years), five years of undergraduate work, and a $1,400 monthly stipend (Bollang, 2006; Al-nusair, 2000). In 2008, the monthly stipend was increased by 50%. Since the King‘s announcement, the Ministry has awarded thousands of scholarships for U.S. study and there were over 17,500 Saudi nationals studying abroad in 2005/06; of these, about 43 percent of the students have been shared among the United States, the United Kingdom, and Canada (AME Info FZ LLC/Emap Communications, 2007). These figures show an important change in the number of Saudi students studying in the United States. According to AME Info (2007), only 647 student visas were issued by the U.S. Embassy in 2004. However, 2005 saw a jump to nearly 7,000 visas for U.S. study (AME Info FZ LLC / Emap Communications, 2007). During the 2007/2008 academic year, 9,873 Saudi were studying in the United States (Institute of International Education, 2008). At the time of this writing, the statistics for the 2008/2009 academic year had not been released. Confirming these figures is the fact that more United States colleges and universities have reported increases in their students from the Middle East: specifically, 27 percent of U.S. institutions reported increases in enrollments of students from Saudi Arabia and only 9 percent reported declines (Institute of International Education, 2007). From 2004 to 2005, the number of Saudi students
62 studying in the U.S. increased by 14 percent (Institute of International Education, 2007). There was a 25.2 increase in Saudi students from academic year 2006/2007 to 2007/2008 (Institute of International Education, 2008). The current increase in the numbers of Saudi students in the U.S. is a welcome change in what had been a decline in international student enrollment due to factors such as the Asian economic crisis, September 11th, and the war in Iraq. Historically, the United States had long enjoyed increasing numbers of Saudi students coming to study in its institutions until a precipitous drop that bottomed out in 2003 with the U.S. led invasion of Iraq. The 1950s and 1960s found many Saudis studying in the United States as Arabian-American Oil (Aramco) sent students to learn new skills. During the petroleum boom years of the 70s and 80s, the Saudi government gave thousands of Saudis scholarships to the U.S. (Smith, 2003). In 1972, there were 1900 Saudi students studying abroad, with 700 in the United States (Al-Banyan, 1980). However, after a peak of 30,000 enrollments by the late 90s, the number of students from Saudi Arabia has been continuously declining, and the events of September 11th caused the immediate departure of over 300 students-from a total of only 5,800 students in 2001 (Smith, 2003). In 2003, there were less than 3,500 Saudi students in the United States (Smith, 2003), and in 2005 there were just over 2,000 (Hanley, 2007). What is interesting to note is that many of the Saudi students studying in the United States today are the sons and daughters of those here during the peak years of the 80s and 90s. The current number of Saudi students studying in the U.S. is unprecedented. It is due, in part, to Saudi Arabia‘s explosive expansion of its educational systems (which began in 1953 with the organization of the Ministry of Education and further
63 expanded in 1975 with the Ministry of Higher Education) and is funded by the country‘s vast oil resources (Flaitz, 2003; Goldschmidt, 2004; Oliver, 1987; Wenger, 2007). Currently, the Saudi educational system is experiencing major challenges. The Ministry of Education has begun a plan to increase the ―Saudization‖ of its workforce by educating its citizens to fill jobs held by foreign guest workers (Hendrickson, 2007; Wenger, 2007). It is estimated that in five years 50,000 Saudis will be trained for the job market, and this will necessitate the need to narrow the gap between the labor market and the skills taught in school (Hendrickson, 2007). In addition, 60 percent of the Saudi population is under the age of 18; the median age is 21; one third of all students who have graduated from secondary school are unable to enter higher education because they lack the necessary qualifications (Hendrickson, 2007; Wenger, 2007).
Therefore, to meet these educational challenges, a quarter of
the Kingdom‘s 2006 education budget of $23.3 billion is ear-marked for scholarships and building new schools—with higher education noted as a top priority (Hendrickson, 2007). In addition, the country recognizes that its educational infrastructure is limited and has plans in the works to build new public universities, increase capacity of current schools, augment the number of primary and secondary schools by 50 percent, build technical colleges and vocational training schools, and, for the first time, allow foreign universities to open campuses in the Kingdom (Hendrickson, 2007). The challenges that the Saudi educational system is facing help to explain the sudden appearance of the scholarship program.
64 The Saudi Arabian Education System As thousands of students travel to the U.S. to study in America, one of the things that new Saudi students must contend with when they arrive is a very different educational system and culture. Oliver (1987) described prevailing characteristics of the Saudi educational system that could arguably have an effect on students studying in the United States: emphasis on religion, separation of the sexes, and generous financial support. Al-Banyan (1980) added that Saudis share some basic characteristics that impact their lives and educational experiences: religion, language, cultural traits, and centrality of the family. Emphasis on Religion Contrary to the United States, religion shapes the educational system in Saudi Arabia because education is stressed in a pious Muslim life (Berkey, 2004). The Saudi Arabian Cultural Mission (1991) wrote that standard curricula requires religious studies for nine class periods per week at the elementary level (out of 30 weekly class periods of 45 minutes each), eight per week at the intermediate level (out of 33 weekly class periods of 45 minutes each), four per week during the first two years of the secondary level, and three per week during the senior year (out of 24 to 33 weekly class periods of 45 minutes each). According to the Saudi Arabian Cultural Mission (1991), education should do the following: 1. Strengthen faith in God and Islam, and in Mohammed as God‘s prophet and envoy. 2. Foster a holistic Islamic concept of the universe, man, and life in which the laws of God enable each creature to fulfill its duty. 3. Emphasize that life on earth is a stage of work and production during which a Muslim invests his or her abilities with full faith in eternal life in the
65 other world. Today is work without judgment, and tomorrow is judgment without work. 4. Teach that the message of Mohammed ensures happiness in man and rescues humanity from corruption and misery. 5. Instill the Islamic ideal of a humane, prudent and constructive civilization that is guided by Mohammed‘s message to realize glory on earth and happiness in the other world. 6. Engender faith in human dignity as decreed in the holy Qur‘an and that each Muslim is entrusted with the task of fulfilling God‘s wishes on earth. 7. Reinforce that it is an Islamic duty for every individual to seek an education and the state‘s duty to provide educational resources. 8. Incorporate religious education as a basic element in all branches of primary, intermediate and secondary stages of education. Maintain Islamic culture as a basic course in all years of higher education. 9. Use an Islamic orientation to judge the theories and applications of science and knowledge in all forms, curricula, writing and teaching so that this knowledge is in harmony with Islamic thinking. 10. Foster absolute faith in the fundamentals of the Islamic nation and its unity regardless of race, color and geographical distances. 11. Encourage the careful study of national history, the heritage of the Islamic religion and the lives of our ancestors. 12. Promote Islamic solidarity and strengthen cooperation among Islamic peoples in order to protect them from all dangers. 13. Respect the general rights guaranteed by Islam in order to maintain law and order, and achieve stability for the Muslim community, religion, soul, family, honor, mind and property. 14. Encourage social solidarity among members of the Muslim community through cooperation, love, fraternity and placing the public good over private interests. 15. Teach that God has bestowed a special character on the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia: a) as the guardian of Islam‘s sacred places; b) as the defender of the land in which the prophet Mohammed received his inspiration; c) in its adoption of Islam as religion, law, constitution and way of life; and
66 d) in its responsibility to spread Islam throughout the world. 16. Teach that to preach Islam throughout the world, with prudence and persuasion, is the duty of the state and its citizens. 17. Encourage strength in its most sublime forms—strength of faith, character and body—because a strong Muslim is closer to God‘s heart. (pp. 7-8) One of the prevailing influences in Saudi Arabian Islamic education that deserves mention is the conservative Wahhabi religious movement. The Wahhabi movement began conservative religious reforms in the 18th century and contributed significantly to tribal unification which eventually supported the ability of Abdulaziz Al Saud to capture and retain Riyadh, make it his capital, and extend his rule over most of the peninsula (Al-Banyan, 1980; Molavi, 2006). The Saudi royal family supported and adopted the religious movement, and there has been a consequent influence of conservative Islam on all aspects of life in Saudi Arabia (Al-Banyan, 1980; Molavi, 2006). Today, Wahhabi religious leaders are members of the government bureaucracy and play important parts in many areas of Saudi Arabian life: supervision of mosques, religious education, education of girls, scientific research and Islamic research (Al-Banyan, 1980). It is the conservative Wahhabi influence and stress on religious education that intensifies some of the differences Saudi students experience when they study in the United States. Separation of the Sexes In addition to its focus on religion, the Saudi educational system is characterized by separation of the sexes. The Saudi Arabian Cultural Mission (1991) maintains that education is equal but separate. However, two agencies oversee male education: the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Higher Education. Only one agency is responsible for all female education: the General Presidency of Girls‘
67 Education. Also, formal education for girls and women began with a governmental appeal from middle-class men for educated Saudi women to marry, and it was not until 1961 that Saudi women were admitted to universities (Al-Banyan, 1980; Flaitz, 2003; Hendrickson, 2007; Wenger, 2007). Today, the numbers of men and women enrolled in education are about equal. With the exception of pre-school, kindergarten, and first and second grades in some private schools, all schooling is separated by sex (Oliver, 1987; Saudi Arabia Cultural Mission, 1991). Boys and girls, men and women attend separate classes, are taught by separate staff of the same gender, go to separate buildings, and often attend separate institutions (Al-Banyan, 1980; Oliver, 1987; Saudi Arabia Cultural Mission, 1991). When there is a lack of women university teachers for some classes, instruction is done by men via closed circuit TV (Al-Banyan, 1980; Oliver, 1987; Saudi Arabia Cultural Mission, 1991). In the main, both sexes have the same curriculum with the exception of home economics for females and physical education for males (Oliver, 1987; Saudi Arabia Cultural Mission, 1991). It is interesting to note that for Saudi students, study abroad is the first time they have ever been instructed by a teacher of the opposite sex and been in classrooms with members of the opposite sex since they were small children. Substantial Financial Support by the Government As has been mentioned, Saudi Arabia is investing considerable amounts of money into education. There are extensive reform plans: the 10-year reform plan begun by the Ministry of Education in 2004, which corresponds to the 25-year reform plan of higher education scheduled to begin in 2007 (Hendrickson, 2007; Wenger, 2007); and the total allocation for education for the 1990-95 budget is 17.35 percent
68 of government expenditures (Saudi Arabian Cultural Mission, 1991). It is interesting to note that only elementary school is compulsory, and all schooling is free—at all levels, for all citizens (Al-Banyan, 1980; Oliver, 1987; Saudi Arabian Cultural Mission, 1991; Wenger, 2007). At the post-secondary level, stipends and free housing are furnished for all students; meals and transportation are subsidized; transportation is free for female students (Oliver, 1987; Saudi Arabian Cultural Mission, 1991). However, despite the fact that all education is free, there are not enough seats in colleges and universities for all those who wish to continue their educations. An Additional Influence on Saudi Students Another important influence on Saudi students that cannot be underestimated is the centrality of family as a cultural value. Family solidarity is ―one of the strongest traditional values in Saudi Arabia‖ (Al-Banyan, 1980, p. 35), and ―family loyalty and obligations take precedence over loyalty to friends or the demands of a job‖ (Nydell, 2006, p. 71). Saudis, and indeed all Arabs, view the family unit as the central unit of all social and economic interactions (Al-Banyan, 1980; Haneef, 1996; King-Irani, 2004; Nydell, 2006). Close family obligations and responsibilities are taken seriously, and all family members are expected to look after one another‘s welfare (Al-Banyan, 1980; Haneef, 1996; King-Irani, 2004; Nydell, 2006). One of the reasons why family is so important is that Muslims recognize family as the single, most important influence on one‘s earthly existence. It is the responsibility of parents and extended family to see to the proper up-bringing of children, to ensure that they receive the proper teachings of Islam, to guide children to the best educations possible, and to guarantee that children are exposed to the proper influences. In sum, it is the family that produces young people of high quality (Haneef, 1996). In Muslim cultures, it
69 takes a family to raise a child, and everyone is enmeshed in a web of grand-parents, parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, brothers, and sisters. While fathers are the head of the household and are seen as the authoritarian figure, mothers are the source of steadfast love and support, and motherhood is seen as something for which a woman has innate fitness (Al-Banyan, 1980; Haneef, 1996; Nydell, 2006). The influence and connections of family cannot be underestimated, and the absence of family is a major consequence of studying abroad for Saudi students and affects their overseas learning experience. Themes of This Study As the final element of the literature review for this study, this last section explores the literature related to two themes that arose from the interviews. These themes, resilience and intercultural competence, are qualities that are common to the successful Saudi students who participated in this research and contributed a great deal to their success. The characteristics and qualities of resilience have not been widely associated with international students or Saudi students. Intercultural competence has, of course, been frequently associated with international students and study abroad programs, but it has not been discussed in the context of Saudi students. A full discussion of how resilience and intercultural competence are related to the participants of this study can be found in Chapter 7. Resilience The first theme that arose from this study is resilience. Successful Saudi students are resilient—they have the ability to bounce back after stress and trauma, and they can deal with a large amount of change.
70 Few would argue that international students, as visitors to a new country, must adapt and adjust to a different culture and experience a great deal of change. Stoynoff (1997) noted that while most international students do succeed at reaching their educational goals, it is not without a great deal of effort, stress, and frustration. Pedersen (1995) wrote that culture shock is inevitable for international students, and culture shock brings about a life change that is significant and radical. Changes of such magnitude require noteworthy adjustment on the part of students. Tseng and Newton (2002) added that socio-cultural adjustment (culture shock, cultural fatigue, and racial discrimination) is one of the major key adjustment problems faced by international students. Hannigan (1990) included the following definition of adjustment, as associated with the process of change, in his article, entitled ―Traits, Attitudes, and Skills that Are Related to Intercultural Effectiveness and Their Implications for Cross-Cultural Training: A Review of the Literature‖: Adjustment can be conceptualized as a psychosocial concept which has to do with the process of achieving harmony between the individual and the environment. Usually this harmony is achieved through changes in the individual‘s knowledge, attitudes and emotions about his or her environment. This culminates with satisfaction, feeling more at home in one‘s new environment, improved performance, and increased interaction with host country persons. (p. 91) Pedersen (1995) agreed that successful adjustment to a new environment is strongly associated with an individual‘s ability to deal with change. Around the same time, Connor (1993) conducted general change research in the business arena and focused on how to change, rather than what to change. Connor (1993) found that resilience is an essential quality of those who successfully cope with change, and successfully coping with change is intrinsically related to general success in achieving one‘s goals. Thus, resilience is a quality that is associated with success.
71 A study of international graduate students conducted by Wang (2004, 2009) also established a relationship between adjustment, change, and resilience. Wang (2004), relying on Connor‘s (1993) work, defined resilience as the capability to manage high levels of change without high levels of dysfunctional behavior. Wang‘s study (2004, 2009) used the following characteristics of resilience and found they had a high correlation with international students‘ successful adjustment to change and their ability to succeed: Focus on positive elements of the world Positive views of self and one‘s self-confidence Strong sense of goals and priorities Flexibility and open-mindedness Realization of one‘s interdependence with others Organization and structured management of problems and challenges Proactive in engaging in change rather than evading it Assertiveness Wang (2009) pointed out that resilience characteristics are called for in all situations calling for change; although, some situations call for some characteristics more than others. Also, individuals who have a good balance of resilience characteristics can use them adroitly when a given incident or situation demands one or more characteristics over the others (Tebes, Irish, Vasquez, & Perkins, 2004; Wang, 2009). Such people are the most resilient (Wang, 2009). Others, who are strong in some characteristics, but weak in others, are not as resilient (Wang, 2009). The Harvard Mental Health Letter (2006) defined resilience as the ―capacity to endure stress and bounce back—a capacity that may be available to a given person
72 at some times and not others, under some threats and not others‖ (para. 2). This publication added that early research of children found that some flourished in life despite abuse, poverty, mentally ill parents, neglect, and violence. The common denominator of those who succeeded under conditions of intense stress and flourished has been dubbed resilience. Common features of resilience are connections with caring and nurturing adults, cognitive and self-regulation skills, positive views of self, and motivation (Harvard Mental Health Letter, 2006). Similar to the Harvard definition, Santa (2006) also defined resilience as ―the ability to bounce back from difficult pressures‖ (para. 12). Santa (2006) echoed the Harvard report on the factors that define resilient children: secure attachment, positive mindset, social support, and feelings of competence. Continuing to focus on children, Mandleco and Peery (2000) wrote that the factors concerning resilience are both internal and external to the individual. Internal factors are subdivided into two categories: biological and psychological. Biological contributors to resiliency are general health, genetic predisposition, temperament (which affects reactions to stress and change), and gender (Mandleco & Peery, 2000). The psychological aspects of resiliency are intelligence, ability to cope, positive perceptions of self, and positive perceptions of relationships with others (Mandleco & Peery, 2000). External factors are those which are within the family (positive home environment, good parenting practices, and a close bond with at least one family member) and those outside the family (availability of supportive individuals and community resources) (Mandleco & Peery, 2000). Moving research into the world of young adults, Carver (1998) found that individuals who experienced adversity and evaluated the experience to be growth-
73 promoting were experiencing cognitive transformation, which predicted resilience. The Carver (1998) study added some distinctions that other studies did not have—a distinction between resilience and thriving. First, this study defined resilience as a return to a prior condition. Second, thriving is identified as a ―better-off-afterward‖ condition (Carver, 1998, p. 247). Thriving, then, means that an individual comes to function at a higher level after experiencing an adverse event (Carver, 1998). However defined, though, thriving and resilience have characteristics in common. Those who tend to thrive have a secure attachment to and support from another, good coping responses, and are optimistic in that they view their circumstances as those that can contribute to growth (Carver, 1998). Adding another twist to the research on resilience, Tugade and Fredrickson‘s (2007) work wove positive emotions into the mix. They asserted that those who are resilient have positive emotional resources. Resilient people rely on positive emotions to help them get through stress and trauma (Tugade & Fredrickson, 2007). Furthermore, positive emotions can be cultivated and practiced to enhance resilience (Tugade & Fredrickson, 2007). Once practiced, responding with positive emotions can become automatic (Tugade & Fredrickson, 2007). Coping is another aspect related to resilience that can be learned and practiced. Ahern, Ark, and Byers (2008) questioned whether resilience is an outcome, a process, or a quality. However defined, however, they maintained that coping is a strategy that can enhance resilience, and coping can be learned. The work of Cohen and Frydenberg (1996); Frydenberg (2004); Frydenberg, Lewis, Bugalski, Cotta, McCarthy, Luscombe-Smith and Poole (2004); Lewis and Frydenberg (2002); and Li (2008) agree. ―Resilient individuals tend to use active
74 coping‖ (Li, 2008, para. 8). ―Developing coping skills is one way to facilitate young people‘s resilience‖ (Frydenberg, 2004, p. 18). People can be taught coping skills. First, one focuses on positive coping strategies: solving the problem (focusing on the problem while being optimistic, fit, calm, and connected to friends) and referring to others (turning to others for emotional, spiritual, or professional help) (Frydenberg, et. al,, 2004). Second, one avoids non-productive coping behaviors (worry, wishful thinking, ignoring the problem, isolating, and self-blaming). Unfortunately, people tend to use both positive and non-productive coping styles; there is a high correlation between the use of both (Lewis & Frydenberg, 2002). However, teaching, developing, and encouraging the use of positive coping skills (and discouraging the use of non-productive coping skills) can ―strengthen the resilience of students‖ (Frydenberg, et. al., 2004, p. 131), and individuals can develop defensive coping behaviors (Ahern, Ark, & Byers, 2008; Frydenberg, 2004; Frydenberg & Lewis, 2004; Li, 2008). In Coping for Capable Kids, Cohen and Frydenberg (1996) include 18 coping strategies which are grouped into three categories, which include remaining positive while solving the problem, interacting with others and staying connected, and less productive strategies with an emotional focus (worry, ignoring the problem, stress reducing activities). Intercultural Competence The second theme that arose from this study is a quality that the research participants possess: intercultural competence. Intercultural competence is a significant contributor to the ability to successfully adapt to life in a different country/culture, realize educational goals, and live in a multi-cultural world (Baumman & Shelley, 2006; Rathje, 2007; Sercu, 2004) and is a ―crucial predictor of success in
75 working and living in cross-cultural environments (Greenholtz, 2000, p. 411). Lack of intercultural competence implies problems in relating to another culture (Wilton & Constantine, 2003). Intercultural competence was often studied from the perspective of communicative competence and study-abroad programs (both in the U.S. and overseas). However, consensus of opinion holds that intercultural competence is much more than communicative competence (Deardorff, 2006; Emert & Pearson, 2007; Rathje, 2007; Sercu, 2004). Also, the focus of earlier studies of intercultural competence was to determine how sojourners were succeeding at attaining their educational goals in the stressful situation of being immersed in a different culture (Baumann & Shelley, 2006; Deardorff, 2006; Emert & Pearson, 2007; Koskinen & Tossavainen, 2003; Rathje, 2007). Today, intercultural competence has expanded to include immigrant and migrant issues, international social situations, interactions of international workforces and mergers of foreign companies, and the work of health practitioners (Flaskerud, 2007; Rathje, 2007). Thus, the focus of intercultural competence enlarged to include productivity in intercultural interactions, avoidance of misunderstandings, and enhanced cooperative problem solving—all with the purpose of successful achievement of one‘s goals (Rathje, 2007). The definition of intercultural competence has been hotly debated (Baumann & Shelley, 2006; Deardorf, 2006; Emert & Pearson, 2007; Flaskerud, 2007; Rathje, 2007; Sercu, 2004; Wilton & Constantine, 2003;). A lengthy paper authored by Deardorff (2006), pointed out that, while a valued and widely used measure of effective internationalization, a concrete definition of intercultural competence has evaded educators. Nevertheless, Deardorff‘s (2006) study did arrive at some agreed
76 upon components of intercultural competence and created both a framework and a process model to explain intercultural competence. The components of intercultural competence, arranged into a framework, are in Figure 2.1. In the framework, Deardorff (2006, p. 254) grouped the elements of intercultural competence found in her study of 73 U.S. post-secondary institutions.
Figure 2.1. Deardorff’s Framework Arrangement of the Components of Intercultural Competence Desired External Outcome: Behaving and communicating effectively and appropriately (based on one‘s intercultural knowledge, skills, and attitudes) to achieve one‘s goals to some degree. Desired Internal Outcome: Informed frame of reference/filter shift: Adaptability (to different communication styles & behaviors; adjustment to new cultural environments); Flexibility (selecting and using appropriate communication styles and behaviors; cognitive flexibility) Ethnorelative view Empathy Knowledge & Comprehension: Cultural self-awareness; Deep understanding and knowledge of culture (including contexts, role and impact of culture & others‘ world views) Culture-specific information; Sociolinguistic awareness
Skills: Listen, observe, and interpret Analyze, evaluate, relate
Requisite Attitudes: Respect (valuing other cultures, cultural diversity) Openness (to intercultural learning and to people from other cultures, withholding judgment) Curiosity and discovery (tolerating ambiguity and uncertainty)
Taken from ―Identification and Assessment of Intercultural Competence as a Student Outcome of Internationalization‖ by D. K. Deardorff , 2006, Journal of Studies in International Education, 10(3), 254.
77 She included the attitudes, skills, knowledge and comprehension needed for internal and external outcomes. The external outcome of achieving one‘s goals is at the top tier of the framework. The components of intercultural competence can also be arranged into a process model. Deardorff‘s intercultural competence process model is shown in Figure 2.2. In her process model, Deardorff (2006. p. 246) noted that intercultural competence begins with attitudes and progresses to outcomes. Figure 2.2. Deardorff’s Process Model Arrangement of the Components of Intercultural Competence
Individual Attitudes: Respect (valuing other cultures) Openness (withholding judgment) Curiosity & discovery (tolerating ambiguity and uncertainty)
Knowledge & Comprehension: Cultural self-awareness, Deep cultural knowledge, Sociolinguistic awareness Skills: Listen, observe, and interpret Analyze, evaluate, relate
External Outcome: Effective and appropriate communication & behavior in an intercultural situation
Internal Outcomes: Informed frame of reference shift: adaptability, flexibility, ethnorelative view, empathy
Taken from ―Identification and Assessment of Intercultural Competence as a Student Outcome of Internationalization‖ by D. K. Deardorff , 2006, Journal of Studies in International Education, 10(3), 254.
78 Other research agrees with Deardorff (2006). Emert and Pearson (2007) grouped intercultural competence into three general categories: knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors/skills. Sercu (2004) found four dimensions to intercultural competence: knowledge, skills, attitudes, and traits. Rathje (2007) wrote that there are list models and structural models to explain intercultural competence. List models catalog separate competences, and structural models define intercultural competence as a system in which affective, cognitive, and behavioral aspects are incorporated into a framework. Rathje (2007) created a definition of intercultural competence that ―prevents the term from either being overestimated as a guarantee of success or dismissed as an instrument of manipulation‖ (p. 264) and noted that intercultural competence is dependent on external factors such as know-how, strategy proficiency, and circumstantial and power factors. Rathje‘s (2007) definition is as follows: Given that culture is understood as existing within human groups, characterized by cohesion that is due to familiarity with inherent differences between then, then intercultural competence can be defined as a culturegeneric skill which is required in interactions between individuals from different human groups who are experiencing foreignness as a consequence of their mutual ignorance of the spectra of differences between them with a view to producing culture by creating familiarity and thus cohesion amongst the individuals involved, allowing them to pursue their interactional goals. (p. 264) Rathje‘s (2007) lengthy definition highlights difference, foreignness, producing culture, familiarity and cohesion among individuals, and the ability to pursue interactional goals. It might be argued that for Saudi students in the United States, interactional goals would include achieving educational goals. Thus, while a hardand-fast definition of intercultural competence has evaded scholars, it has become accepted as a standard in educational and cross-cultural situations as a fundamental and relevant element of the achievement of the goals in an international setting. For
79 Saudi students studying in the United States, this means that achieving higher degrees of intercultural competence plays a role in achieving their educational goals and ambitions. Concluding Comments This chapter reviewed a collection of literature that is of significance to this study of Saudi Arabian students studying in the United States. First, there was a discussion of the experiences of international students in higher education institutions that are pertinent to this study, followed with a look at two important aspects of the American context in which the Saudi students are living and studying in the United States: the stereotypes and preconceived notions Westerners have about Middle Easterners and the perceptions Arab Muslims and Middle Easterners have of the United States in a post-September 11th era. Next, I moved to the body of research concerning Arab and Middle Eastern students studying in the United States and, more specifically, I examined the studies that are concerned with Saudi Arabian students studying in America. Next, this review of the literature narrowed to examine the studies that relate to this study. In addition, in order to supply background information and provide information on the Saudi educational experience in the United States, the scholarship program that brought so many Saudi Arabian students to America has been described and the educational system in Saudi Arabia and the value of the family have been explored. Finally, this chapter reviewed the pertinent literature that concerns two themes that arose from this study: resilience and intercultural competence. The next chapter focuses on research methodology. The research questions are presented, and I discuss the strategy of inquiry, participants and the research
80 context. Furthermore, the next chapter outlines the data collection process, data analysis procedures, and the role of the researcher.
81 Chapter 3 – Research Methodology In the following pages, this study‘s research methodology is described. This chapter begins with an explanation of the purpose of the research--a general look at the research problem. The research questions follow--the specific questions that direct the inquiry. Next, this chapter describes the strategy of inquiry in which the preference for qualitative research is explained and the logic used to move the research questions closer to relevant data collection strategies is outlined. Next, the particular qualitative method used, case study, is discussed and afterwards, the research design is explained along with a discussion of the participants. This chapter also includes a description of the methods of data collection and procedures: semistructured interviews, photo-elicitation interviews, and focus groups, which is followed with a discussion on how the data is analyzed. Finally, the chapter ends with an examination how the trustworthiness of the data is ensured and an examination of the role of the researcher. Purpose The purpose of this study is to contribute to the greater understanding of Saudi Arabian students studying in the United States because, as outlined in Chapter 2, this is an under-represented group in research about international students. In the studies that exist, research has been conducted to examine the problems that Saudi student face; little is known abut the strategies they develop to succeed. I anticipate that language programs, colleges and universities can make use of the information contained in this study. In addition, this research is timely and relevant because of the large numbers of Saudi students studying in the United States currently and because more scholarships for U.S. study will be granted to Saudi citizens in the future. It is
82 hoped that the Saudi Arabian Cultural Mission and the Ministry of Higher Education of Saudi Arabia can use this study when selecting students to send to the U.S. to study, when orienting students prior to their visit, and when advising students once they are here. Research Questions Unquestionably, research questions are important; they are what drive research. Stake (1995) added that ―good research questions are especially important for case studies because case and context are infinitely complex and the phenomena are fluid and elusive. In a flood of happenings, ―the researcher grasps for something to hold on to‖ (p. 33). The research questions that directed this study are 1. What are the Saudi Arabian students‘ perceptions of the differences between the educational environment in Saudi Arabia and the new educational environment in the U.S.? 2. What strategies do Saudi students develop to succeed with their U.S. studies? 3. When these strategies are shared with peers, do they facilitate academic success? Strategy of Inquiry Once the research questions have been formulated, the researcher must decide how best to gather data to answer the questions. Denzin and Lincoln (2000b) defined strategy of inquiry as the ―skills, assumptions, enactments, and material practices‖ that researchers use when moving from a research design to a collection of data (p. 371). As mentioned in Chapter 1 of this dissertation, the strategy of inquiry for this study grew out of a theoretical framework or paradigm, which is based on
83 existentialism with a very strong influence from and supported by quantum theory. My world views and philosophical base agree with what Margaret Wheatley succinctly wrote in Leadership and the New Science: Discovering Order in a Chaotic World (1999): ―In the quantum world, relationships are not just interesting to many physicists, they are all there is to reality‖ (p. 34). Therefore, there is no objective reality; the environment we experience does not exist ‗out there.‘ It is co-created through our acts of observation, what we choose to notice and worry about. If we truly embraced this sensibility in our organizational life, we would no longer waste time arguing about the ‗objective‘ features of the environment. Conflicts about what‘s true and false would disappear in the exploration of multiple perceptions. (Wheatley, 1999, p. 37) Therefore, the strategy of inquiry for this study began with the decision to use a research methodology that embraces a belief in the interactivity of the universe and the absence of an objective reality. I chose to conduct qualitative research because this study sought to learn how the research participants created their social experiences and gave them meaning. In addition, qualitative research aligned with how I view the researcher‘s role in the context of research, how a researcher interacts with research participants, and how one answers research questions. Denzin and Lincoln (2000a) wrote that although qualitative research has meant a variety of things over time, one can create a general definition: Qualitative research is a situated activity that locates the observer in the world. It consists of a set of interpretive, material practices that makes the word visible. . . . [Qualitative researchers] turn the world into a series of representations, including field notes, interviews, conversations, photographs, recordings, and memos to the self. At this level, qualitative research involves an interpretive, naturalistic approach to the world. (p. 3)
Therefore, qualitative research does not explain change; it seeks to explain stability and direction and rejects the notion that understanding comes about through
84 a process by which the ―interpreter objectifies (i.e. stands over and against) that which is to be interpreted. And, in that sense, the interpreter remains unaffected by and external to the interpretive process‖ (Schwandt, 2003, p. 300). I decided against quantitative research, also, because quantitative research, according to C. G. Christians (2000) ignores the situatedness of power relations associated with gender, sexual orientation, class, ethnicity, race, and nationality. . . It glosses the ways in which the observer-ethnographer is implicated and embedded . . . (p. 133) It was impossible for this study to align with a research method that denies or ignores the real influences of gender, sexual orientation, class, ethnicity, race, and nationality. Finally, the choice of a strategy of inquiry depended upon ―the questions that are asked, and the questions depend on their context‖ (Nelson, 1992 quoted in Denzin & Lincoln, 2000a, p. 4), what existed in the context, and what the researcher can accomplish in that particular situation (Denzin & Lincoln, 2000a). The goal of this study was to learn, from the students‘ perspectives, about the new educational world in which the Saudi students found themselves studying and to explore the strategies the students developed to succeed by listening to and recording their narratives. I believe that qualitative research methods enabled me to answer my questions, reach my goals, and serve my research purposes. Case Study Within the realm of qualitative research, there are several ways to proceed. I chose to conduct a case study. Case study was chosen for several reasons. First, case study is conducted in order to describe, explain, or evaluate something—a case (Gall, Gall, & Borg, 2005). Stake (1995) defined a case as a ―specific, complex, functioning thing‖ . . . . ―[t]he case is an integrated system. The parts do not have to
85 be working well, the purposes may be irrational, but it is a system. Thus, people and programs clearly are prospective cases‖ (p. 2). Second, a case study, according to Gall, Gall and Borg (2005), has four distinctive characteristics. A phenomenon is studied by focusing on one particular case, the study is in-depth, the phenomenon is studied in its context, and there is a representation of both the etic and the emic perspectives (Gall, Gall, & Borg, 2005). Finally, Creswell (2007) defined case study as research that ―involves the study of an issue explored through one or more cases within a bounded system . . . over time, through detailed, in-depth data collection involving multiple sources of information, and reports a case description and casebased themes‖ (p, 73). Case study seemed appropriate because this study sought to learn more about a particular group of students, hear their stories and present their narratives. Gall, Gall, and Borg (2005) classified case study into three categories, according to purpose: description, explanation, and evaluation. Descriptive case studies are used to depict and portray a phenomenon, usually employing thick descriptions. Explanation case studies elucidate phenomenon by looking for patterns within a case or across cases. Evaluative case studies seek to make judgments about phenomenon. Yin (1993) also classified case study into categories. First, a case study is based on single or multiple studies. Then, a case study can be exploratory, descriptive, or explanatory. Exploratory case study focuses on defining hypotheses or questions of a subsequent study or on the feasibility of a set of research procedures. Descriptive case study renders a complete description of a phenomenon within its context. Explanatory case study explains which causes produced which effects (Yin, 1993). Stake (1995) also classified case study into
86 categories: intrinsic, instrumental, and collective. Intrinsic case study is conducted because the researcher wishes to learn more about one particular case. Instrumental case study is conducted in order to learn about something else; the case study is instrumental in getting a general understanding of a phenomenon by studying a particular case. Collective case studies are done when the researcher decides to study several cases rather than one, with coordination between the studies. And finally, Creswell (2007) wrote that the types of case study include the single instrumental, the collective, and the intrinsic. In the single instrumental case study, the researcher selects one bounded case as the focus of an examination of an issue (Creswell, 2007). The collective case study focuses on one issue, but the researcher studies several or multiple cases (Creswell, 2007). Finally, the instrumental case study looks at a case as an unusual or unique situation within a larger context (Creswell, 2007). However defined and classified, though, all authors agree that case studies have a process, a unit of study, a product, particular uses, and problems (bias, theory, triangulation, story telling, case selection, ethics). Case studies also provide information on the context and nature of the case, focus on the etic and emic perspectives, and stress reflexivity (Gall, Gall, & Borg, 2005; Stake, 1995; Stake, 2000; Yin, 1993). For the purpose of classifying this case study, arguments can be made for calling this study single- or multi-case. One group of students was studied; however, several different types of students participated: those enrolled in the ELI, former students enrolled in OSU classes, and students who were taking classes in both the ELI and OSU (see the Participants section in this chapter for a more complete
87 description of the research participants). For the sake of definition, this a multi-case or collective case study. This research is further defined as an explanation case study using the Gall, Gall and Borg (2005) definition and Yin‘s (1993) classification because the research examined and described the perceptions and success strategies of the research participants within the participants‘ context and also looked for patterns across the responses to the interview questions. In Qualitative Inquiry and Research Design: Choosing Among Five Approaches, Creswell (2007) outlined five steps in a procedure for conducting a case study. These steps were followed and are as follows: First, determine the most appropriate approach to the research problem or issue. Second, identify the case(s) and how they are to be selected with purposeful sampling. Third, select how data is to be collected. Fourth, chose how the data will be analyzed. Fifth, report the meaning of the case, the findings, the lessons learned. Creswell‘s steps were helpful to organize the study and give it a tangible direction. The pages that follow describe how I conducted the case study against Creswell‘s (2007) five steps. The Cases or Participants As Creswell (2007) wrote, there is a multitude of possibilities for ―purposeful sampling‖ (p. 75) when gathering a group of research participants. This study included participants who offered a variety of perspectives and points-of-view in order
88 to have as complete a picture as possible. Therefore, participants included men and women, graduates and undergraduates. They fell into one of these three categories: currently enrolled English Language Institute students, taking only language classes, fully admitted into Oregon State University, former English Language Institute students, or conditionally admitted program (CAP) Oregon State University students, taking both OSU and ELI classes (these students are taking some language classes until they have an acceptable TOEFL score or a recommendation from the ELI in lieu of a TOEFL score). I interviewed a total of 25 participants: two groups of eight and one group of nine. For each term, there was a different group of participants with no one participating for longer than one term. The participants were mostly male with some female participants, which is somewhat representative of the Saudi population at the ELI—although there was a higher proportion of women to men in this study. Research was conducted over the course of a year. It began fall term 2007 and concluded at the end of fall term 2008 (no interviews were conducted during spring term 2008 because I was working on a teacher-training project in Yemen). Thus, the participants were recruited at the beginning of fall term 2007, winter term 2008, and summer term 2008 by email or personal contact. I had access to the email addresses of ELI students, CAP and OSU students who were former ELI students. Using the email addresses I had each term, a pool of about 16 candidates were randomly emailed (or personally spoken to if I saw them on campus), inviting them to take part in this study, and eventually eight to nine students agreed to participate
89 (See Appendix F, Invitation to Participants). Some participants immediately responded via email to the invitation, agreeing to participate. Others were not so quick, and after waiting a few days, they were sent a shorter, nudge email. Once the initial pool of Saudi students was invited to join the research, the actual participants self-selected. In deciding who to include in the pool of potential participants, I drew some parameters. Because this study focuses on success strategies, it was important to interview students who were successful. I relied on the definitions of success of Boyer and Sedlacek (1988), Hull (1978), Pederson (1994), and Stoynoff (1996)—all of whom wrote that success is academic achievement, GPA, and attaining one‘s educational goals. Thus, for the purposes of this study, a successful student was defined as someone who had matriculated into OSU from the ELI, someone who was very close to full matriculation and was taking some language classes (conditionally admitted program students), or an upper-intermediate or advanced level language student who was making good progress in his or her studies and had been at the ELI for at least two terms. These students were all moving forward in their studies, making good academic progress, and achieving their educational goals. Unsuccessful students were not included in this study because this study is focused on success, not failure. Also, I did not have access to students who had failed to matriculate into OSU or had left the ELI. They either returned home or transferred to another school or language program, and contact was lost. Also, while I had access to English Language Institute students who were failing classes or not advancing in their language studies, it was unethical to ask these students why they
90 were having problems. To do so would have been rude and singled them out as unsuccessful. Upper intermediate and advanced ELI students were included in the pool of potential participants because upper level students have better command of English and would have an easier time and feel more comfortable with taking part in interviews conducted in English. Also, upper level students have almost always been studying in the U.S. longer and have had more time to develop success strategies. As an instructor at the ELI, I saw a potential conflict with inviting ELI students to be research participants. Therefore, no students were invited who were enrolled in any class I was currently teaching. While former students were research participants, only two participants became my students after the research with them was concluded. Participants and Interviews Each term, 8 to 9 students self-selected to participate in this study. While each participant had the opportunity to take part in five interviews, not every participant attended all five of the interviews. Considering all three sets (terms) of interviews together, Semi-Structured Interview #1 was the best attended, and all 25 participants attended it. Nineteen participants attended all the focus groups (9 in Fall 2007, 4 in Winter 2008, 6 in Summer/Fall 2008), and 21 participants attended all the photo-elicitation interviews (8 in Fall 2007, 4 in Winter 2008, 9 Summer/Fall 2008). The final interview had the poorest attendance, and a total of 15 participants attended it (7 in Fall 2007, 2 in Winter 2008, 6 Summer/Fall 2008). Counting all three sets of interviews together, there was a grand total of 80 interactions and/or interviews. The tables that follow show the specific interviews in which each participant took part.
91 Table 3.1. Fall 2007 Participants and Interviews Participant SemiStructured Interview #1 A X B X C X D X E X D X E X F X Totals 8
Photo Elicitation X X X X X X X X 8
Focus Group #1 X X X
Focus Group #2 X X X X X
Table 3.2. Winter 2008 Participants and Interviews Participant SemiPhoto Focus Focus Structured Elicitation Group #1 Group #2 Interview #1 G X X H X I X J X X K X X X X L X X X X M X N X Totals 8 4 2 2
Table 3.3. Summer/Fall 2008 Participants and Interviews Participant SemiPhoto Focus Focus Structured Elicitation Group Group #2 Interview #1 #1 O X X P X X R X X X R X X S X X X T X X X X U X X X X V X X W X X Totals 9 9 4 2
SemiStructured Interview #2 X X X X X X X 7
SemiStructured Interview #2
SemiStructured Interview #2 X X X X X X
5 3 5 4 4 4 4 3 32
2 1 1 2 5 5 1 1 18
3 3 4 2 4 5 5 2 2 30
92 As can be seen in Tables 3.1, 3.2, and 3.3, not all participants opted to take part in all the interviews each term. In the case of Summer/Fall 2008, one participant transferred to another school before the completion of his set of interviews. Also, the participants had been told that they could opt out of the interviews and did not have to participate in all of them if they found the interviews interfering with their studies. Some participants decided to not attend all interviews. After contacting a participant to schedule an interview, if I did not hear from him or her, I sent two follow-up emails. If there was still no answer from the participant, the matter was dropped—for that particular interview. Subsequent interviews were attempted. Some participants returned to the research project for one or more interviews; some did not. The final, semi-structured interview #2, had the lowest attendance. This was due to the fact that this last interview took place at the end of each term, and the participants were busy with projects and final exams. During semi-structured interview #1, questions were asked that gave general, background information on each of the participants. Table 3.4 summarizes this background information.
93 Table 3.4. Background Information for All Research Participants Participant
G H I
X X X
X X X
X X X
X X X
H.S. + 1 mo indust coll & 1 yr com. col Assoc. Deg in marketing mgmt H.S. H.S. + 1 term univ. Bachelor‘s H.S. H.S. + 1.5 yrs univ. H.S. H.S. + xray tech diploma H.S. H.S. H.S. + 1.5 yrs at indust coll Master‘s H.S. H.S. H.S. Bachelor‘s Bachelor‘s Bachelor‘s H.S.
L M N
O P R R S T U V
X X X X X X X X
X X X X
X X X
X X X
Education in S.A.
X X X X X X X X X 19
Time in U.S. 2 years 2 years 1 year 1.5 yrs 1.5 yrs
1.5 1.5 6 mo 2 yrs 2 yrs 1 yr 2 yrs
2 yrs 2 yrs 2 yrs
4 mo 4 mo 5 mo 9 mo 5 mo 5 mo 3 yrs 14 mo 2 yrs
94 Of the 25 participants, 8 were fully admitted into OSU, 8 were in the Conditionally Admitted Program, and 9 were full-time English Language Institute students. Nineteen were undergraduates and 6 were graduates. They had spent a total of 94 terms studying English at the ELI. Compared to the general population of Saudi students enrolled in the ELI since 2005, the participants were a reasonable cross section. The only element that was a little skewed was the number of women. With 7 women participants and 18 men, the ratio of women to men was generally higher than the ratio of Saudi women to men at OSU and the ELI. One feature of the participants that is very interesting is that they were sometimes second-generation international students. Four participants were born here while their fathers were in school, and many had fathers, aunts, and uncles who studied in the United States in an earlier wave of Saudi students. Of the 25 participants, 13 had fathers and/or uncles (and in two cases an aunt) who studied in the U.S. Seven participants had brothers, sisters, and cousins who either studied or are currently studying in the United States. The participants were asked about the educational levels of their parents and other family members. Seventeen participants have fathers who had graduated from college with a bachelor‘s degree. Of these, three fathers hold master‘s degrees. One father had religious higher education, three fathers completed high school, one started high school and did not complete it, one completed elementary school, one had not attended school, and one father was deceased. Considering the participants‘ mothers, four completed college with a bachelor‘s degree, two received higher education degrees from training schools, five completed high school, two began high school and did not complete it, one completed middle school, five completed
95 elementary school, three began elementary school and did not complete it, and three did not attend school. All but one participant had one or more siblings who either hold university degrees or were studying for university degrees. This participant is the eldest in her family and the only one studying in the university at this time. Concerning their English education prior to traveling to the United States, all participants studied English in middle and high school because English is mandatory. Three participants studied English in private, primary schools. Several others studied English after high school. Some took a year or two of English at a college/technical school, and two attend an orientation year of English at university. Their programs were, for the most part, in English, and they spent a year taking preparatory English classes. One participant‘s nursing program is an example of a course of study that was conducted in English. Most of the English classes focused on rote memorization and grammar with little or no reading or writing. Chapter 7 also has information about the participants, along with a discussion of how they define success and how they characterize a successful student. Data Collection Tools This study used data collection methods that are common to case study (Gall, Gall, & Borg, 2005). Data were collected using the following methods: Traditional semi-structured interviews, including audio taping, notetaking, and member checking. Photo-elicitation interviews, including audio taping, note-taking, and member checking (see Chapter 4 for a complete explanation of this research method).
96 Focus groups, including note-taking, audio taping, transcription, and member checking. Journal keeping, reflective notes.
Figure 3.1 shows the alignment of the research questions with each data collection tool: Figure 3.5. Alignment of Data Collection Tools and Research Questions
Data Collection Tools Semi-structured interview #1 Photo-elicitation interviews Focus Groups Semi-structured interview #2 Journal Keeping*
Research Question What are the Saudi Arabian What strategies do students‘ perceptions of the Saudi students differences between the develop to educational environment in succeed with their Saudi Arabia and the new U.S. studies? educational environment in the United States?
When these strategies are shared with peers, do they facilitate success?
*Note: Journal keeping was for reflexive note-taking use; while it informed all of the research questions, it did not directly address any questions.
Semi-Structured Interviews Kvale (1996) employed two metaphors for interviewing: the interviewer as a miner and the interviewer as a traveler. In the miner metaphor, the interviewer is someone who unearths things of value or discovers nuggets of essential meaning. The value of the products unearthed and their purity is decided upon by the degree to which the product correlates to external, objective values or internal, subjective, authentic experiences. In the second metaphor of the traveler, the interviewer is on a
97 journey and relates the tale of his/her experiences at the end of the travels. The traveler wanders the landscape, explores the unknown, and questions local inhabitants (Kvale, 1996). The journey leads not only to new knowledge, the traveler may change as well. Of these two metaphors, I preferred that of the traveler. As a traveler into the world of the educational experiences and success strategies of the research participants, one of the data collections tools was semi-structured interviews. Kvale (1996) defined the semi-structured interview as ―an interview whose purpose is to obtain descriptions of the life world of the interviewee with respect to interpreting the meaning of the described phenomena‖ (p. 5-6). He adds that while the interview is really nothing more than ―a conversation that has a structure and a purpose‖ (p. 6), it is designed and controlled by the researcher. McCracken (1988) wrote that the interview ―departs from participant observation insofar as it is intended to accomplish certain ethnographic objectives without committing the investigator to intimate, repeated, and prolonged involvement in the life and community of the respondent‖ (p. 7). The attraction of conducting semi-structured or open-ended interviews is that they are adaptable; the interviewer can probe or ask follow-up questions (McCracken, 1988; Gall, Gall, & Borg, 2005). They also have the advantage of eliciting more indepth data than surveys, and they allow the interviewer to re-create a fuller, more descriptive picture of the phenomena (McCracken, 1988; Gall, Gall, & Borg, 2005). Requirements for interviewers/interviews, Gall, Gall, & Borg (2005) noted, are appropriate training, accurate recording (audio taping or good note-taking), and testing or piloting interview questions. Kvale (1996) added that the interviewer must
98 be knowledgeable, gentle, sensitive, attentive, critical, and open; the interview must be appropriately structured, steered towards what the interviewer needs to know; the questions need to be clear, and the interview data must be confirmed (or disconfirmed) by the interviewee. A beginning, semi-structured interview was conducted with all of the participants (see Appendix B, Semi-Structured Interview #1 Questions). At the beginning of the first interview, informed consent was obtained from each interviewee, the research project was thoroughly explained, the participants assured of anonymity, and each research participant understood that the role of interviewer, role as teacher, and role of international student advisor were separate. The participants understood that they could withdraw from the series of interviews at any time and could decline to answer any question they chose not to answer (See Appendix A, Informed Consent Form). The first ten questions of Semi-Structured Interview #1 were intended to provide background information about the participants. The questions that were to introduce the participants to the study, break the ice and establish an interview relationship, and provide background information about the educational environment in Saudi Arabia. These questions also served to begin the process of encouraging the participants to think about their strategies for solving educational issues and challenges, which is the first step of looking at their bridging and success strategies in the U.S. Semi-Structured Interview #1 addressed Research Question #1: What are the Saudi Arabian students‘ perceptions of the differences between the educational environment in Saudi Arabia and the new educational environment in the U.S.? and
99 Research Question #2: What strategies do Saudi students develop to succeed with their U.S. studies? Each semi-structured interview lasted around 60 minutes. Each interview was conducted at Java II, a coffee shop in OSU‘s library. Java II was chosen because it is neutral and most of the research participants were accustomed to meeting with study groups and friends there. Most of the interviews were audio taped (two participants declined permission for taping the semi-structured interviews). I also took careful notes. One advantage of conducting multiple interviews with each participant is the opportunity to member check. Janesick (2000) suggested that qualitative researchers verify their data with member checks, and decide what form the member check will take. Thus, Semi-Structured Interview #2 provided the research participants with an opportunity to review the major interview questions and verify the interview notes from prior interviews, offer corrections, and give feedback (see Appendix E: Semi-Structured Interview #2 Questions). This second semi-structured interview addressed Research Question #2: What strategies do Saudi students develop to succeed with their U.S. studies?, and Research Question #3: When these strategies are shared with peers, do they facilitate success? Photo-Elicitation Interviews The second type of interview conducted for this study was photo-elicitation. Photo-elicitation is a qualitative research method in which photographs are integrated into the interviewing process. Photo-elicitation was used to ease the language gap between the participants and me and to allow the participants to more clearly show
100 their realities and perceptions visually. Chapter 4 of this dissertation includes a full description and discussion of photo-elicitation. At the conclusion of the first semi-structured interview, each research participant was asked to prepare for the next, photo-elicitation interview. After ensuring that each participant had a camera, they were asked to take pictures of two things: examples of differences between school at home and school in the United States and examples of things that contribute to their success. The pictures could come from any source: they could be taken by the participants themselves, they could be found on the Internet, or pictures could be taken by someone else and the research participants borrow them. A set of interview questions for the photo-elicitation interviews can be found in Appendix C. The questions were designed to have the research participants describe their photos, explain what they meant, what they showed, and why they were significant. The interviews were audio-taped (with the exception of two who wished to not be taped) and careful notes were taken. Each interview lasted approximately 60 minutes or more. All photo-elicitation interviews were also conducted at Java II at the OSU library. The purpose of the photo-elicitation interviews was to specifically address Research Question #1: What are the Saudi Arabian students‘ perceptions of the differences between the educational environment in Saudi Arabia and the new educational environment in the U.S.? and Research Question #2: What strategies do Saudi students develop to succeed with their U.S. studies?
101 Focus Groups The third type of interview conducted was focus groups. I facilitated two focus groups per term for a total of 6 focus group interviews. The purpose of the focus groups was to address Research Question #2: What strategies do Saudi students develop to succeed with their U.S. studies?, and Research Question #3 When these success strategies are shared with peers, do they facilitate success? Focus groups were chosen because, as Krueger and Casey (2000) wrote, they promote self-disclosure among the participants, consist of a focused discussion among participants who share common characteristics, and generally produce good data that are of interest to the researcher. In addition, focus groups enable a researcher to learn about different perspectives within a social network, are wellsuited to learning about attitudes and experiences about specific topics, can bring about discussions that can uncover information that has not been not accessible through individual interviews, and allow the researcher to direct the conversation and follow new ideas as they arise (Morgan, 1998; Kitzinger & Barbour, 1999; Gall, Gall, & Borg, 2005). During each focus group, the sessions were audio taped and notes were taken. The notes included quotes, paraphrased quotes, themes that emerged, big ideas, observations on body language, and non-verbal messages (Krueger, 1998a). After the focus groups were concluded, I transcribed the audio tapes. In addition, Kruger (1998a) suggested drawing a seating diagram, jotting down follow-up questions that can be asked at another session, writing down hunches and thoughts, and taking note of passionate comments, head nods, eye contact and other indications of levels of agreement, support, or interest.
102 At the beginning of each focus group, I quickly discussed the reasons why the group was together and posted the discussion questions on the wall so that the research participants could refer to them. A laptop was used for note taking. During the session clarifying questions were asked as necessary, and for the last few minutes of each focus group, as a means of member checking, the major points that had been discussed were reviewed and the participants asked for clarification and correction. At the conclusion of the first focus group, the next group meeting was arranged. Each focus group lasted at least an hour and some went up to 1.5 hours. The groups met in a group study room in the library, which is neutral territory that allows privacy. As an additional note taker, an assistant (an OSU undergraduate student who was not associated with the ELI) was invited to attend each focus group meeting. At the conclusion of each focus group meeting, my assistant and I compared notes and debriefed. The assistant/note-taker was present for two reasons. First, having a note-taker is a practice recommended by Krueger (1998b). Second, the presence of an older teacher and advisor can inhibit free-flowing communication and disclosure. The assistant shared both age and student experiences with the participants. She was encouraged to enter into the focus groups discussions and ask questions. Her participation and contributions were invaluable because she encouraged and assisted with discussions that would not have occurred if she had not been present. For example, during one focus group, the participants were reluctant say anything negative about their ELI and OSU experiences. After the assistant asked a few questions and shared a story of her own, the participants began to tell their own stories and reveal feelings of frustration with some problems they had experienced.
103 Without the prompting and help from the assistant, I never would have gotten this data. The focus group meeting protocol was as follows: Meet group in lobby of library and show the participants to the group study room. Introduce assistant and explain the assistant‘s role. Discuss the reasons for the focus group Ask participants permission for the session to be audio taped. Ensure that all participants have signed informed consent forms. Post session discussion questions on wall and facilitate discussion. Review discussion‘s main points and offer a summary to the participants. Ask them for corrections and additions. End focus group and thank the participants. Invite them to contact the researcher if they have additional thoughts, perceptions, or observations to add. Meet with assistant as soon as possible after the focus group meeting and debrief. Initially, before conducting any focus groups, I had anticipated asking the following questions: Focus group #1: 1. What does success mean to you? 2. What are your goals for coming to the United States? 3. What problems have you had at the ELI or OSU?
104 4. What strategies have you had to manage the problems? 5. Are the strategies successful? 6. What advice do you have for other Saudi students coming here? Focus group #2: 1. Do you interact with other Saudi students? Americans? International students? 2. What have you noticed about how Americans on campus or in class interact with you? 3. What success strategies do you use? 4. Do you share them with others? 5. Do they find them useful? 6. How can OSU/ELI help you be successful? However, when as the focus groups were conducted, they tended to be organic because the discussions had a life of their own and the participants did not always stay with the question. While the discussions were often steered back to the questions at times, they were also allowed to run their course, especially when the participants were engaged in a discussion. When analyzing the data, I found that the questions had evolved into the following: Question #1: What Were Your Goals for Coming to the United States? Question #2: Why did you decide to come to the United States and study? Question #3: What Does Success Mean to You? Question #4: What problems have you had at the English Language Institute or OSU?
105 Question #5: What strategies did you use to manage any of the problems you‘ve had? Question #6: Do you interact with Americans. Who do you mostly interact with Americans or Saudis? Question #7: How do Americans interact with you? Question #8: What do you do to be successful? What success strategies do you have? Question #9: Do you share them with others? Are they useful? Question #10: What advice do you have for future Saudi students? Question #11: What can the ELI or OSU do to help you succeed? After the second focus group, another semi-structured interview was scheduled with the participants, which was the fifth and final interview conducted (see Appendix E, Semi-Structured Interview #2 Questions). This interview acted as a final opportunity to do some member checking with each participant and gave the participants a chance to review what had occurred, academically, since the beginning of the term. In addition, Morgan (1998) recommends that focus groups sometimes be validated with other methods. The final semi-structured interview was an opportunity to gather additional data, revise and add to all notes, and triangulate. Reflective Notes: Observation and Journal Keeping Observation and journal keeping have a long history in qualitative research. The researcher went into the field to study the habits and customs of another culture and society, making observations and keeping notes (Denzin & Lincoln, 2000a). Angrosino and Mays de Pérez (2000) described observation as a foundational piece
106 in social and behavioral sciences that occurred in natural settings and did not interfere with the people or activities being observed. However, in the postmodern world of qualitative inquiry, questions arise if whether ―observational objectivity is either desirable or feasible‖ (Angrosino & Mays de Pérez, 2000 p. 674). Post modern qualitative researchers no longer assume that they operate at a distance from their research participants. Rather, observation can be used to help understand the interactions between the research participants and the researcher, and observation can be used for learning more about the interactions among the participants themselves. One concern of ethnographic research is ―the way in which ethnographic observers interact with or enter into a dialogic relationship with members of the group being studied‖ (Angrosino & Mays de Pérez, 2000 p. 678). Observing and journaling were used as a way to record and reflexively examine interactions and relationships with the research participants, and keeping a journal also afforded the opportunity to examine my own participation in the research study. With the journal entries, Angrosino and Mays de Pérez‘ (2000) five principles of social interaction were used as points of reference for reflexivity and to frame the journal keeping. These five principles are: Conscious adoption of a situational identity (what role did the researcher take in the social interaction, why adopt that role, was the role conscious or spontaneous; what roles were the participants taking) Perceptions of power (what are the factions, conflicts, divisions, relationships observed)
107 Negotiations of situational identities (what conceptions did the participants and researcher have of their own identities/roles and the identities/roles of one another; how did everyone negotiate those identities) Self-criteria for validation (how did the members of the study, including the researcher, check their behavior in terms of standards/criteria) Contextualized meaning (how were the interactions observed conditioned or impacted by who the research is and who the participants observed the researcher to be) Finally, keeping a reflective journal allowed for a level of reflexivity that was necessary for me to separate my roles as researcher, teacher, and advisor. Reflexivity, in the form of journal keeping, helped me avoid conflicts of interest by helping me maintain personal integrity and an awareness of the separation of roles. I was therefore able to avoid preferential treatment to enter into interactions with students I advised who were also research participants. Data Analysis Marshall and Rossman (1999) noted that data analysis is the process of ―bringing order, structure, and interpretation to the mass of collected data (p. 150). They note that it is not neat, tidy, clear-cut, or fast. Data analysis is not linear, and it is messy. It ranges from an objectivist, ―quazi-statistical analytic style‖ to an intuitive, ―immersion style (Marshall & Rossman, 1999, p. 151). Creswell (2007) agreed that data analysis is not a linear, off-the-shelf process. It is, as Creswell described it, a spiral that begins with a general organization of the data. Creswell (2007) wrote that data analysis in a qualitative case study entails organizing the data, reducing it into themes through coding and then condensing the codes, and finally representing the
108 data in tables, figures, or discussions. The researcher reads and re-reads the data, getting a sense of the whole, and making notes. Forming general categories is followed with gathering evidence to support the categories. The process continues with coding and classification where researchers winnow down the data and develop themes, sub-themes, and patterns (Cresswell, 2007). Next, comes interpretation and representation, in which the researcher develops generalizations and presents an indepth picture of the case using narratives (Creswell, 2007). The steps followed when the data were analyzed were those Creswell (2007) outlined: Data managing Reading, memoing Describing Classifying Interpreting Representing, visualizing It was a situation of ―pulling the data apart and putting them back together in more meaningful ways‖ (Creswell, 2007, p. 163) and developing generalizations in terms of the themes in comparison with published literature (Creswell, 2007). In addition, Creswell (2007) pointed out the importance of describing the setting in which the case in embedded: a detailed view of the aspects of the case—―the facts‖ (p. 163). A description of the setting for this study can be found in Chapter 1, a representation of the data in tables is in Chapter 5, and a discussion and explanation of the analyzed data can be found in Chapter 6.
109 In Qualitative Researching, Jennifer Mason (1996) asked a series of questions that ask a researcher to define or establish the foundations of his/her data analysis. The questions are as follows: 1. What counts as data? 2.
How are the data read (literally, interpretively, or reflexively)?
How are the data to be indexed and retrieved (cross-sectionally or non-
cross-sectionally)? Answers to the above questions gave this study direction and guidance as the data were collected, sorted through, and analyzed. For item #1 (What counts as data?), data were defined in the following ways: Statements, remarks, expressions, stories, and direct and indirect answers interview questions (which were guided by and formulated from the research questions). Statements, remarks, expressions, stories, and direct and indirect answers to questions or comments of the note-taker during focus groups (which may or may not have been guided by or formulated from the research questions). Remarks, responses to, additions to, questions of, agreements with, or disagreements with other participants (which usually connected either tightly or loosely to the research questions). Also, conducting semi-structured interviews and focus groups is often akin to herding cats, so it was sometimes fruitful to sit back and allow the research participants to talk until a topic seemed somewhat exhausted. Although the research questions were kept in mind when guiding an interview or discussion, the style for this
110 study was that I acted as a facilitator rather than that of a director. As to whether or not something was data, the determination was made with the help of the research questions. Data needed to shed some sort of light on the research questions. Concerning question #2 (How are the data read?), they were read literally, interpretively, and reflexively. For example, when a research participant was asked a direct question, such as to describe how he/she defined success, the answer was read literally. However, it is difficult to conduct a case study with only a literal reading of the data. Thus, the data were also read interpretively. Especially with language students, one must interpret what the participants mean because they cannot express themselves as fluently as they might wish. Also, it is necessary to ―read through or beyond the data‖ (Mason, 1996, p. 109) because words are only representations of thoughts and concepts. Words are limited, and the nature of qualitative research requires the researcher to interpret the data. Finally, to a certain extent the data were read reflexively. When a researcher reads data reflexively, he/she locates herself as part of the data. As has been mentioned, I kept a reflexive journal and kept reflective notes. I saw myself as inextricably implicated in data generation and felt the need to read the data against my own involvement with it and against my own pre-conceived notions. For question #3 (How are the data to be indexed and retrieved?),data indexing is also called categorizing or coding; the data were indexed non-cross-sectionally. Mason (1996) defined cross-sectional data indexing as using one lens to view the data and sort it into categories; non-cross-sectional indexing is using different lenses to view the data. The researcher looks at the data using a common set of principles and measures. Non-cross-sectional indexing was chosen because the data were
111 text-based, audio-based, and visually-based (using photographs). I also wished to understand the interwoven parts of my data, and the data are fairly complicated and eluded single-focused, cross-sectional indexing. Answering Mason‘s (1996) three foundational questions offered the basis on which the data were analyzed. However, creating indexing categories was another matter. This process took considerable time and thought. Here, Creswell‘s (2007) and Mason‘s (1996) advice of reading and re-reading the data were followed, and I read until the data became very familiar. Thoughts about the data were discussed with several trusted colleagues. I gained a sense of the whole, made notes, and made categories as they emerged from the data. Some sections were color-coded according to categories and evidence was gathered to support the categories. Finally, the data were winnowed to develop themes and sub-themes that both answered the research questions and took the findings into themes. Initially, the data were organized by term and group of participants. Thus, there were three major sets of data. Then, all notes were compiled by interview question for each term/group. Semi-structured interview #1 garnered objective background data about the participants, which could be read literally. This first semistructured interview also yielded other, more thoughtful data, which needed an interpretive reading. All the literal data were entered into a chart, and color-coding was used to index the interpretively-read remainder of the data. Since the data revolved around success, success strategies was the lens used to arrive at the following color-coded indexing categories: Blue – time management Green – help from family
112 Yellow – help from professors, friends, roommates Orange – study groups Pink – make friends with Americans Orange/green – critical thinking The second set of interviews was photo-elicitation interviews, which focused on two categories: things that contribute to success and things that are different from home and school in Saudi Arabia. For each of the three sets of interviews, all notes were read and re-read, marginal notations were made of all thoughts, and memos written of commonalities, differences, and themes that arose. Because some of the photos the participants brought to the interviews were metaphors, some of the data were read interpretively. Some photos were literal, thus some of the data were read literally. The data from the photo-elicitation interviews were viewed through the lens of success and difference. Two major categories emerged: things that contribute to success and things that are different between study at home and study in the United States. There was also a blend of the two major categories: things that are different and help one be successful. While, the participants were asked to bring in photos of things that showed differences between school in Saudi Arabia and school in the United States, they also brought in photos of general differences between Saudi Arabia and the United States. While interesting, these photos didn‘t necessarily address a research question. They did, however, provide background information about the participants‘ home and school environment in Saudi Arabia. Interviews three and four were focus groups. All interviews were transcribed. The transcriptions were read and re-read, copious marginal notes made, and several memos written. In a sense, this data was more challenging to analyze because the
113 focus group discussions tended to run tangentially into unexpected directions as the participants talked about issues that were important to them. In order to winnow the data into categories that were pertinent to this dissertation, they were broadly reviewed with a lens of success and difference. Eventually, categories emerged: definitions of success and goals, problems/issues, interactions with Americans, advice for future Saudi students, advice for U.S. schools and teachers, support, success strategies, shared success strategies, adjustment problems/issues, wellbeing, and differences. In addition, these data needed to be read interpretively and reflexively because a note-taker entered into the discussions, and I entered into the discussions as I guided them (and at times, made contributions). These data, too, were color-coded. Finally, interview number five was a semi-structured interview intended to review the research project with each participant, member check, and give him or her an opportunity to add comments or data. All the data were compiled by interview question and then all data for the three terms was considered together. Notes were interpretively read and re-read, marginal notes made, and memos written for each term. This time, the lens was success, changes, and adjustment. The categories that emerged were success, goals, accomplishments, stress, school demands, homesickness, and interacting with Americans. Role of the Researcher A qualitative case study, such as this, includes not only the participants as active elements of the research process; it also considers the researcher as well. Thus, an examination of the role of the researcher is desirable and includes trustworthiness, reflexivity, ethics, and control.
114 Trustworthiness Trustworthiness, according to Lincoln and Gruba (1985), addresses a basic question: ―How can an inquirer persuade his or her audiences that the research findings of an inquiry are worth paying attention to?‖ (p. 290). Why should anyone believe me? Thus, one of the primary roles of a researcher is to enhance the trustworthiness of the data. Trustworthiness of data can be an issue when conducting qualitative research with international students for several reasons. On the surface, collecting data through interviews seems easy. One simply identifies a group of people to interview, creates a set of questions, schedules times to conduct the interviews, and records the interviewees‘ answers. Questions are answered as anticipated until the researcher has asked all his/her questions, and the interview is complete (Holstein & Gubrium, 2003). Interviews, however, are not ―neutral tools‖ (Denzin & Lincoln, 2000c p. 633). They are a negotiated text, and the interviewer and the interviewee create a reality in which answers are given that are grounded in and influenced by gender, race, class, and ethnicity (McCracken, 1988; Denzin & Lincoln, 2000a; Holstein & Gubrium, 2003; Gall, Gall, & Borg, 2005). In this study, interviews also had the potential of being influenced by the power differential between the participants and me, and there was the issue of language because all interviews were conducted with participants for whom English is not a native language. Thus, it was necessary to interpret the participants‘ contributions more than would have been necessary if the participants had been native speakers. For the same reasons, focus groups are not neutral, either. They, too, are negotiated texts, and there was the potential for the research participants to be
115 influenced by a power differential, especially when the researcher is a teacher, advisor, and authority figure. There was also the potential for a power differential between the participants themselves. Some were better speakers of English than others, there were men and women, and the participants were of two different groups of Islam, Sunni and Shia. Finally, the awkwardness and artificiality of the participants speaking with one another in their second languages was also present. I enhanced the trustworthiness of the data through contextual completeness, member checking, and triangulation. Contextual completeness is merely including contextual features. Gall, Gall, and Borg (2005) described contextual features as history, physical setting, and environment; the number of participants; specific activities; the schedules and temporal order of events; divisions of labor; routines and variations from routines; significant events and their origins and consequences; members‘ perceptions and meanings; and social rules and basic patterns of order. (p. 322) As much as possible of the above was recorded in the field notes because these details add to thick descriptions and ―bring the culture alive for the reader‖ (Gall, Gall, & Borg, 2005, p. 349). One of the attractions of qualitative research is its focus on the emic perspective (Gall, Gall & Borg, 2005). In order to represent the emic perspective as clearly as possible, member checking is recommended so that research participants can review the reports of their interviews and focus groups for completeness and accuracy (Gall, Gall & Borg, 2005; Janesick, 2000; Stake, 1995). As has been outlined in the data collection section of this chapter on methodology, the participants took part in a final semi-structured interview in which I member checked (see Appendix E, Semi-Structured Interview #2 Questions). During
116 this interview, the research participants had the opportunity to correct the data or add to it. Triangulation is another way in which the trustworthiness of the data was ensured. Stake (2000) defined triangulation as a ―process of using multiple perceptions to clarify meaning‖ and a way to elucidate ―meaning by identifying different ways the phenomenon is being seen‖ (pp. 443-444). Gall, Gall, and Borg (2005) wrote that triangulation is the process by which a researcher uses multiple data collection techniques to check case study findings. The study‘s findings were triangulated by conducting two focus group discussions and two sets of semistructured interviews, and one set of photo-elicitation interviews with each group of participants. Reflexivity Reflexivity means the process of moving from the internal to the external. It is a constant process of reflecting on what one is doing, why one is doing it, and how one (and one‘s philosophy and world view) impact and interact with one‘s research. Mary Gergen and Kenneth Gergen (2003) said that researchers bring to their work ―their surprises and ‗undoings‘ in the process of the research endeavor, the ways in which their choices of literary tropes lend rhetorical force to the research report, and/or the ways in which they have avoided or suppressed certain points of view‖ (p. 579). Reflexivity and introspection were at the core of how I conducted this study, and reflexivity played an integral role in how I tried to represent the participants‘ voices honestly. First, I understand that I, as the researcher, present the research participants‘ voices and am an integral part of it. It is impossible to remove the researcher from
117 the research, and I acknowledge that I am a co-participant in the research and the interpreter of all that the participants say. As such, I focused on the participants‘ stories and narratives. Second, I triangulated and member checked to ascertain the quality of the results. Finally, I paid close attention to personal reflexivity to remain aware of my position in the research and data analysis processes (during this study, I kept a reflexive journal and frequently discussed my work with several colleagues). Ethics The issue of ethics rears its head when one is researching. When the researcher is a teacher and advisor, the issue of ethics becomes especially pertinent. As has been explained earlier in this dissertation, I dealt with this issue by not inviting students who were currently enrolled in classes I was teaching to participate in this study. In addition, personal integrity, honesty, and reflexivity helped to keep this study separate from the classroom. Christians (2000) outlined four guidelines for ethical behavior in qualitative research. First, informed consent must be procured from each participant (see Appendix A, Informed Consent Form). Second, the research must ensure that the participants are protected against deception. Third, the privacy and confidentiality of each participant must be guaranteed. Fourth, the researcher must do all he/she can to ensure that the data is accurate. I took Christians‘ code of conduct seriously by procuring informed consent, endeavoring to be honest and forthright with the research participants, assuring all participants of privacy and confidentiality by never referring to them by name, and using the strategies outlined in the Trustworthiness section of this chapter to be certain of my accuracy.
118 Control One final question about the role of the researcher is an examination of the issue of control. Christians (2000) holds that control of the research is not completely in the hands of the researcher but, at least in part, resides with the participants. ―Participants have a say in how the research should be conducted and a hand in actually conducting it‖ (Christians, 2000, p. 145). This thought is echoed by standpoint theory, which defines the role of the researcher, determines who is in control, and decides who knows best: All knowledge claims are socially located and that some social locations, especially those at the bottom of social and economic hierarchies, are better than others as starting points for seeking knowledge not only about those particular [people] but others as well. This does not assume that the researcher‘s own life or group is the best starting point, nor does it assert the relativist position that all social locations are equally valuable for knowledge projects. (Olesen, 2000, p. 222) Olesen (2000) also wrote that, ―all knowledge attempts are socially situated and that some of these objective social locations are better than others for knowledge projects‖ (p. 223). For this research project, I shared control with the participants. I took pains to remember that knowledge resided with them, and I used auto-driven photo-elicitation as an interview method. One of the advantages of this research methodology is that it allows the research participants to control the interview. Concluding Comments This chapter outlined the research methodology. To start, it explained the purpose of the research and the research questions. Next, it outlined the strategy of inquiry, beginning broadly with qualitative research and moving more specifically into a preference for conducting a case study. Afterwards, the participants are described,
119 which is followed by an explanation of the methods of data collection: semistructured interviews, focus groups, and photo-elicitation interviews. Finally, in this chapter I outlined the procedures for analysis and concluded with a discussion of the role of the researcher. The next chapter offers a more in-depth look at the qualitative research technique of photo-elicitation. Because it is a less common approach of interviewing and this research technique was a major contributor to the data, it deserves a closer examination.
Chapter 4: Photo-Elicitation Methodology . . . we must ―strike the visual nerve, for we have much to see‖ (John Milton, Paradise Lost) In this chapter a closer look is taken at the qualitative research technique of photo-elicitation. Once commonly used in field studies, photo-elicitation had fallen into disfavor with qualitative researchers. Now, despite a renewed interest in using photographs in interviews, it is far from common. This is unfortunate because photoelicitation has particular value in a case study that involves international students. This chapter contains a general description of photo-elicitation, a discussion of its advantages, an outline of its disadvantages, and a discussion of how I incorporated it into my study. General Description Basically, photo-elicitation (sometimes called photo voice) is a qualitative research method in which photographs are integrated into the interviewing process. Photographs have been used for a long time in field research; however, there has been little use of photo-elicitation in research with international students. The use of photographs to help elicit response in an interview became known as photo-elicitation in a paper published by John Collier in 1957 (Harper, 2002). John Collier, Jr. and Malcolm Collier (1986), whose work is consistently cited in research utilizing photo elicitation, found that photos were tools to ―bridge communication gaps between strangers that can become pathways into unfamiliar, unforeseen environments and subjects‖ (p. 99). While the use of photographs in interviews has waxed and waned, lately there has been renewed interest in using photographs in qualitative research (Douglas, 1998; Harper, 2002; Hurworth, 2003; Parker, 2005;
121 Stanczak, 2004;). Harper (2000) wrote that ―photo elicitation has become a familiar, if underutilized, qualitative method‖ (p. 725). Photo-elicitation plays a role in visual sociology (Harper, 2002), and this method of research is now used in psychology, education, and other fields. For example, according to Hurworth (2003), photo elicitation methods have been used in a wide variety of situations: to scrutinize farmers‘ thoughts about modernization, evaluate changes in a town, look into the work in a factory, determine the meaning of shelter adequacy, evoke memories, identify ethnic identification, understand behaviors, enhance memory, work with young children, evaluate programs, and teach abstract concepts. Douglas (1998) wrote that photos are used in academic disciplines (anthropology, sociology, communications, and education) as data sources and to make inquiries into ―complex human phenomena‖ (p. 5). In addition, one value of integrating photo-elicitation into interviews is that photographs offer an alternative form of representation from traditional written and spoken language. The technique can be used to gain ―more complex understanding of human experiences‖ (Douglas, 1998, p. 7) and ―mines deeper shafts into a different part of human consciousness than do words-alone interviews‖ (Harper, 2002, p. 23). Another value of photo-elicitation is that it can simply add validity and reliability to word-based surveys (Harper, 2002). Samuels (2004) compared photo-elicitation interviews with word-only interviews when he worked with a group of Sri Lankan Buddhist monks. Samuels (2004) found that the photo-elicitation interviews helped evoke responses grounded in everyday, concrete experiences and resulted in more emotionally charged responses. He also reported that despite the fact that he had a set of pre-established
122 topics, the richness and openness of the photo-elicitation interviews led him to reevaluate his assumptions and conceptions. Samuels (2004) and Clark-IbáŇez (2004) found that photo-elicitation was a bridge between the world of the researcher and the worlds of the research participants. This is of value, when one is working with participants who speak native languages that are not the researcher‘s language. Photographs assist in establishing rapport with research participants (Gold, 2004), they also serve as the means to encourage and express reflections, assist in keeping a conversation going, and represent the photographers‘ values, decisions, and judgments (Alerby & Hornqvist, 2005). The photos used in photo elicitation fall along a continuum. At one end is the most scientific use, which is making visual inventories of people, objects, and artifacts (Collier & Collier, 1986; Douglas, 1998; Harper, 2002). In the middle are images that depict events or experiences (Collier & Collier, 1986; Douglas, 1998; Harper, 2002). At the other end are intimate depictions of the social and core definitions of the self (Collier & Collier, 1986; Douglas, 1998; Harper, 2002). As a slightly different use of photos in the interview process, a distinction might be made for photo voice. Photo voice has been defined as a form of participatory action research in which the research participants help to define the research problem, and the research goal is to improve the conditions of the participants by reaching policy makers (Baker & Wang, 2006; Jurkowski, 2008; Li, 2009; Vaughn, Forbes,& Howell, 2008). Photo voice has been used to represent the lived experience of those who are marginalized, offering opportunities for critical dialogue, greater understanding, advocacy, and empowerment. In this instance, photographs offer representations of research participants‘ deeply-felt problems and
123 issues without the imposition of a research objective with predetermined assumptions and outcomes (Jurkowski, 2008; Li, 2009; Vaughn, Forbes, & Howell, 2008; Wang and Burris, 1997). Examples of marginalized groups who have participated in photo voice research include the terminally ill, mentally ill, homeless men, at-risk mothers, Latina girls, youth, and rural Chinese women (Li, 2009; Vaughn, Forbes, & Howell, 2008). There are two general ways in which photographs are used in interviews: the interviewer supplies the photographs or the interviewee supplies the photographs. When the interviewee or research participant supplies the photograph, the process is called ―auto-driven photo elicitation.‖ As the term indicates, the interviewee brings his or her photographs to an interview and discusses them, thus ―driving‖ the interview. When the researcher takes and supplies the photographs, the process is called ―researcher-driven‖ photo elicitation. For the purposes of this study, auto-driven photo-elicitation was used. The Advantages of Auto-Driven Photo-Elicitation The major advantage of auto-driven photo-elicitation is that the inclusion of photos contribute to full, data-rich interviews (Collier & Collier, 1986; Harper, 2002; Taylor, 2002; Hurworth, 2003; Clark-IbáŇez, 2004; Loeffler, 2004; Samuels, 2004; Twine, 2006). Auto-driven photo-elicitation helps interview participants take the lead and teach the interviewer, invites open expression, sharpens memory, allows for very structured conversation without the inhibitive effects of interviews or verbal probes,
124 relieves participants of the stress of being the subject of an interview, illuminates dynamics or insights not otherwise found through other methods, breaks the ―frame‖ of the interviewer‘s interpretation of the interview and allows interviewees to interpret their reality in their own voices, can be used at any stage of the research, allows for a combination of visual and verbal language, may assist with rapport and trust building, often produces unpredictable information, promotes longer, more detailed interviews, provides a component of multi-methods triangulation, tends to increase interviewee buy-in because it is engaging, lessens the awkwardness of an interview because there is something upon which to focus, and promotes reflection and reflexivity. The Advantages of Researcher-Driven Photo-Elicitation In addition, the major advantages of researcher-driven photo elicitation, which include many of the above advantages, are as follows (Collier & Collier, 1986; Taylor, 2002; Clark-IbáŇez, 2004;): photos ease and facilitate the interview by giving a focus, photos can be used as a tool to expand on questions, and the camera can be used as an ice breaker and mean as a communication opener.
Disadvantages of Photo-Elicitation There are a few disadvantages or problems with photo elicitation (Collier & Collier, 1986; Samuels, 2002; Taylor, 2002): photos do not automatically elicit useful interviews, cameras can malfunction, break, or be difficult to use, interviewees may be intimidated about using a camera or feel they lack the necessary skills, photographing takes time and energy, interviewees may focus on or be apprehensive about the outcome or quality of the photos, interviewees may not be able to photograph, for various reasons, what they find important, and some people do not see photographs as being able to capture their reality or to act as metaphors. Use of Photo-Elicitation in This Study The type of photo-elicitation used in this study was auto-driven. Primarily, auto-driven photo-elicitation was used because I wished for my research participants to take the lead in the interviews. In addition, auto-driven photo-elicitation is useful when working with international students because there are concerns about eliciting interview data with speakers of a language other than the researcher‘s. First, it is difficult and burdensome for international students to clearly express themselves in English. Asking the research participants to take their own photographs and discuss
126 them would help them express their perceptions and thoughts more easily. Second, there is a concern about co-constructing reality when there is an enormous difference between the researcher‘s and the participants‘ ability to use English. As an English instructor of international students, I find it is all too easy to jump into a conversation and supply words for the speaker and wished to avoid this during the interviews. Photo-elicitation helped the interviewees to interpret their reality in their own voices. Also, I wanted the interview participants take the lead and have control of the interviews. Third, because I am a teacher and the participants‘ international student advisor, I have a position of authority. This position could have possibly made it difficult for the participants to feel comfortable, and their discomfort would inhibit the communication of ideas, perceptions, and thoughts. Auto-driven photo-elicitation is a tool in helping to lessen the awkwardness of an interview because there was something upon which to focus and relieve the participants‘ stress of being the subject of an interview. Finally, photo-elicitation is intriguing because it sharpens memory, invites open expression, and perhaps illuminates dynamics or insights not otherwise found through other methods. Gold (2004) writes that photos are used as part of the research process, not necessarily as single sources of data. They are tools which facilitate the process of research (Gold, 2004). This is how photo-elicitation was used. It was one method by which to collect data, and it provided a means of triangulation. Photo-elicitation was a thread that was woven into the fabric of the data collection techniques; each thread was an integral part of the whole.
127 Concluding Comments This chapter has explored the research technique of auto-driven photoelicitation. It described the method, explained it advantages and disadvantages, and examined how photo-elicitation was used in this study. Because photo-elicitation is infrequently used, it is important to shed some light on what was found to be a highly contributive research method. In the next chapter is a report of the research results. The data are organized by interviews, and each interview is organized by interview question. All data are compiled into similar answers, counted, and percentages of total responses noted.
128 Chapter 5: Results by Interview Question In this chapter, I offer the results of all interviews: two semi-structured interviews, the photo-elicitation interviews, and the two focus group interviews. The data are organized by interview in the order in which the interviews took place (semistructured interview #1, photo-elicitation interview, focus group #1, focus group #2, and semi-structured interview #2). All three sets of Semi-Structured Interview #1 (Fall 2007, Winter 2008, and Summer-Fall 2008) are grouped together with similar answers collected together and counted, as are all three sets of Semi-Structured Interview #2. The data from the two focus groups are together, and the data from the photo-elicitation interviews are grouped together and organized into two categories: (1) educational differences between Saudi Arabia and the United States and (2) contributors to success. In addition to the compiling the data into similar answers, they are counted and the percentage of total responses is noted. Most of the answers to the interview questions are arranged into tables; some questions have narrative answers. Semi-Structured Interview #1 The general purpose for this initial set of interview questions was to gather background on the participants, find out about their English instruction in Saudi Arabia, learn more about the educational system in Saudi Arabia, and explore the participants‘ perceptions about the United States and education. I also wanted to ask the participants to begin the thinking about success strategies. These questions established a comfortable interview relationship and furnished useful background information. See Appendix B for the full set of interview questions.
129 Participant Background The participants came from five areas of Saudi Arabia: Capital City (Riyadh) – 2 participants (8% of 25 participants) North (Tabuk) – 2 participants (8% of 25 participants) Northwest (Madinah) – 1 participant (4% of 25 participants) West (Jeddah) – 5 participants (20% of 25 participants) Eastern Region – 15 participants (60% of 25 participants) Figure 5.1. Map of Saudi Arabia Showing Participants’ Home Cities
Tabuk – 2 participants
Madinah – 1 participant
Riyadh – 2 participants
Eastern Region (15 participants): Qatif/Sihat – 12 participants;
Dammam, - 2 participants ; Hufuf – 1 participant
Jeddah – 5 participants
130 Table 5.1. Program of Study and Status
Number of Participants % of total participants (25)
English Language Institute (ELI)
Oregon State University (OSU)
Conditionally Admitted Program (CAP)
Note. ELI students were determined to be graduate or undergraduate depending on level of school completed in Saudi Arabia. CAP and OSU students were either graduate or undergraduate depending on their university status.
Table 5.2. Majors of Participants Type of Major Engineeringa Scienceb Pharmacy Fine Arts Business Psychology
Number of Participants 11 6 5 1 1 1
% of Total (25) Responses 44% 24% 20% 4% 4% 4%
electrical and computer engineering, chemical engineering, industrial engineering, mechanical engineering, construction engineering management, and manufacturing engineering systems. b computer science, environmental science
It is important to note that the choice of major was not necessarily made wholly by the student. When scholarships were awarded, majors were predetermined, and a certain number of students study each major. If someone wanted to receive a scholarship, he or she must agree to a career choice that is desirable to Saudi Arabia. The goal of the scholarship program is to create an educated cadre of Saudi citizens to support the ―Saudization‖ of the workforce (Hendrickson, 2007; Wenger, 2007); reduce dependence on foreign industry, products, and workers; and
131 build Saudi Arabia‘s technology and industry. Thus, when returning home, all scholarship recipients are guaranteed good jobs. Because OSU has a high-quality engineering programs and a School of Pharmacy, it is no surprise that the majority of participants are engineering, science, and pharmacy majors. Table 5.3. Length of time in the United States Time period Number of Participants % of total participants (25)
0 to 6 months
6 months to 1 year
1 year to 1.5 years
Over 1.5 years
Table 5.4. Newcomers to the United States
Number of Participants % of total participants (25)
Four participants were born in the United States while their fathers were students. One participant had spent two short vacations in the United States. Table 5.5. Family Members Studied in or Visited the United States
Father and/or uncle(s) studied in the U.S. Brothers, sisters, cousins studied or are studying in the U.S. No relatives studied in the U.S. Participant born while father was studying in the U.S. Aunt studied in the U.S. Mother studied in the U.S.
Number of Responses 13
% of Total (33) Responses 39%
132 Table 5.6. Family Members’ Education
Finish Elem. School 9 (36%)
Finish High School 4 (16%)
Undergraduate Degree 6 (24%)
Currently in elementary, middle, high school
Currently in University
Finish High School
No school Mother (25 responses) Father (25 responses)
Siblings (25 participants with multiple responses)
Table 5.7. Terms at the ELI Studying English
Number of Terms Number of Participants Percent of total (25)
Note. One participant spent 2 terms at the ELI and 1 term at another language program. One participant spent 3 terms at the ELI and one term at another language program Table 5.8. Level of Schooling Completed in Saudi Arabia Amount of Schooling Number of Participants % of Total (25) Responses Completed High School 13 52% High School + less than 1 year of university/college 1 4% High School + 2 yrs of college (no associate degree) 3 12% High School + professional 1 4% diploma Associate Degree 1 4% Bachelor‘s Degree 5 20% Master‘s Degree 1 4%
133 English Preparation One thing I was interested in was the participants‘ language education. English is a required component of all Saudi Arabian middle and high school curriculum, and many elementary schools now include English lessons. Thus, all participants took English classes for at least 6 years. The number of years of English study, however, did not ensure language competency nor did it guarantee high enough TOEFL scores for full admission into OSU. The participants took a minimum of 2 terms of English upon arriving in the United States, and in general, they had better speaking and listening skills than reading and writing skills. This may be due to the fact that Saudi language instruction generally focuses on rote memorization and grammar with few opportunities to read or produce English with written tasks. Table 5.9. English Classes in Saudi Arabia
English classes in elementary, middle school, high school English classes in middle school & high school English classes in middle school, high school; and additional terms in English school English classes in middle school, high school; and English classes in technical college/school Learned English in U.S., returned to Saudi Arabia for middle and high school
Number of Participants 3
% of Total (25) responses) 12%
Note. Those who took an orientation year of English in a technical or other school had courses that were to prepare them for English-medium classes.
134 Table 5.10. English Classes as Sufficient Preparation for U.S. Study
Not sufficient preparation Yes, sufficient preparation Yes, but not public school English classes Prepared participant to like English No answer
Number of Participants 10 8
% of Total (25) Responses 40% 32%
School in Saudi Arabia Another set of questions focused on education in Saudi Arabia. Curriculum for elementary and middles school was the same for all participants. All participants reported that high schools are organized into tracks, with two to five tracks, depending on the school. Participants mentioned science, engineering, business, management, literature tracks. All schools offered students a choice between science and literature/art tracks. Students in the science tracks were headed toward university. All participants in this study took classes in the science track. Concerning exams and tests, all participants reported taking midterm and final exams only. No one completed teacher or class evaluations While over half of the participants (68%) reported doing homework regularly, all of those who did homework were women. When asked what sort of grades they received, 80% of the participants told me that they had very good grades with A averages. Twelve percent had B averages, and 8% said that they did ―okay.‖ When asked to judge themselves as good, average, or poor students, 68% said they were good students, 24% said they were average students, and 8% said they were poor students.
135 Probing a bit further, I asked the participants how they defined a good student and how they defined a successful student. The charts that follow contain their answers. Table 5.11. Definition of a Good Student Number of Responses Works hard and study a lot Does homework Goes to class Gets good grades Does extra practice outside class Tough Helps others Persistent Popular and has a good personality Works hard to reach goals Good friend Doesn‘t make trouble
11 5 4 3
% of Total (32) Responses 34% 16% 13% 9%
2 1 1 1
6% 3% 3% 3%
1 1 1 1
13% 3% 3% 3%
Table 5.12. Definition of a Successful Student
Someone who knows what he/she wants; sets goals and achieves them Good manager of time Works hard; prepares for class Cares about school Independent Obedient to teachers/parents Smart Gets good grades Good communicator Gets a good job after graduating Applies what has been learned to life Someone who likes to learn Someone who copes with changes
Number of Responses
% of Total (23) Responses
6 4 2 2 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
26% 17% 9% 9% 4% 4% 4% 4% 4% 4% 4% 4% 4%
In order to begin focusing on success strategies, I asked the participants a series of questions about what they did to help themselves succeed in Saudi Arabia, what they did that detracted from success, what problems they experienced, and how they solved them. Table 5.13. Success Strategies in Saudi Arabia
Asked siblings, parents, teachers for help Crammed before exams Studied, prepared Did nothing Set goals Did homework Paid attention to lectures Took notes Improved skills Formed study groups Sought tutoring Stayed away from social life Read Memorized Attended classes
Number of Responses
% of Total (34) Responses
6 5 4 4 2 2 2 2 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
18% 15% 12% 12% 6% 6% 6% 6% 3% 3% 3% 3% 3% 3% 3%
Table 5.14. Things that Did Not Contribute to Success
Nothing Spent a lot of time on sports Focused on future work plans Sometimes studied with too many others
Number of Responses 22 1 1 1
% of Total (25) Responses 88% 4% 4% 4%
When asked if they had problems in school, most of the participants (72%) did not have an answer to this question. The lack of answers may be due to the open-
137 endedness of the question. The participants had an easier time answering a question that focused on a task or action (such as a success strategy). Here are the responses of those who did answer the question (7 responses; 28% of 25 participants): Sometimes teachers were hard on students; they didn‘t explain; graded on little things; exams could be difficult; tested on things not included in lectures; teachers depended on memorization. Wasn‘t good in math and science; wasn‘t studying or preparing; memorized stuff (sorry now because if this participant had been a better student, things would be better now). Had problems with teachers; students did not do homework, played in class. No sports as part of school. In 4th grade had problems with math, a kind and caring teacher gave extra help. Teachers didn‘t work with all students in the same way; some students were preferred; after graduation some students got into university with low grades; unfair competition. Final years of high school had a lot of stress and pressure; teachers tried to push information. When asked how they solved problems while they were in school at home, 17 participants had answers. Over half (59%) said that the asked for help from family members, teachers, or advisors. These same participants said that they spoke to their teachers regularly. The remaining seven answers are as follows:
138 Memorized everything in book. Never talked to teachers. Studied. Took test again. Cried. Attended class. Took father or mother to school to solve the problem. The next set of questions dealt with relationships with teachers and studentteacher interactions. For this set of questions, the participants were asked to think about both Saudi Arabia and the United States. Table 5.15. Relationship with Teachers in Saudi Arabia
Teachers were like friends, fun Teachers had altitude; they were ―above‖ students Teachers were respected; had authority Good relationship Some friendly Some strict Like fathers
Number of Participants 4 4
% of Total (15) Responses 27% 27%
2 2 1 1 1
13% 13% 7% 7% 7%
Table 5.16. Relationship with Teachers in the United States
Good relationship Teachers are approachable, friendly Like friends Open Have negative attitudes & stereotypes about Saudi Arabia Participant doesn‘t contact teachers at OSU
Number of Participants 4 4 3 1
% of Total (14) Responses 29% 29% 21% 7%
Table 5.17: Student-Teacher Interactions in Saudi Arabia
Teachers must be respected Teachers didn‘t like interruptions Inflexible with students, strict Didn‘t engage students Some different from U.S.; some not Apart from students Friendly Delivered lectures; students listened Hardworking; no university degrees Young; from Syria, Jordan, Egypt
Number of Participants 2 2 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
% of Total (12) Responses 16% 16% 8% 8% 8% 8% 8% 8% 8% 8%
Table 5.18. Student-Teacher Interactions in the United States
Friendly Relaxed; use humor No big differences Lots of interaction Students do not respect teachers Approachable; available Older than in Saudi Arabia Have graduate degrees
Number of Participants 3 2 2 1 1 1 1 1
% of Total (12) Responses 25% 16% 16% 8% 8% 8% 8% 8%
140 Studying in the United States This set of questions focused on the participants‘ perceptions of their U.S. educational environment. It began with asking about goals and what the participants expect from studying here. It moved to queries about first impressions and reactions to the United States, and ended with questions about success strategies.
Table 5.19. Goals for Coming to the United States Number of Participants Receive undergrad degree Receive graduate degree Learn American culture Improve Saudi Arabia Get a better life Gain proficiency in English Help family Show Americans what Saudis are like Make new friends Become independent
% of Total (32) Responses 31%
8 4 2 2 2 1
25% 13% 6% 6% 6% 3%
1 1 1
3% 3% 3%
Table 5.20. Expectations for Studying in the United States
Become a highly educated person Become independent, less shy Change Learn American culture Improve language Gain knowledge Get a good job at home Improve Saudi Arabia Become more liberal
Number of Participants
% of Total (27) Responses
6 2 2 2 2 2 2 1
22% 7% 7% 7% 7% 7% 7% 4%
141 Table 5.21. Expectations of the United States Prior to Arrival Number of Participants 5
% of Total (21) Responses 24%
Nothing Very different from home Expected bright future; nice people Personal freedom High level of technology
3 2 1
14% 10% 5%
Drug dealers, murder, violence
Table 5.22. Surprises After Arrival in the United States
People respecting each other; friendly; nice, don‘t hate Arabs No surprises Rain, weather U.S. not like the movies Couples; women in community School system Small town, backward Easy life
Number of Participants
% of Total (24) Responses
9 4 4 2 2 1 1 1
36% 17% 17% 8% 8% 4% 4% 4%
Table 5.23. Initial Feelings and Reactions to School in the United States Number of Participants Excited Hated it; wanted to go home Shocked, surprised Lost, nervous Homesick Nothing unusual Okay Impressed
7 6 4 3 3 3 3 1
% of Total (30) Responses 23% 20% 13% 10% 10% 10% 10% 3%
Table 5.24. Things that Were Easy in the United States Number of Participants Listening and speaking Taking notes Studying Everything Being with other cultures OSU classes easier than home Writing Shopping Attending class Translating in head Nothing Teachers, teaching Summarizing, paraphrasing
11 2 2 2 2 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
% of Total (27) Responses 41% 7% 7% 7% 7% 4% 4% 4% 4% 4% 4% 4% 4%
Table 5.25. Things that Were Difficult in the United States
Writing, reading, grammar Banking, cell phone, food & other living issues Language/communication Nothing Homesickness Balancing school and family Driving Understanding people/teachers Making friends Safety/feeling safe
Number of Participants 10 6 3 2 2 1 1 1 1 1
% of Total (28) Responses 36% 21% 11% 7% 7% 4% 4% 4% 4% 4%
143 Table 5.26. Success Strategies Used in the United States
Time management Study hard; go to library; attend classes; do homework Develop study skills (vocab. cards, review, prepare ahead, outline) Seek help/assistance Make friends/share notes; American friends Balance study with fun Join study groups
Number of Participants 8
% of Total (28) Responses 29%
4 3 3 2 1
14% 11% 11% 7% 4%
Table 5.27. Differences Between Education in the U.S. and Saudi Arabia Number of Participants
% of Total (28) Responses
2 2 1 1 1 1
7% 7% 4% 4% 4% 4%
Quality of teaching, teachers Relationships between teachers and students Classes; no lecture mode; large class size Grades don‘t depend on one exam Campus life Heavy homework load, projects, papers Different sex teachers, students No memorization Weather No respect for professors No punishment New textbooks
My final question for this first interview was to ask the participants if they had anything to add that I hadn‘t asked about. For this question, all the participants‘ responses are included:
144 In Saudi Arabia, there is no syllabus. Saudi Arabia takes attendance. Always wondering what Americans think about Saudi people. Saudis are people, too. People need to know that women are not just listening to their husbands. Women are very strong and have influence. Movies have a big effect. People think movies show American culture. In Saudi Arabia there are lots of international professors. In universities, students don‘t attend classes; they can go to another section. Thought U.S. was full of gangsters, blondes, cowboys, and Native Americans. Cultural Mission should make orientation so that students can be exposed to American culture and avoid problems. They might avoid bad things. Orientation could be much better and show how to study. Students need support and appreciation. When students have a problem, they call the Mission. The Mission tells them to solve their problem. Cultural Mission needs to support students better. Photo-Elicitation Interviews Before the photo-elicitation interviews, the participants were asked to bring photos of things that are different between school in the U.S. and Saudi Arabia. They were also asked for photos of things that contribute to their success. During the interviews, the participants and I looked at each of the photos. I asked the following questions about each photo: Why did you choose this picture? What does this picture show? How does this picture relate to (1) differences or (2) success?
145 Some participants brought in pictures that did not show either differences or success. When this happened, the pictures were usually of scenes around Oregon. The participant had misunderstood and brought pictures that showed recent travels or things that interested the participant rather than photos that addressed the research questions. While interesting, these photos are not included in this dissertation. Whether or not the photos addressed differences or success was ascertained when I asked the participant why he/she brought the photo to the interview. When told that the picture was of a recent trip, something that the participant liked, etc., the photo was discussed, but it was not included in this study. The participants‘ photos fell into the following categories: Table 5.28. Photo-Elicitation Photographs Differences from Saudi Arabia Environment: rain, green forest, trees, fall colors; weather Library Memorial Union Teachers of different sex Different nationalities of students, different sex of students and teachers Campus buildings Dixon Recreational Center Technology in the classroom Public transportation Santa Claus Absence of desert Presence of advisors Absence of camels; presence of deer and other animals
Number of Photos
% of Total (59) Photos
17 12 6 4
29% 20% 10% 7%
4 4 4 2 2 1 1 1
7% 7% 7% 4% 4% 2% 2% 2%
Contributors to Success Environment: green trees, rain, fall colors; weather Library Study Groups, friends Dixon Bicycles Memorial Union Field trips Fun, entertainment, sports Study, homework Learning Center Collaborative Learning Center Clock/Bell Tower (time management) Western clothing Presence of students from other countries Family Writing Center
Number of Photos
% of Total (87) Photos
17 17 8 7 7 7 4 4 3 3 3 2 2 1 1 1
20% 20% 9% 8% 8% 8% 5% 5% 3% 3% 3% 2% 2% 1% 1% 1%
While some of the participants‘ contributors to success are clear and obvious, for example doing homework and the library, the contribution of the environment to success deserves an explanation. The participants mentioned that the greenness of the environment, the beauty of Corvallis, and the changing seasons made them feel peaceful and relieved stress. The reduction of stress helped study success. Thus, as a stress reducer, the environment was a contributor to success. Focus Groups I conducted six focus group interviews, two each term. What follows is a compilation of all the answers received from each question. Note that for each question there was a discussion among the participants, and the answers offered
147 here represent the highlights of the discussions and consensus among the participants. Not all participants joined the focus groups. Question #1: Why did you decide to come to the United States and study? (4 participants) Religion tells Muslims to seek education. Parents encouragement and support to pursue studies. Accompanied spouse, who had a scholarship to study in the United States. A degree from a U.S. university is very advantageous in Saudi Arabia. Obtain a degree that was not available in Saudi Arabia, or participant could not get into his/her university or program of choice. Question #2: What Were Your Goals for Coming to the United States? (10 participants) Finish studies, complete degree. Reaching this goal is easier in some ways than in Saudi Arabia because there are seats in the U.S. Many Saudi universities don‘t have enough seats for all the deserving applicants. Become fluent in English. Get a good education. Become more sophisticated and learn about other cultures. Interact with people from other cultures and return to Saudi Arabia with an open mind. Learn things about American culture and study with students from other cultures in order to learn about them.
148 Return home and make Saudi Arabia a better place for women and expand their opportunities. Change something: country, community, selves. Change the infrastructure of Saudi Arabia. Make parents proud. Question #3: What Does Success Mean to You? (6 participants) Success means improving Saudi Arabia; contributing to the country. Help others and giving back to Saudi Arabia for the scholarship money that was invested in them. Finding a job upon returning home and contributing to making the country better. Help the country become more educated. Success means reaching goals and going well in life. Improving oneself. Success means to be at the top of the mountain. It‘s difficult to stay there. Question #4: What problems have you had at the English Language Institute or OSU? (10 participants) Difficulty of getting into graduate school. The GRE is difficult, as is the TOEFL score required by graduate school. It seems almost impossible to get into graduate school. Being in large classes. It is difficult to approach the professor and it is very difficult to ask a question. TOEFL does not test everyone‘s English ability well, and it does not measure their ability to succeed in university classes. The ELI and OSU have arbitrary rules about scores and entrance requirements. The rules stop Saudi students from furthering their educational goals.
149 Some students have the perception that the ELI wants to keep students from advancing to OSU because of money. The longer the students study at the ELI, the longer they pay the ELI tuition. OSU is unsympathetic to Saudi students‘ problems and will not make allowances for problems and illnesses. Exams will not be rescheduled, and students must take them despite illness and problems back home. Some professors are not interesting nor are they good teachers. Juggling school, schedules, and childcare is a tremendous problem. Participants miss class if their children are sick. Finding good childcare is very hard. It is stressful to find the time to care for children and do homework. American students do not respect teachers and professors. They text message, talk to one another, eat in class. Question #5: What strategies did you use to manage any of the problems you’ve had? (10 participants) To deal with the problem of not easily transferring into OSU undergraduate classes, some of the participants took a bridge class which allowed them to demonstrate their readiness to tackle OSU. Solve the problem of not finding good child care by visiting the day care center each day to ask about openings. Ask for help. Depend on oneself. Speak with Americans. Talk to teachers. Read, take notes, make a plan.
150 Question #6: What do you do to be successful? (11 participants) Keep going. Keep trying. Persist. Balance study and friends. Focus first on study. Form study groups and get help from others. If your teachers don‘t help you, study by yourself and become a self-study expert. Practice; work hard; study. Manage time very carefully. Set goals, meet them, and then set new goals. Make goals and write them down. Take advantage of resources and help. Find out what is expected in a course and then do it. Find out the rules to be successful (every class has rules). Rely on friends‘ advice about which classes and professors to choose. Rely on and support friends and family members. Question #7: Do you interact with Americans? Who do you mostly interact with Americans or Saudi? (4 participants) Not very much. It‘s mostly in class; sometimes ask them for help. Have some American friends; met them in community activities. Had the same interests, so we talked. Interact mostly with spouse, who is Saudi. Interact mostly with Saudis.
151 Question #8: How do Americans interact with you? (4 participants) Americans are friendly. They smile a lot. They like to talk because they are interested in different cultures. A few times there were problems with discrimination because of being Saudi, Arab, or Muslim. Most people in Corvallis are very friendly and polite. American students at OSU are just doing their job and minding their own business. They treat Saudis like any other person. Many American students think Saudis are Mexican. Saudis are not shy like Asians, so there are no problems asking for help or speaking up in class. There have been many problems at the airport with immigration. Question #9: What advice do you have for future Saudi students? (8 participants) Be prepared to be away from home and family. Know more about the culture you are going to. Learn about the environment. Be optimistic. Believe in one‘s self. Understand that it takes a long time to learn English. Don‘t spend time speaking Arabic; speak English all the time. Don‘t just focus on getting a degree. Focus on getting an education, a complete education. Learn everything possible and polish English skills. Get good grades. Future companies look at GPAs. Get the TOEFL before coming to the U.S. to study.
152 Don‘t come to the U.S. with basic English. Know that all Saudi university credits will not transfer. Seek help from advisors, teachers, Americans, other students. Be politely aggressive. Question #10: What can the ELI or OSU do to help you succeed? (13 participants) Accept excuses for absences; be more understanding about illnesses and family problems that interfere with study. Advise students about materials that have been missed and about chances of succeeding in a course. Understand the stress that international students are experiencing. Give lots of feedback and advice on writing and other tasks. Give support and encouragement with easily assessable (and correct) academic help, tutoring, question answering. Have smaller classes. Don‘t give finals at 7:30 a.m. Give less homework, especially to graduate students who are studying for the GRE and GMAT. Offer reading materials that are pertinent to the students‘ interests and majors. Offer more bridge classes that offer language support for OSU classes. Be realistic and knowledgeable about university classroom expectations— don‘t frighten students with erroneous stories. Kindly and gently correct plagiarism—don‘t attack students.
153 Semi-Structured Interview #2 Semi-structured interview #2 was the final interview with the participants. Not all participants were able to attend this interview because it took place at the end of each term, and many of the participants were too busy with final exams to meet. The purpose of the interview was to review what had occurred with each participant since the interviews began, examine success strategies, ask about sharing success strategies with peers, and look at interactions with Americans. What follows is a compilation and counting of the results for each question. Goals and Accomplishments Table 5.29. Accomplishments and Goals Met Since the Interviews Began
Full admission into OSU Baby son born; got into OSU In Honor‘s College, got married, wife pregnant Taking 18 hours; last term mostly A with a C+ in biology (goal was to finish biology) Passed test for learner‘s permit; applied to grad school in two states Got an A in chemistry and math; daughter here now and grades went up 4.0 GPA; goal was to get 4.0 Passed driver‘s license test; passed classes Passed all classes; expecting a baby Wife here & settled in; got new apartment, car English improved a lot Grades not good but gained reading fluency Not a wonderful term
Number of Participants 3 1 1
% of Total (15) Responses 20% 7% 7%
1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
7% 7% 7% 7% 7% 7% 7% 7%
154 Table 5.30. How Goals and Accomplishments Were Met
Worked hard, studied, noticed what to change/work on and did so Established goal and worked to meet it; put school first Took advantage of help Never missed class Developed self-study skills Stayed focused Emulated others who were successful
Number of Participants
% of Total (15) Responses
2 2 1 1 1 1
13% 13% 7% 7% 7% 7%
Success Strategies Table 5.31. Success Strategies for Meeting the Stress of Studying in English
Worked/talked with Americans and friends; practiced English Spent time on the Internet reading English; reading the Barometer (OSU‘s student newspaper) Prepared for class; reviewed after class Stayed focused; played sports; studied Sought help from friends Managed time Created study groups Had confidence in self Learned to adapt to change; adapted to a culture. Lived with an American roommate
Number of Participants
% of Total (25) Responses
5 5 5 1 1 1 1
20% 20% 20% 4% 4% 4% 4%
155 Table 5.32. Success Strategies for Meeting the Demands of Classes Number of Participants
% of Total (11) Responses
1 1 1 1 1 1 1
9% 9% 9% 9% 9% 9% 9%
Use resources available; ask for help when necessary Study with spouse Like to study new things; knows there is no similarity to home Stay very busy Take time to have fun; see friends Keep trying; do one‘s best Manage time carefully Practice, practice, practice to create a new habit Create goals/priorities, prepare, talk with others
Table 5.33. Success Strategies for Homesickness
Spouse, sibling, and friends here help with feeling alone Telephone, Skype home Don‘t feel homesick anymore Stay positive
Number of Participants
% of Total (16) Responses
8 5 2 1
50% 31% 13% 6%
Table 5.34. Success Strategies for Meeting Educational Goals
Focus on important things; use correct tools Research; ask an experienced person Study Set goals Do homework; go to classes Manage time Form study groups Concentrate Take academic success classes
Number of Participants
% of Total (14) Responses
3 2 2 2 1 1 1 1 1
21% 14% 14% 14% 7% 7% 7% 7% 7%
Table 5.35. Personal Qualities that Help Participants’ Success Number of Participants Make and meet goals Make friends; be sociable Take advantage of opportunities Be optimistic, confident Work hard Have connections Believe in one‘s self Enjoy challenges, learning Be persistent, disciplined Be honest Be easy going and funny
4 3 2 2 2 2 2 2 1 1 1
% of Total (22) Responses 18% 14% 9% 9% 9% 9% 9% 9% 5% 5% 5%
Table 5.36. Those Who Help Participants’ Success Number of Participants Family Friends Parents Teachers, advisors, tutor Spouse Self Siblings Religion
6 4 4 4 3 3 1 1
% of Total (26) Responses 23% 15% 15% 15% 12% 12% 4% 4%
157 Shared Success Strategies Table 5.37. Success Strategies Shared with Peers
Help with study skills; attend classes; study before test; review; vocabulary tips Study groups Study partners Benefit from experiences; give advice Manage time Offer explanations Offer help with everything Create support network Offer encouragement Practice English Seek help Offer explanations Offer explanations
Number of Participants
% of Total (25) Responses
6 3 3
25% 12% 12%
3 2 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
12% 8% 4% 4% 4% 4% 4% 4% 4% 4%
I asked the participants if their peers found the shared success strategies successful. Eleven participants answered this question and all of them (100%) answered yes. Interactions with Americans My final question was about interactions with Americans. The first table is a collection of the participants‘ perceptions of how American students interact with them. The second table concerns the participants‘ perceptions of how Americans in general interact with them.
158 Table 5.38. Interactions with American Students on Campus Number of Participants
Helpful, like to help; friendly Treat like anyone else, accepted Don‘t interact; don‘t interact much Unfriendly; discriminate Don‘t talk if you don‘t talk to them; must be approached
7 6 3 2
% of Total (19) Responses 37% 32% 16% 11%
Table 5.39. Interactions with Americans in General Number of Participants Friendly; helpful Racist people aren‘t educated; some discrimination Feel ignored Receptive to cultural differences Fine
% of Total (14) Responses 36%
3 3 2
21% 21% 14%
The second-to-last question of this interview asked the participants if they had anything they wanted to add to this interview, anything to change, or any comments to wished to voice. Not all participants had anything to offer for this question. What is written below includes all the responses. In the future things are changing; people are understanding one another more because of communication. This is a big change (because of the Internet in many languages). People will know more about others and other things. Likes this campus. It‘s very different from home. Here there are the most important things to support study—labs, library. Don‘t find these things at home.
People are friendly [here]; smile and say hi a lot. It‘s not like this in Saudi Arabia. Corvallis is more comfortable than New York. People are more friendly. Happy to be at OSU. The final question of this interview asked the participants if they would like to add anything to any of the previous interviews. Only one participant answered this question. This participant said that she felt nervous during the focus groups because the other participants spoke better English than she. It made her uncomfortable. Concluding Comments This chapter offered a compilation of the results of all interviews. The data were organized by interview question, and the interviews are organized by the order in which they were conducted. Thus, semi-structured interview #1 began this chapter; the photo-elicitation interviews followed. The two focus groups came next with a compilation of the discussions that occurred. Finally, the chapter concluded with semi-structured interview #2. In addition to the compiling the data into similar answers, they were counted and the percentage of total responses noted. In the next chapter, the data are examined in a different way by focusing on answering the research questions. The chapter begins with a description of why the participants are studying in the United States. I also discuss how the participants define success. Most of Chapter 6 is devoted to examining the results of the interviews, organized by research question. Thus, the data are compiled and representative answers offered. In addition, the participants‘ own words and their photographs are included in the chapter.
160 Chapter 6: Results by Research Question Research results are discussed again in this chapter, but this time the focus is on addressing the research questions. However, before offering answers to the research questions, I want to explore why the participants decided to study in the United States and what motivated them to leave family and friends, travel across the earth, and study in another country. Thus, this chapter begins with the participants‘ stories explaining why they chose to study abroad and what they expect to gain from their time in the United States. Finally, I report on how the participants define success, what success means to them, and how they define a successful student. A large portion of this chapter is an examination of the results of the interviews, which is organized by research question. In order to best represent the research participants‘ voices, interview data is compiled, and the participants‘ words and photographs are used to discuss and analyze Research Questions #1 and #2: What are the Saudi Arabian students‘ perceptions of the differences between the educational environment in Saudi Arabia and the new educational environment in the U.S.? What strategies do Saudi students develop to succeed with their U.S. studies? The research participant‘s words are used to explore Research Question #3: When these strategies are shared with peers, do they facilitate academic success? Why Study Abroad? In order to get a more complete picture of the participants and their American educational experience, the participants were asked why they decided to accept the
161 scholarship and study in the United States. As reported in Chapter 1 of this dissertation, most international students study abroad for several reasons. Spaulding and Fleck (1976) wrote that most travel abroad to receive schooling and training not available in their home countries and to advance careers with the prestige of a U.S. degree. Also, international students come to the U.S. in order to take advantage of scholarships and/or to learn more about the U.S. (Spaulding & Fleck, 1976). The Board of Regents University of the University System of Georgia (2007), The Center for Global Education (n.d.), and Vistawide World Languages and Cultures (2009) add that the reasons why students study abroad include the opportunity to participate in language study, learn another culture, travel, expand their educational and career horizons, become more self aware, and develop skills not available in schools at home. Writing specifically about Saudi students, Jeffra Flaitz (2003) added that Saudis often travel to abroad to study because there are not enough seats for them in their home universities. The participants‘ sentiments echoed the literature. While their answers varied, for the most part they came because of the opportunities U.S. study offers. Some missed opportunities at home because the program they wished to study wasn‘t available, they had minor problems with grades, or there were not enough open seats in Saudi universities to accommodate them. For some, the scholarships gave them a chance to better their lives with advanced degrees. What follows are six stories. These particular stories were chosen because they are representative of what all the participants told me; they are also interesting and sometimes poignant. I feel that they give depth and help create a greater understanding of the participants‘ experiences.
162 Participant Y is a newly married graduate student. This participant had been studying about a term and a half by the time the interviews began. After completing the term, he planned to travel home and return with his bride. He explained that he chose to come to the U.S. to pursue his graduate studies because ―there are 26, 27 million people in Saudi Arabia (20 percent of them are Shia), and 100,000 graduate from high school each year. There are not enough universities for all of them to fit.‖ Participant Y took advantage of the scholarship because it was an opportunity to receive the graduate degree he could not get at home. Participant Y‘s thoughts are echoed by another participant who said, ―school there is free, but what you can get into and the number of places is quite limited. There aren‘t enough opportunities.‖ Participant N (an undergraduate student at OSU) explained that school entrance is very competitive; preference for admission is given depending on ―who you know,‖ not merit; the chance to attend school (university) is minimal. She told me that ―university is highly competitive and depends on exams.‖ She wanted to attend medical school, but couldn‘t because they only accept a certain number of students and ―you can only go if you know someone.‖ Making a sizeable sacrifice when he decided to accept the scholarship, Participant M (a fully admitted OSU undergraduate student) opted to move to the U.S. so that his wife could study here. He was working and doing well when he decided to marry. His wife-to-be, a high school student at the time, had applied for and been granted a scholarship. Participant M applied for a scholarship too, so that they could study in the U.S. together. In the meantime, Participant M had also applied for a very good job as an x-ray technician in a hospital in Jeddah. This job was very competitive; all applicants had to pass an interview and exam, and over 500 people
163 applied for the two available positions. This new job doubled his salary, and it offered an excellent opportunity for experience and education. One month before leaving for the U.S., Participant M was offered one of the two positions. He opted to take the scholarship and study with his new wife because the scholarship offered her an opportunity that she did not have in Saudi Arabia. The scholarship and study in the United States, gave Participant F (an OSU undergraduate student) an opportunity, too. It enabled him to marry. Because of the scholarship money, Participant F and his wife will be able to earn degrees that will allow them to get better jobs and support their family once they return home. This, they explained to me, is an exceptional opportunity. After being granted their scholarships, they became engaged. They were engaged for three months while Participant F came to the U.S. and studied for a term. Then he returned home, and they left for the United States immediately after their wedding. Despite some initial adjustment problems because, as Participant F said, ―a wife depends on her husband for everything,‖ Participant F and his wife are doing well. As an undergraduate university student, she‘s had to become self-reliant. If they lost the scholarship and had to return home, they‘d have a harder life. As Participant F says, ―We‘d have to try to find jobs with good wages. It would be very difficult to support a wife and baby. There is inflation at home, with everything going up (there is a very young population, too, so there is higher demand for jobs). Life here is easier.‖ The scholarship enables Participant F to support his wife, and when their baby was born, the scholarship money increased, too. For this couple, the scholarship was instrumental in their ability to get married. They would have been engaged much longer.
164 Participant V (a full-time language student who will continue to graduate study) is a single man who had a good career in Saudi Arabia. As he explained to me, he ―had everything.‖ However, he decided to study in the U.S. because he has goals to get his master‘s degree and then his PhD. Therefore, as he said, ―I got the chance to go to U.S. and this would be good for me, so I go with this chance.‖ Finally, Participant W (a language student who will transfer to OSU for graduate work) came to the United States because her husband had a scholarship, and she decided accompanied him. She had two options. She was accepted into graduate school in Saudi Arabia, but she decided to attend graduate school in the U.S because she believed that a degree from a U.S. university has more value. She said, ―We all in Saudi Arabia believe that U.S. university has so strong education system. It would be a great opportunity for me. And for the future, I will get much better job if I have a scholarship and graduate from the U.S.‖ Also, Participant W told me that she wanted to explore the United States. ―I wanted to see if it‘s as they say about United States and American people for not. That was my final reason.‖ Life was not easy for Participant W at first, however. She studied English full-time with an infant daughter to care for, and her husband was in graduate school, working on his PhD. Initially, she could not find day care for her daughter and had to switch child care duties with her husband, trading off their daughter at their car and running for class. Nevertheless, she said, ―It was very difficult, but the good thing, I‘m very proud of myself. I got good grades even if I had to stay in the car, with my daughter in the car seat!‖ Other participants echoed Participant W‘s opinion that American degrees have value. They felt that coming to school in the United States helps to meet personal
165 goals of receiving higher education and getting opportunities at home. Graduate degrees are stronger and more prestigious than a degree from a Saudi university. Participants will receive a much better job when they return home after gaining a degree from a U.S. university. Among the participants, there is a common belief that the United States has a strong education system. Finally, one participant offered, ―The Prophet said, ask for education even in China. No matter how far you must travel and to what ends you must go, you must seek education.‖ Success Next, because this research is focused on success, it is important to establish how the participants defined success. Therefore, this chapter continues with an examination of the participants‘ thoughts about success and how they characterized a successful student. In general, the participants tended to agree with the literature‘s definition of success (Boyer & Sedlacek, 1988; Hull, 1976; Pederson, 1994; and Stoynoff, 1996) in that a successful person receives good grades and is reaching his or her educational goals. They were also inclined to equate success with happiness and helping others or giving back to their country. During the interviews, the participants were asked how they defined success and what it meant to them. Here are some of their answers: Participant N: ―Being happy with the work I‘m doing. Find a job when home—teach. Teach when home. Not happy about education there— want to get good education here and then teach.‖ Participant M: ―Success means to be at the top of the mountain. It‘s easy to get in but hard to stay there. To be at the top of the mountain, you‘ll be like on top of everything. Happiness, and your education and everything. Your position in society, in certain field like in education, in everything. It‘s the same to be happy, is also the top of the mountain.‖
Participant C: ―I think that success means for me, future, improvements. I mean by improvement, improve myself and also the big goal for me to improve my country, especially in my major, chemical engineering. So, yeah, I want to be successful for this reason.‖ Participant V: ―Success means for me, is being able to reach my goals and doing the things I want to do without harming myself or people around me. So just being able to get my goals in school, with people around me in society.‖ Participant F: ―Successful means to me reaching my goals in my life and having a remarkable future. And I want to be free to get my success in my life, so that‘s why I came to the U.S.—to be free without restrictions and just getting my, or having my life, having the best future. And to improve my country and myself as well. Participant D: ―Successful for me is being the person who can help other people some here in the U.S., to get my degree and because there are things here that you can‘t find back home. So I want to be successful person in terms of education and so because in the future when I go back home I can help other people and that‘s all. Also, in order to receive a more complete idea of how the participants defined success, I asked them how they defined a successful student. In general, the participants felt that a successful student is smart, goal oriented, motivated, hard working and focused, and is someone who can manage time well. Here is what the participants had to say about the qualities of successful students: Goal oriented: Participant R: ―Someone who knows what he or she wants, knows what‘s best, knows what he or she wants in the future.‖ Participant W: ―Knows what and why he studies; studies what he likes and is good at it.‖ Participant D: ―Just have goals first, know enjoyment, then succeed.‖ Participant H: ―A person who has a plan for the future; knows what will happen in the future.‖ Participant M: ―A person who knows what he/she want to do and plans the future.‖
Participant N: ―Good grades, good communication, know teachers, creates goals for self, looks forward, has good vision.‖ Smart: Participant I: ―Smart, do what you want to do, obedient to teachers and parents, listen.‖ Hard-working and focused: Participant F: ―Work hard, person who likes to solve his/her own problems, know what you need to be successful.‖ Participant L: ―Work hard, prepare for class, do homework, read a lot.‖ Participant C: ―A hard-worker, focused and put a plan in mind and start to work; has goals and achieves them.‖ Good time manager: Participant J: ―One who can manage time.‖ Participant E: ―Someone who can organize time; cope with changes (in American life); no excuses at all.‖ Participant G: ―Focused and manages time; knowing what it takes to do well and pass class, learning style.‖ Participant K: ―Manages time; knows how to manage things; time management is big important thing.‖ Motivated: Participant O: ―Someone who likes to learn something for life – then you‘ll have information forever.‖ Participant B: ―Cares about assignments, attends classes, enthusiastic about school.‖ Participant T: ―Don‘t focus only on grades, take care, take what you can from classes and apply what you took in your life.‖ Participant A: ―Put him anywhere and he‘ll be successful; continue to master‘s and PhD; someone who wants more and more.‖
168 Results by Research Question This next section contains a report on the research results, organized by research question. To best represent their voices, I use compilations of answers to interview questions, quotes of what the participants had to say, and their photographs. Research Question #1 What are the Saudi Arabian students’ perceptions of the differences between the educational environment in Saudi Arabia and the new educational environment in the U.S.? In order to address Research Question #1, I conducted semi-structured interviews, photo-elicitation interviews, and focus groups (see Appendices B, C, D, and E for the interview questions). During the semi-structured interviews and focus groups, the participants were asked what differences they found between education at home and education in the United States. For the photo-elicitation interviews, the participants were asked to bring in photos of things that were different between school at home and in the United States. Semi-Structured Interview and Focus Group Results All participants came from a school environment that stressed rote memorization, high-stakes test taking, and lecture-style classrooms (Flaitz, 2003; Oliver, 1997; Weneger, 2007). Supporting the research of Flaiatz, Oliver, and Weneger, the participants reported that American classroom practices and culture— which include active classrooms, pair work, group work, frequent quizzes and exams, required attendance, constant homework, and self-directed learning—to be elements of their new environment that were different and sometimes challenging. General sentiments include the following comments:
169 Participant C (female, graduate): ―Way classes are here is different. Relationship between teachers and students. Classes and grades don‘t depend on one thing—in Saudi Arabia grades depend on exams.‖ Participant A (female, undergraduate): ―Here there is a focus on group work; how students deal with teachers. The number of students in classes is different. In Saudi Arabia, teachers focus on saying what they want and then go. They don‘t focus on students‘ understanding. There are lecture hall types of classes.‖ Participant D (male, undergraduate): ―In Saudi Arabia, teachers give information directly; students keep information; that‘s it--memorization with no application.‖ Participant J (male, undergraduate): ―In the U.S., teachers give information and students must think; they must think critically.‖ Participant N (female, undergraduate): ―In Saudi Arabia, there was a pressure to memorize.‖ Participant R (female, undergraduate): ―Saudi schools don‘t have students work during the term—no projects or homework. Homework is a very small percentage of one‘s grade. In the U.S., students have to work during the term or they will fail.‖ Participant O (male, undergraduate): ―In Saudi Arabia, men are taught by men, and women are taught by women.‖ One of the differences that many of the participants commented upon was the lack of negotiation, which led to the perception that they were in a system with arbitrary rules. For example, generally Saudi Arabian class attendance was not rigorously focused upon. If a student was ill, missed class, or an exam, he or she spoke to the teacher and was excused for an absence or could reschedule an exam. Things were usually negotiable. The participants found quite the opposite to be true here. For example in the language program, an absence from class is not excused; if a student is not in class, the student is absent. If homework is due, it is due with no excuses. At OSU, the final exam schedule is established for the whole university. When an exam is scheduled, the date is not negotiable and there are no make-ups.
170 This set of circumstances posed problems for the participants. Thirteen participants (52%) said that they resented the rules of American classrooms and teachers, and they were frustrated by the absence of negotiation. Participant A, a fully admitted, female OSU student, had a story to tell: ―Like I, this term, um there is one week where I was really sick and when I get sick, I can‘t go anywhere. I can‘t go to school. Um or do anything. And I had 3 midterms in one day, one midterm the second day and a paper the third day. I went to every instructor and I told them that I can‘t do it; I can‘t do it. I am sick; I am tired and like . . . and they say it‘s not my problem. Go and try with the other teacher. It was like, what could I do? And then my brother got sick, too, and then I was like, okay, I don‘t know what should I do. Then I went back to my instructors, and I told them, okay, it‘s not like because I told you. I have a recommendation form SHS [student health services]. So, you should be able to know that I have something and sometimes I just can‘t do it. I can‘t study; I can‘t do anything. At lease one exam, if it moves to the next day, and I have two midterms in each day, it will be much easier for me. None of my teachers would do that for me. And I had to take them, the three of them in one day. And I didn‘t sleep for almost twenty—more than 24 hours.‖ Participant D (a male, undergraduate student) had a story about being in a different educational environment, too: ―So here‘s the point. I mean, it‘s just, sometimes, it‘s just like students do not have the time because lots of things. Especially for international students, if something happen back home, you will be just . . . I cannot do anything and no one will understand me on this point from here. My teachers, you have homework—you have to do it. You have exam—you have to take it. You have final—you have to come. So no one will understand me, what my situation is. Okay, I‘m in a different environment. I have to go to my exam. I have to do my test. I was in the last week of studying . . . and my uncle, my wife‘s father died. I told my instructor I have the same, like, the day after I have an exam, and I told her my uncle died, or my father-in-law died, and she said okay, okay. And after that I got my exam back; I got D. And I told her because of that. I got As in all the previous exams, and she told me, I cannot do anything for you. No help with that . . . When I was back home studying at the university, sometimes I faced problems and I talked to the instructor. He told me, ―You are totally fine. You don‘t want to come to the midterm, okay; it‘s okay. I will give it to you another day. Like that. We just grow up in an environment like this, and now it‘s totally changed.‖ In addition to differences in classroom culture and practices, eight participants (32%) mentioned how difficult it was to be away from home and family. This echoes
171 the work of Lin and Yee (1997) who found that Asian students suffered from loneliness and absence of family and the work of Al-Banyan (1980), Haneef (1996), King-Irani (2004), and Nydell (2006) who described the closeness and interdependence of the family. When the participants were home, they were surrounded by family members who supported of them. Here they are alone. As the participants reported, ―life is drastically different in the United States. One problem is homesickness‖ (Participant H). Participant B (a male, undergraduate student) said that his mother pushed him to come to the U.S. He agreed because he didn‘t want to disappoint her. She sacrificed for him; he wanted to make her happy. Unfortunately, this participant found that he needed to cope and survive. The first two months were very hard because it was so difficult to be away from home. He ―lost 20 kilos and reached a bad point.‖ After six months, he felt better and decided to not feel depressed. He found that if he went to Dixon Recreation Center (the campus recreational center and multi-use gym) and stayed active he felt better. He commented, ―I felt bad, then I fell down and got back up. Always have to get back up. Don‘t want to be weak.‖ Another participant added that being away from home is an important aspect of students failing their classes in the United States. While it can be an advantage to be so far away from family because of the freedom, ―no one is watching,‖ it is also a problem because ―most Saudis are exposed to many of the things they are not exposed to at home, such as girls, drugs, and alcohol.‖ Participant O (male, undergraduate) also reported that experimentation with drugs and alcohol caused some students to fail. He said that ―90% of those who failed did so because of drugs
172 and alcohol. They have no background to make good choices.‖ Participant O added that some Saudi men have a hard time trying to act like Americans with drinking. Photo-Elicitation Results In addition to discussing educational differences during semi-structured interviews and focus groups, the photo-elicitation interviews addressed educational differences and success strategies. The pages that follow include photos that are representative of the participants‘ perceptions of what they find to be significant educational differences. Gender differences in teachers and classmates. Flaitz (2003) wrote that having a teacher of the opposite sex is a major hurdle that Saudi students must overcome. Al-Banyan (1980), Oliver (1987) and the Saudi Arabian Cultural Mission (1991) reported that segregation of the sexes is required in Saudi classrooms and is a difference with which students studying abroad must contend. Echoing the literature and what participants offered during semi-structured interviews, four participants (16%) brought photos to the photo-elicitation interview that illustrated the difference in the gender of their instructors, and four (16%) brought in photos that showed the difference of gender with classmates. For men, this was the first time they had women teachers and classmates. For women, of course, this was their first experience with men instructors and classmates. While they adjusted, over time, to this difference, it was significant for some of the participants. Participant X said that it was different to sit in a class with women teachers. ―I felt awful for weeks; then it was okay. At first it was hard to have women in classes. With time, things got much better.‖ This participant added that he did not know how to talk to women and it made him uncomfortable. He had asked for a
173 woman conversation partner so he could practice talking to the opposite sex. Following are two photos that Participants S and Q brought to their interviews to show the gender differences they saw.
This photo is of an ELI teacher and was taken by a female participant. She indicated that this was the first time she had ever had a man teacher.
This photo is of a male participant and his teacher. He said that the ELI was the first time he had ever been taught by a woman.
174 Technology in the classroom. Something else that the participants commented on as being different is the widespread presence of technology, both in their classrooms and in the library. Most participants commented that technology has a much stronger presence in the U.S. than it has in their Saudi schools, something that is supported by Flaitz (2003). They universally enjoyed the access to technology and reported that it has a direct influence on their perceptions of their educational environment in the United States. These two photos were brought to the interviews by two participants in order to show the presence of technology as a difference between Saudi Arabian and American classrooms.
Climate. One obvious difference between Saudi Arabia and the United States is the climate. For many, this was the first time they saw snow. The participants reported that the climate and weather are dramatic differences and have indirect effects on their educational environments and makes them more willing to attend campus events. Twenty-nine percent of the photos brought in by the participants were of the weather and natural environment of Oregon. Religion: Another obvious difference is the presence of Christianity and the almost complete absence of Islam. All students in Saudi Arabia take religious classes during the entirety of their elementary, middle, and high school years. Islam is present in their daily lives at school and out of school. Participant M and his wife saw their first Santa Claus and snapped a picture of him because he is a symbol of an enormous difference. This finding supports the research of Flaitz (2003), Berkey (2004), and the Saudi Arabian Cultural Mission (1991).
176 Architecture. The difference in architecture and physical appearance of the OSU buildings is another difference that the participants commented upon. In contrast to OSU, some of the women participants‘ schools were surrounded by high walls, and most participants mentioned that their schools had guarded gates. Fourteen percent of the photos brought to the photo-elicitation interviews were of buildings other than the library. Homework. Finally, one common difference between school in Saudi Arabia and the United States is the amount of homework the participants found they must do here. Rather than studying and cramming for mid-terms and final exams, participants reported that they needed to study every day to prepare for classes. Jeffra Flaitz‘ (2003) book, Understanding Your International Students, reported the same thing. A participant brought this photo to an interview and said that show him doing homework In the library.
177 Library. The photos that follow are of the OSU library—a place that the participants mentioned as something that is quite different from home. Using the library to do homework and meet with study groups was a unique experience for the participants. All participants stressed the difference and importance of the library, and 20% brought photos of the library to their photo-elicitations interviews.
178 Other differences. Although not strictly addressing the question of differences between Saudi educational environments and American educational environments, Participant Y brought in the following photos which show his perceptions of the differences between Saudi Arabia and America: United States:
179 Here is another set of Participant Y‘s photos:
Participant Y, selected some amazing pictures to share and captured what most would agree are some of the quintessential differences between Saudi Arabia and the United States.
180 Research Question #2 What strategies do Saudi students develop to succeed with their US studies? Research Question #2 focuses on success strategies. To answer this question, I conducted semi-structured interviews, focus groups, and photo-elicitation interviews (see Appendices B, C, D, and E for interview questions). The success strategies that the participants discussed tended to fall into several categories: time management, planning, and goal setting; study skills; study groups; campus resources; and persistence and hard work. Semi-Structured Interview and Focus Group Results Time management, planning, and goal setting. Time management is a success strategy mentioned in Stoynoff‘s (1996, 1997) work. It was a strategy also discussed by almost all the participants during at least one of their interviews as a way to successfully manage the multiple demands on their time. Along with managing their time, the participants stressed goal setting and planning: Participant M: ―Time management yes, and I think you have to set up some goals for ourself.‖ Participant V: ―Yes, I agree. For me, I have like your critical goals, but at the same time you have many minor goals. So you have to do them.‖ Participant Q: ―Set goals. Write everything down, and put on paper in front of me. To remind me of goals. Keep a reminder. Put on paper—1, 2, 3—what to do to reach goals.‖ Participant M: ―About me, I think to be successful, take the situation as if you were in war. You have to win—it could be that you could lose, so you have to keep in mind that you have two choices. Maybe you will win or maybe you will lost. So if you keep that in your mind, even if you lose at the end you will not be destroyed or disappointment about that. So as you are involved in the war, you have put plan A, plan B, plan C, plan D because everything, all options, it could be happen. Like last semester. I had three finals in one day. And that prepared me to plan B to study before the exam and use all possible
181 things that, to make me win at the end. So I started 2 weeks before the exam, which made me more comfortable during the exam.‖ Participant A: ―Noticing a goal, making a plan, then working toward it. The big thing is to go back to plan. Making a plan is easy, staying with the plan is hard. Look back at the plan and just do it.‖ The participants saw time management as a sub-set of goal setting. They said that they would set a goal, focus on the goal, and plan. Time management was a tool in achieving the goal. The participants said: Participant A: ―Time management. Knowing when finals, papers, quizzes are due. I put them on a schedule and get the whole picture for the term. I decide which classes need the most time and divide up the hours. Look at weekly schedule and schedule out my time.‖ Participant C: ―Organize time is the biggest thing; try not to feel stress. Go to the library every day and study.‖ Participant G: ―Manage time. Not set a schedule but try to manage time. Use breaks to study.‖ Participant H: ―Manage time with a calendar and notebook. I do 70% to 80% of my schedule—it helps a lot.‖ Participant T ―Because I have a shortage of time, I have to plan everything carefully. I mean I have to use my time efficiently.‖ Participant I: ―Organize time; don‘t postpone anything; plan ahead and prepare.‖ Study skills. Time management, planning, and goal setting are closely associated with study skills and could be seen as examples of study skills. However, because the participants separated and stressed time management, planning, and goal setting from study skills, I have included study skills in a separate category. This category encompasses doing homework, attending class, developing reading strategies, and reading ahead. Here is what the participants said: Participant U: ―Focus and do homework. Don‘t be late to class and bring books.‖
182 Participant O: ―Always skim before reading so that you‘ll know what something is about. Know what the professor thinks, what the professor wants. Understand class itself, how the professor organizes, how the books are written.‖ Participant L: ―Homework is important. Don‘t skip homework. Do all homework, then study three days before exams.‖ Participant K: ―Don‘t skip reading (do about every other one); go to lectures to prevent reading.‖ Participant B: ―Study very good, immediately after class.‖ Participant G: ―Use vocabulary cards for new vocabulary; read fast, outline when writing.‖ Participant P: ―Prepare and be attentive/listen. Go home and review.‖ Study groups. Able (2002), Faid-Doublas (2000), Stoynoff (1996, 1997), and Tseng and Newton (2002), report that study groups are another strategy that successful international students develop. The participants agreed with the literature and said that study groups serve two purposes. First, they allow students to share information. Participant J told me, ―If we like, say, we have review questions for the mid-term and we say like hey guys you section A, B, C, D. Anyone who didn‘t do it, like his section to solve the question, we not give him the whole work.‖ Secondly, study groups offer a community of support. Participant N said, ―Having Saudis here to meet with each week relieves the pressure. Even if you have American [friends], having Saudi Arabian friends helps. Women stick together. Really important to release the pressure.‖ Of course, some participants preferred to study alone and not participate in study groups. Participant M reported that he stayed ―in solitude from friends. No parties. No dinner outside. Just study all the day.‖ ―Kind of crazy idea to isolate from society to be successful and get good grades. About my personality, I isolate from other people, I just stay in the home and study. That‘s it. I know it‘s bad; there‘s a disadvantage of this, but
183 it will temporarily times to be isolated from society and be more away from people.‖ Nevertheless, this same participant did offer a great deal of help and support for his fellow Saudis in the form of class notes, written class work, essays, and the like. Several participants mentioned that they try to meet Americans and make friends. Creating groups of Americans to interact with both helped their speaking abilities and gave them personal resources for help with writing assignments and other classroom tasks. Participant A commented that ―for me, I can learn more with people. For me parties help. Because I‘ll have native speakers and I‘ll have to talk, no other language than English.‖ Campus resources. Learning about and taking advantage of resources is a success strategy that is widely reported in the literature about international students (Abel, 2002; Al-Sharideh & Goe, 1998; Faid-Douglas, 2000; Stoynoff, 1996, 1997; Tseng & Newton, 2002). Using campus resources is a strategy that all the participants used, as well. Resources ranged from places, such as the library, to people such as writing tutors, professors, and TAs. Participant U put it very clearly: ―I have one strategy. It‘s the simplest strategy. Ask for help. No, I have a lot of friends here, so I have a list and I have to match . . . I have that kind of problem, I have to call [name of person]. I have this kind of problem, so I just ask for help.‖ Participant A echoed Participant S: ―Like in biology, we have recitation, lab, and lecture. You should be very careful about the points during the lab and recitation. So doing all your homework and check with the TA before you handed the portfolio, that helps us a lot. All the time, contact TA all the time. Be nosy sometime and be like you should get what you want from the TA.‖
184 Other participants reported that they took advantage of help by going to teachers‘ offices to ask questions, getting writing help from tutors in the Writing Center and the Learning Center, signing up for help at the math study table, and taking part in math review sessions before final exams. I was told that they ―use everything: homework, math learning center, Collaborative Learning Center, Writing Center. Ask for help.‖ Hard work and persistence. At one time or another during the interviews, all the participants stressed the importance of working hard. A major component of success, they felt, is hard work and persistence. The participants said: Participant N: ―Keep going. Keep trying.‖ Participant A: ―I know that about myself. I can. I not just give up and say I can‘t, I can‘t.‖ Participant G: ―You must study hard and be good in grammar, be good in listening, in speaking, in writing—not just take it easy.‖ Participant W: ―My strategy is practice, practice, practice—everything. Reading, writing listening, speaking. Just practice and work hard. Participant F: ―Walking the stairs—take one step at a time; focus on one step. Think I can do it‖ Participant H ―‖Believe in success; if you don‘t believe in yourself, you don‘t do it. No one will help you if you don‘t help yourself.‖ Participant A: ―Now I move forward. I know I‘m improving; I know I am doing well. I know I am reaching my goals. I know I am doing so many things that I wanted to do and I am doing them.‖ Photo-Elicitation Results One of the sets of photographs the participants were asked to bring to the photoelicitation interview was pictures of things that contribute to their success. The results included photos that were expected (those that supported results from other interviews) and photos of success strategies that weren‘t mentioned in other
185 interviews. Also, the participants brought in photos that were puzzling. Initially, the puzzling photos did not seem to be related to success. However, after probing and questioning, these photos proved to be something that was a significant contributor to success. First, what follows are photos that supported the results of the other interviews and focus groups . Time management. First, considering the photos that supported the results of the other interviews, two participants took pictures of the clock tower on campus, which, they said, show the importance of time management:
186 Study skills. The participants also shared pictures that showed the importance of study skills, such as preparing for class and working with study groups:
187 Campus resources. As reported earlier the library was a resource that contributed to the participants‘ success and 20% of the participants had pictures of the library, saying that it was a very important resource for them. Judging by the number of participants who shared pictures of the library, it the resource they relied on the most often:
Other resources the participants photographed and said were important contributors to their success were the Memorial Union (8%),
188 the Writing Center, where students received free writing tutoring (1%),
and the Collaborative Learning Center, where students received free help with writing, math, chemistry, physics and other classes (3%).
189 The photograph that follows shows Dixon Recreational Center, another resource the participants enjoyed (8%). The photo also underscores the importance the participants placed on exercise as a stress reducer, which is important to their success.
Secondly, the participants brought to the photo-elicitation interviews photographs of contributors to their success that they did not mention in the one-onone interviews or the focus groups. These photos fell into two groups: the natural environment of Oregon and interacting with other international students and going on field trips. Interactions. The two pictures on the next page are examples of the two types of interactions. The participants (6%) indicated that interacting with students from other countries and going on field trips with them was a contribution to their
190 success in that it was a break from classroom time, added to their experiences, and forced them to use English.
191 Natural environment. Another finding that appeared in the photographs, but didn‘t come up in the other interviews was the importance of the natural environment of Oregon to the participants‘ success. A large percentage, 20%, of the photoelicitation pictures were of the natural environment. When I asked the participants about the photos these photos of Oregon and nature, they replied that Oregon is very different from Saudi Arabia (which addressed Research Question #1), and the natural beauty of Oregon, with is seasonal colors, helped them feel peaceful and content. These feelings helped them concentrate on their studies and reduced their stress levels. Examples of the participants‘ photographs follow on the next few pages:
194 To conclude this discussion of the results of Research Questions #2 from the photo-elicitation interviews, the next focus is on the photos that were initially puzzling. Bicycles. The photos that were puzzling were those of bicycles. I did not understand why seven different photos of bicycles were brought to interviews. Participant F initially explained that students did not ride bicycles in Saudi Arabia; it is too hot and only delivery people rode them. However, only one participant explained his bicycle photo in this way; the other participants explained why they included the pictures by saying that they liked riding bicycles on campus. Then Participant E brought a picture of himself with some friends, and one was on a bicycle. He said that he chose the picture because he and his friends were wearing American-style clothing. Wearing jeans and hooded sweatshirts helped them feel part of the OSU community. He enjoyed dressing like the other students on campus and said that it helped him feel comfortable, which enhanced his academic success. I asked him about his friend on the bicycle and inquired if riding a bicycle helped him feel like the other students on campus. He brightened and said yes. During subsequent interviews where the participants brought photos of bicycles, I probed to see if the bicycles indicated a sense of community and feeling part of OSU. Every participant answered affirmatively. Feelings of being a member of the community were a significant part of the participants‘ success. Interestingly, I would not have arrived at this without the help of the photo-elicitation interviews. The photos that follow on the next page are samples of the bicycles photos:
196 Research Question #3
When these strategies are shared with peers, do they facilitate academic success? This third research question was addressed during Semi-Structured Interview #2 and the winter 2008 Focus Group #2 (see Appendices D and E for interview questions). During the semi-structured interview, I asked the participants if they shared their success strategies with fellow Saudi students, friends, and/or study partners. During the focus group, participants answered questions was about support communities and if they shared their success strategies with other students. The overwhelming answer to the questions was, ―yes, yes, yes!‖ All participants said that they shared success strategies with their peers and did what they could to support them with their studies and with general life events. Specifics about the sharing of success strategies ranged from advising their fellow Saudi students about study skills and inviting friends to join study groups, to keeping sets of exams, notes, reports, and papers to share. There was an overarching tone of willingness to help others succeed. Participant D told me that he tries to notice what someone does not know. ―If you help someone without asking for a benefit, you‘ll have benefits from God.‖ This participant tended to share everything he knows. For example, he helped his fellow Saudis with computers, mid-term projects, and shared his experience. Other participants said that they work together, help one another with vocabulary acquisition and TOEFL strategies, and, most importantly, gave one another encouragement. One important success strategy that participants shared is recommending classes and professors. Several participants said that they used the web site, Rate
197 My Professors (http://www.ratemyprofessors.com/). As Participant A said, ―I use it. Went on the web site and one professor was rated really bad, I‘d pay attention to that.‖ In addition, focus group participants told me that they discussed instructors with their peers and made recommendations for particular classes. Participant N pointed out that ―if I had a friend who had a experience with [a professor], I‘d ask him. I‘d switch the class, too.‖ As Participant M said of his wife, ―She goes to Plan B if she doesn‘t like our professor.‖ Participant M also gave me an example of having the correct professor for a class: ―Like in Math 251, right. The one we just took. The other students with different teachers, they are dreaming just to get a C. They were . . . I have some classes, different classes with them and they say to me we are dreaming just to get a C in this class. I said to him, it‘s easy for us to get A in our class. Different homework, different exam, different stuff. They work more, very hard. They struggle.‖ In addition to sharing opinions about professors and recommending classes, the participants had other success strategies they shared with their fellow Saudi students. Those mentioned include the following: attend all classes get advice for listening and speaking from teachers manage time study hard get good study materials/books for the GRE, TOEFL spend free time in the Learning Center get writing help from the free tutors in the Learning Center do homework
198 Specific strategies for the TOEFL include making good notes before the speaking section; managing time well; including an introduction, body and conclusion in the writing sections; not reading a whole article but only the first paragraph, first sentences, and conclusion; etc. Other advice participants had for their fellow students included getting a TOEFL score before arriving to study here. Several participants recommended having at least intermediate-level English skills before coming: Participant M said, ―Don‘t come with basic English. If you come with basic, you should come with [intermediate-level skills]. Don‘t come with zero English.‖ Other advice from Participant W included practicing English. She said, ―For success in English language, don‘t go with other Arab or Saudi people. Don‘t go with people that talk Arabic in America.‖ Participant U added, ―it‘s about the stress; it‘s about the intonation; it‘s about many, many things.‖ A third piece of advice is to ―be prepared.‖ ―Being prepared for being away from home and family.‖ ―Prepare yourself while home before coming to the U.S.‖ ―Know about the culture.‖ ―Be optimistic.‖ And finally, Participant V (a male, graduate students) added some interesting thoughts about taking one‘s education seriously and caring about it because it is important to do more than just pass a class. He said, I want to recommend to other Saudi students. Because I have found this problem with Saudi students. Many of them, especially undergrad students, they think they want to get the iBT as soon as possible. They want to get the score that gets into university, that‘s all. They don‘t care about the homework; they don‘t care about good writing or good listener or good speaker. They don‘t care. They just want to get in the school, get the certificate, go home, get good salary, that‘s all. But if they are going to get this idea, they are not going to be successful. They might get the certificate, get in the school, the university and might graduate. But they won‘t be qualified people. They don‘t think like more in the future. They‘re going to need this maybe to publish a paper. They need to be good in grammar and writing. They maybe later give a presentation to represent their company for example, or their country, or
199 anything. So, they don‘t think about this. Many people, they think I just want to pass. People need to care about the quality. People need this mentality. We need to get this good mentality for the Saudis.‖ Additionally, the participants reported that they formed support communities and shared their successful experiences. In the words of Participant M, ―I hope everyone get all As in all classes. What they need, paper any stuff that I‘ve done. They need it, I give it to them.‖ Other participants echoed his sentiments and said that they ―share notes, tests, papers.‖ Participant M added, ―Everything that I have I give it to them. I say just go ahead. It will be easy A for you, just study. So I don‘t have any problems. I just keep the papers for other students. I have tons of paper in our apartment. Just some day in the future students will take the course, so I can help them with that. So, it‘s good to help other people. Cooperation.‖ Concerning the sharing of work, papers, notes, and other materials, it should be noted that helping friends is a strong Saudi cultural value and ―relationships between students are close and noncompetitive‖ (Flaitz, 2003, p. 133). Participants pointed out that sharing materials with friends is expected and the norm. Concerning Research Question #3 and the issue of whether or not sharing success strategies facilitates academic success, some participants pointed out that their peers need to work also. It‘s a two-way street. The study tips and help did contribute as long as the recipient of the help used the strategies and helped him/herself, too. Participant M was reluctant to continue to help someone if that person did not try to help himself. ―But the one who not help hisself, I will not help, so that‘s it. If you want to work, just show me that you want to work. Otherwise, I can‘t help you.‖ This sentiment was repeated when discussing study groups. Participant G (male, undergraduate) pointed out:
―There are some rules. Anyone didn‘t follow the rules, they would not get help from us.‖ ―If we like say, we have review questions for the mid-term. And we say like hey guys, you section A, B, C, D. Anyone who didn‘t do it, like his section to solve the question, we not give him the whole work.‖ Thus, the participants did develop success strategies, and they shared them with their peers, who found them helpful. However, the recipients of the help had to contribute. Concluding Comments In this chapter, I discussed research results by research question. The chapter began with information about the participants, reported on why they decided to travel to the U.S. to study, and explained what they expect to gain from being here. Next, how the participants defined success, what it means to them, and how they define a successful student was explored. Finally, the research results were organized by the three research questions. To best communicate what the participants had to offer and to give as complete a picture of what they shared, their responses were compiled, their photographs were included, and, in many cases, their words were quoted. The next chapter offers the development and explanation of two themes that arose from the data. First, I maintain that the research participants have all the characteristics of resilience, which greatly contributes to their success. Second, I believe that they have developed intercultural competence—another quality that ensures their success.
Chapter 7: Themes In Chapter 6, the research results were organized by research question and discussed. The chapter included a description of the research participants, explored how they define success, and looked at how they characterized a successful student. The chapter was concluded with a comprehensive report of the answers to the three research questions, which included the participants‘ quotations and photographs. In this chapter two themes that arose from the data are explored. Specifically, the themes are resilience and intercultural competence, which are qualities shared by the successful Saudi students who participated in this study. In Chapter 3, I described how the data were analyzed. Using Creswell‘s (2007) advice, I pulled the data apart and reconstructed them in ways that meaningfully addressed the research questions. In the process of developing generalizations, patterns emerged, and I developed an emergent concept. It became clear that the participants shared a set of traits, qualities, and ways of dealing with stressful events that indicated that they were resilient and adept at coping. Pandit (1996) suggests that researchers return to the literature for a final step when using a grounded theory method of research—a step which he calls the literature comparison phrase. Eisenhardt (1989) writes of a similar step in case study research, one she calls enfolding the literature. Eisenhardt reports that ―an essential feature of theory building is comparison of the emergent concepts, theory, or hypotheses with the extant literature‖ (1989, p. 544). Therefore, I returned to the literature and reviewed Wang‘s (2004, 2009) research with international students. Wang established that his research participants were resilient. I investigated the literature further (Wang‘s study
202 was the only one I could find that focused on international students) and concluded that resilience was a good fit. Thus, I theorized that the participants in this study were resilient. The process was much the same for intercultural competence. Intercultural competence is well known in the ESL field. Those who work with international students have the goal helping them settle comfortable into their host cultures, and intercultural competence is a skill that ESL teachers work hard to help their students develop. It was concept that emerged as I analyzed and was one that was confirmed as I engaged in on-going discussions of the research results with colleagues. They agreed with my thoughts about this emergent theme. Subsequently, I turned to the literature on intercultural competence and found that it, too, was a good fit. Of the studies I could find on intercultural competence, most focused on American students studying abroad, and none focused on Saudi students Resilience The literature concerning resilience is discussed in Chapter 2 of this dissertation. As noted in Chapter 2, Wang (2004) defined resilience as the capability to manage high levels of change without high levels of dysfunctional behavior. The Harvard Mental Health Letter (2006) defined resilience as the ―capacity to endure stress and bounce back‖ (para. 2). Carver (1998) found that individuals who experienced adversity and evaluated the experience to be growth-promoting were experiencing cognitive transformation, which predicted resilience. Carver stressed that resilience leads to transformative changes in an individual, and transformative changes are important to the ability to adapt and develop strategies to succeed. Therefore, resilience is closely related to success.
203 Based on the results of this study, I maintain that successful Saudi students are resilient. First, when reviewing the characteristics of resilience, an argument can be made that the participants in this study have these qualities. A combination of the resilience characteristics outlined in the literature (Carver, 2004; Wang, 2004, 2009; Santa, 2006; Harvard Mental Health Letter, 2006) include the following: Goal orientation Self-confidence Strong support system/persons and realization of the need to rely on a support system Optimism and positive outlook Motivation Self-discipline Organized methods for meeting problems/challenges Coping strategies The data obtained from all the interviews and focus groups indicated that the participants have these resilience characteristics. Concerning the first characteristic on the list, goal orientation, the research participants reported that setting goals and achieving them was an important element to their success. As they said, Participant M: ―I think you have to set up some goals for ourself.‖ Participant V: ―For me, I have like your critical goals, but at the same time you have many minor goals. So you have to do them.‖ The second characteristic, self-confidence, is also a quality that the participants have. Although most of them felt intimidated and homesick when they
204 were first here, they reported that after their first two terms of study they felt confident in their ability to reach their goals and succeed. For example, they said, Participant A: ―I know that about myself. I can. I not just give up and say I can‘t, I can‘t.‖ Participant M: ―Walking the stairs—take one step at a time; focus on one step. Think I can do it.‖ Participant H: ―Believe in success; if you don‘t believe in yourself, you don‘t do it. No one will help you if you don‘t help yourself.‖ The third characteristic, a strong support system/persons and realization of the need to rely on a support system, is another that the participants possess. All of them either formed or participated in study groups. In addition, they all took advantage of the resources available to them. Several said that the OSU library was their ―second home.‖ In addition, several said: Participant W: ―I have one strategy. It‘s the simplest strategy. Ask for help.‖ ―Use everything: homework, math learning center, Collaborative Learning Center, Writing Center. Ask for help.‖ Participant N: ―Having Saudis here to meet with each week relieves the pressure. Even if you have American [friends], having Saudi Arabian friends helps. Women stick together. Really important to release the pressure.‖ Participant O: ―For me, I can learn more with people. For me parties help.‖ The fourth characteristic, optimism and positive outlook, is not something that was specifically examined during the interviews, and the research questions did not address optimism and outlook. However, none of the participants expressed anything that would lead one to believe that they did not have positive outlooks. In fact, one participant did mention that he was not serious and was a ―happy guy.‖ Participant E said that his friends told him that he was not a studious, academic person, and they wondered if he would finish his undergraduate work. His answer was to shrug and
205 say that he was doing his best and making it through his classes. In fact, one participant‘s advice to future Saudi students was to ―be optimistic.‖ Also, Participant A mentioned that she was moving forward. ―I know I‘m improving; I know I am doing well. I know I am reaching my goals. I know I am doing so many things that I wanted to do, and I am doing them.‖ These words were spoken by a person who has a positive outlook and is optimistic about her progress and success. The fifth characteristic, motivation, is something that aptly describes the research participants. They are a determined, highly motivated group of students. The very fact that they left their families, friends, and homes to study in an unfamiliar and alien environment is proof of their motivation. While studying in the U.S. and obtaining degrees is a certain route to successful careers when they return home, studying here is not an easy path to follow. However, they want to complete their studies and return home, and they want to contribute to making Saudi Arabia a better place. Also, they defined a good and successful student as one who is motivated: Participant O: ―Someone who likes to learn something for life – then you‘ll have information forever.‖ Participant T: ―Don‘t focus only on grades, take care, take what you can from classes and apply what you took in your life.‖ Participant A: ―Put him anywhere and he‘ll be successful; continue to master‘s and PhD; someone who wants more and more.‖ Self-discipline is another characteristic that my participants share. Two participants, when talking about their self-discipline, said, Participant M: ―About me, I think to be successful, take the situation as if you were in war. You have to win. Keep going. Keep trying.‖ Participant B: ―I felt bad, then I fell down and got back up. Always have to get back up. Don‘t want to be weak.‖
206 One of the first success strategies my participants shared during the interviews and one of the consistent strategies they have developed is time management skills, which directly addressed the last resilience characteristic-organized methods for meeting problems/challenges. All twenty-five participants, in one interview or another, reported that they organized their time and tasks: Participant H: ―Knowing when finals, papers, quizzes are due. I put them on a schedule and get the whole picture for the term. I decide which classes need the most time and divide up the hours. Look at weekly schedule and schedule out my time.‖ Other participants said: ―Organize time is the biggest thing; try not to feel stress,‖ and ―Go to the library every day and study.‖ I conclude that successful Saudi students are resilient. The comparison of resilience characteristics to the participants shows that resilience is a common denominator. Focusing on the resilience of Saudi students is important for two reasons. First, resilience is a quality that can be assessed (Campbell-Sills, Cohan, & Stein, 2006; Connor & Davidson, 2003; Smith, Dalen, Wiggins, Tooley, Christopher & Bernard, 2008). Second, coping skills are an important element of resilience, and coping skills can be taught, developed, and enhanced (Ahern, Ark, & Byers, 2008; Cohen & Frydenberg, 1996; Frydenberg, 2004; Frydenberg & Lewis, 2004; Frydenberg, Lewis, Bugalski, Cotta, McCarthy, Luscombe-Smith, & Poole, 2004; Lewis & Frydenberg, 2002; Li, 2008). Concerning assessing resilience, one assessment tool, the Connor-Davidson Resilience scale (CD-RISC), promises to ―assist in screening individuals for high-risk, high stress activities‖ (Connor & Davidson, 2003, p. 81). As Chapter 2 of this dissertation discusses, studying in a different country is a high-stress activity. The
207 CD-RISC contains 25 items that measure the ability to deal with stress and change. All items carry a 5-point range of responses, from not true all the time to true nearly all the time. The total score can range from 0 to 100, and higher scores indicate greater resiliency (Connor & Davidson, 2003). Campbell-Sills, Cohan, and Stein (2006) describe the CD-RISC as a ―promising measure‖ and that the ―existence of a well-validated assessing scale may also encourage researchers and clinicians to include this important construct in their assessment batteries‖ (p. 587). Another group of researchers (Smith, et. al., 2008) developed the Brief Resilience Scale (BRS) by which test takers are evaluated for their ―ability to bounce back or recover from stress‖ (p. 199). The BRS, according to its developers, is the only resilience measure that focuses on the original and most basic meaning of resilience: the ability to bounce back or recover from stress (Smith, et. al., 2008). The BRS is a six-item measure and contains equal numbers of positive and negative items relating to stress and recovery from stress. For example, here are two questions on the BRS: ―I tend to bounce back quickly after hard times‖ and ―I have a hard time making it through stressful events‖ (Smith, et. al, 2008, p. 196). The BRS was tested on two groups of undergraduate students and two groups of medical patients. The authors found that the BRS had good internal consistency and testretest reliability. One use of the CD-RISC and BRS would be to test successful students for resiliency and investigate the hypothesis that successful Saudi students are resilient. In addition, although needing further investigation, the CD-RISC might prove to be a good tool to measure resilience and assess students for potential to succeed in their studies in the U.S. The Saudi Arabian Cultural Mission and the Ministry of Higher
208 Education of Saudi Arabia might wish to assess resilience using this tool in addition to other screening measures when deciding which students will receive scholarships and study abroad. The BRS, too, might be a good tool to screen future students for their potential to succeed in study in the U.S. However, the BRS requires further study because its authors recommend it be used to ―obtain information about people coping with healthrelated stressors‖ (Smith, et. al., 2008). Although the BRS was tested on two groups of international students along with two groups of medical patients, the authors‘ outcomes only address use with medical patients. Both assessment tools, of course, would need to be translated into Arabic. They would also need to be carefully checked for cultural bias. The items in the CDRISC and BRS may be appropriately worded for and focus on issues common to a specific group of Americans. These tools may not be appropriate for Saudis. The second reason why resilience deserves attention is because coping skills are important elements and contributors to resilience. Coping skills can be developed, nurtured, and taught. Coping skills have been defined by Torres and Rollock (2004) as ―competence based abilities‖ (p. 156). They continue to say that coping is ―a configuration of personal characteristics or internal processes that individuals use to engage in person-environment relationships across particular demands‖ (Torres & Rollock, 2004, p. 156). Those who had coping strategies and skills were better at taking charge of their lives, solving problems, realizing goals, and learning from both their successes and failures (Torres & Rollock, 2004). Since coping skills are something that resilient and successful people possess, then perhaps less successful individuals or students experiencing trouble can acquire
209 them and succeed in their studies. One participant said, ―90% of those who failed did so because of drugs and alcohol. They have no background to make good choices.‖ Another participant stated that some Saudi men ―have a hard time trying to act like Americans with drinking.‖ A case might be made that helping unsuccessful or troubled students develop the coping skills to live in the U.S., make better choices, and deal with the stresses and demands of being in a very different culture would increase their resilience and their chances of success. Offering advice and workshops that enhance and foster coping strategies is something that language programs and schools, the Saudi Arabian Cultural Mission, and the Ministry of Higher Education of Saudi Arabia might do to enhance the success of Saudi students. Intercultural Competence The second theme that emerged from this study is intercultural competence. Intercultural competence, as described in detail in Chapter 2, is a significant contributor to the ability of an international traveler to successfully adapt to life in a different country/culture, live in a multi-cultural world, and realize educational goals, (Baumman & Shelley, 2006; Rathje, 2007; Sercu, 2004;) and is a ―crucial predictor of success in working and living in cross-cultural environments (Greenholtz, 2000, p. 411). Lack of intercultural competence implies problems in relating to another culture (Wilton & Constantine, 2003). The ability to acquire intercultural competence is important for successful Saudi students. First, successful international students have higher levels of intercultural competence (Deardorff, 2006; Emert & Pearson, 2007; Flaskerud, 2007; Greenholtz, 2000; Rathje, 2007; Sercu, 2004). Therefore, intercultural competence is a component of and a contributor to successful overseas study. Second, intercultural
210 competence can be assessed, and the acquisition of intercultural competence can be assisted. The components of intercultural competence begin with attitude (Deardorff, 2006): Respect (valuing other cultures) Openness (withholding judgment) Curiosity & discovery (tolerating ambiguity and uncertainty) Attitude progresses to knowledge, comprehension, and skills: Cultural self-awareness Deep cultural knowledge
knowledge and comprehension
Sociolinguistic awareness Listen, observe, and interpret
Analyze, evaluate, relate Knowledge, comprehension and skills develop into internal outcomes (an informed frame of reference shift): Adaptability Flexibility ethnorelative view empathy Finally, internal outcomes evolve into external outcomes: Effective and appropriate communication and behavior in an intercultural situation I believe that the participants in this study have developed the components of intercultural competence. I do not think this was a something they arrived in the
211 United States with because most are not widely traveled and this is their first trip outside their home countries. First, as Deardorff (2006) pointed out, intercultural competence begins with attitude: respect, openness, and curiosity & discovery. Participants‘ comments regarding their attitude include the following: Participant A: ―It‘s really hard to come here, but at the same time, you know it depends on you. What you‘re looking for. Everything you want to do, it will be hard. . . . Some people say, No, I‘m going to take the risk and do it.‖ Participant W: [My goals for coming to the United States were] ―to be more sophisticated, to know more about different cultures, to interact with other people, so it will rise my experience with life, so the U.S. will open [my]mind to other things I didn‘t see when I was in Saudi Arabia.‖ Participant Y: ―I wanted to explore the U.S. I wanted to see if it‘s as they say about United States and American people or not.‖ Secondly, the participants have developed the skills and the knowledge and comprehension, as components of intercultural competence, that allowed them to comfortably settle into life and study in the United States and succeed in their goals. Participant I: ―It‘s actually about me, about myself. I didn‘t study only English here. Actually, I learned many things about culture, American habits, the good things about Americans and the U.S. Studying with many students from different countries, like Asia, Japan, Korea, and it‘s very good opportunity to communicate with other people and know about their cultures and how they think and a lot of stuff.‖ Participant J: ―Most students when they are in the U.S. [they] become more open like when they come back to Saudi Arabia—they always try to make people not less conservative, but be more open.‖ Participant V: ―Sometimes, for example here, sometimes I try to compare between what I believe and other beliefs. In the same time, I have found that I appreciate what I believe more. It‘s not a matter of the others, they are not right, or I believe that I am believing more, and I appreciate my beliefs more. Because especially when it leads you to the right thing. Yeah, when you realize it‘s right.‖
212 Finally, the participants achieved the internal outcomes of intercultural competence to arrive at the external outcomes of ―behaving and communicating effectively and appropriately to achieve one‘s goals to some degree‖ (Deardorff, 2006, p. 254). One of the final interview questions was to ask the participants what had happened in school and in life since the interviews began. I asked what they had accomplished and what goals they had met. While their answers varied, all indicated that they were doing well. They were happy, settled in, culturally adjusted to living in the United States, and working towards achieving their goals. Three of the women were successfully studying along with raising babies or young children. One woman was pregnant. Three participants had gained full admission into OSU and were studying full-time. Several had applied to graduate school, and others had increased their scores on the TOEFL and GRE. Three participants had 4.0 GPAs at OSU, and one was invited to join the Honor‘s College. Several participants had purchased cars and two had gotten their Oregon driver‘s licenses. All participants told me that their reading fluency, vocabulary, listening skills, and speaking skills had improved. Not one participant ever mentioned overall feelings of dissatisfaction with their U.S. studies or experiences. All 25 participants appreciated the opportunities they had here and were steadily moving toward meeting their goals of finishing school. In addition, 37% of the participants found Americans to be helpful and friendly. Thirtytwo percent said that Americans treated them like everyone else and they felt accepted.
213 In addition, all participants told me that they enjoyed feelings of inclusion in the Corvallis and OSU communities and felt they were community members. As shown by the bicycle photos and pictures of the library in the photo-elicitation section of Chapter 6 and by their willingness to ask for help, assess resources, and interact with Americans, the participants have comfortably integrated into life in the United States and into the role of university students. Thus, the overall impression is that all participants had attained the external characteristic of intercultural competence of ―effective and appropriate communication and behavior in an intercultural situation‖ (Deardorff, 2006, p. 256). In addition to being an important indicator of success in an international context, intercultural competence is also significant because several studies maintain that it can be assessed. Deardorff (2006) found 23 intercultural scholars who agreed to participate in three rounds of a Delphi study and had 100% agreement on four assessment methods: observation by others in the host culture, case studies, selfjudgment, and interviews. Also, there was 95% agreement with the following types of assessment: analysis of narrative diaries, self-report instruments, focus groups, dialogues, and workshops (Deardorff, 2006). Deardorff (2006) further concluded that intercultural competence needs to be assessed over time because it is a process that changes with the length of a student‘s stay. Finally, to assist with assessment, Deardorff published an assessment inventory guide in a 2005 issue of International Educator, 14(3), pages 26-31. The work of Koskinen and Tossavainen (2003) stressed the importance of an orientation to, and an examination of students‘ motivation for international study. Also, self-examination of cultural biases and stereotypes should be conducted
214 throughout the period of study to encourage intercultural awareness (Koskinen & Tossavainen, 2003). Students studying in an international setting should be helped to improve their language and seek cultural information (Koskinen & Tossavainen, 2003). Finally, Koskinen and Tossavainen (2003) recommend the use of intercultural competence assessment tools to increase students‘ skills. Greenholtz (2000) recommended the Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI) as a measure of intercultural sensitivity, which is a ―crucial predictor of success in intercultural endeavours, such as transnational educational programmes‖ (p. 414). The IDI is a 60-item questionnaire which profiles intercultural sensitivity and has good content and construct validity (Greenholtz, 2000). In addition, the IDI is accessible and cost effective (Greenholtz, 2000). It is useful in the selection decision of prospective students and should be used in addition to language proficiency and academic performance measures (Greenholtz, 2000). Greenholtz (2007) added that the IDI can also be useful in the area of student services. It is an ―aid in the counseling process when difficulties in cultural adaptation are suspected to be hampering a student‘s educational experience‖ (Greenholtz, 2000, p. 415). In 2007, Emert and Pearson published their findings on using the IDI as an assessment tool to measure the intercultural competence of participants in study abroad programs. Emert and Pearson (2007) were pleased with the use of the IDI and found that using the assessment tool increased the legitimacy and credibility of their program. They found that their participants increased their intercultural competence, and they will continue to use the IDI (Emert & Pearson, 2007). Deardorff (2006), Sercu (2000), Emert and Pearson (2007), and Koskinen and Tossavainen (2003) support the usefulness of assessing intercultural
215 competence as a predictor of successful study in a different culture and as a means to help students who are experiencing difficulties. The IDI or another assessment tool merits further investigation and intercultural competence should be considered by American schools and language programs when helping Saudi students study here. Nevertheless, there are possible problems with using an assessment tool that was developed for use with Americans. The obvious problem is, of course, language. The IDI or other assessment tool might have to be translated. It also might be culture specific and the questions inappropriate for Saudis. These are issues that need to be examined. However, if known assessment tools prove to be unsuitable, further research and investigation might develop a set of intercultural competence characteristics that can be assessed within the Saudi context. Then the Saudi Arabian Cultural Mission and the Ministry of Higher Education of Saudi Arabia might consider assessing an individual‘s predisposition for developing intercultural competence when determining which students should study abroad. Also, language schools and programs can encourage the acquisition of the characteristics of intercultural competence by overtly teaching the associated skills, holding workshops that help students develop intercultural awareness, and guiding students who are having problems into a greater understanding of cultural differences. Helping students to gain better understanding of their host culture is a task that all educators can easily accomplish. Intercultural Competence: Advice to Future Students During the course of this research, one of the questions asked during all three focus groups was, ―What advice do you have for future Saudi students coming to the United States, the ELI, or OSU?‖ The answers received support the importance of
216 learning about American culture, acquiring English, and developing intercultural competence. Two of the focus groups stressed the importance of knowing English before coming to the U.S. Participant A said, ―Get the language before they come.‖ Participant M echoed this idea and said, ―Don‘t come with basic English. If you come with basic, you should come with level 4. Start with level 4 or 5. Just to improve your skill in English. Don‘t come with zero English. Because [in Saudi Arabia] they will teach you in own language what‘s going on in grammar, English grammar, and it will be better to understand it.‖ Other participants added that Saudi students in the United States should focus on using English. Participant U told me, ―Success in English language, don‘t go with other Arab or Saudi people, don‘t go with people that talk Arabic in America‖ . . . ―or talk with them in English.‖ Other advice the participants had for future Saudi students included being prepared for a new culture, learning about the new culture, and being optimistic. As Participants A and C said, ―The best thing‖ . . . ―Being prepared.‖ ―Being prepared for being away from home and family.‖ Participant D added, ―Prepare yourself while over there, the last month in Saudi Arabia before coming to the U.S.‖ ―One month before coming to the U.S. or any other country. Just prepare, just prepared yourself for what you are going to do.‖ Participant A: ―Know more about the culture you are going to.‖ Participant F: ―Yes. Come to the foreign places with like a little background about it to not be shocked.‖ Participant G: ―Learn about the culture here and the environment and how people, how people are dealing us and, and that‘s all.‖ Participant E concluded this conversation with the advice that future students ―be optimistic.‖
217 The advice the participants had for future Saudi students speaks to intercultural competence in that it addresses the need to understand the host culture and the necessity of being open to learning more about it. The participants understood that success in the United States requires both the linguistic skills necessary to communicate easily and the cultural knowledge necessary to adapt and interact with Americans. The need for both linguistic skills and cultural knowledge can be addressed in Saudi Arabia before students are selected for study in the United States. Requiring intermediate English skills (as tested by the TOEFL or IELTS) and enhancing orientation programs to explore American culture in more depth will enable Saudi students to acquire intercultural competence more quickly and easily once they arrive in the United States. Why Resilience and Intercultural Competence? During the data analysis stage of this study, the two themes of resilience and intercultural competence arose. While many possible themes came to the surface, these two themes were the only two that coalesced into notions that were inclusive and complimentary to one another. Research in resilience began with studies of children. Questions were asked about why some children succeed after traumatic events or difficult environments and some children did not. Wang‘s (2004, 2009) work took the research into resilience into the world of international students and looked at the intersection of change and resilience. Wang found a high correlation between international students‘ successful adjustment to change and their ability to succeed. Carver‘s (1998) work took resilience one step further and found that resilient individuals did not return to an earlier condition but were ―better off‖ after an adverse event. They had experienced cognitive transformation (Carver, 1998).
218 Cognitive transformation is something that is required for intercultural competence in that intercultural competence is the ability to adapt to and thrive in a foreign or different culture. Intercultural competence begins with attitudes that are receptive to change and transformation, and it ends with effective and appropriate communication and behavior in an intercultural situation (Deardorff, 2006). Resilience and intercultural competence, taken together, offer an answer as to why the Saudi participants in this study were successful. When the participants in this study began their studies in the United States, they arrived with a set of strategies and competencies that they had developed at home. Their strategies and competencies enabled them to complete high school (or, in some cases, undergraduate work) and subsequently apply for and receive a scholarship to continue their studies in the United States. Once in the United States, though, the participants found that they were in a very different educational environment, and they needed to adapt their strategies to succeed here. What worked in Saudi Arabia didn‘t necessarily work here. The success strategies the participants developed here were not strategies that they necessarily brought with them—the educational environments were too different. A question remains. What was it about these participants that allowed them to bridge the educational and environmental differences and develop success strategies? I believe that the foundational qualities my participants possess and the answer to this question are resilience and intercultural competence. These are the two denominators, common to all participants, that enable them to bridge the gap between Saudi Arabia and the United States, settle comfortably in a new
219 environment, adjust to rapid-fire changes and challenges, and develop the strategies to successfully reach their academic goals. Concluding Comments In this chapter I discussed two themes that arose during the interviews for this study. The themes are resilience and intercultural competence, and I maintain that all the research participants have these two qualities in common. Further investigation of resilience and intercultural competence should be conducted as these two characteristics could prove to be valuable tools to counsel, help, and improve the success of Saudi students. In addition to the commonly used predictors of success, TOEFL or IELTS as measures of language competence and GPA as measures of academic competence, the Saudi Arabian Ministry of Higher Education and the Saudi Arabian Cultural Mission might consider assessing both resilience and readiness to acquire intercultural competence, as well. However, further research of the value of using resilience and intercultural competence as a predictor of success and the usefulness of the current assessment tools is necessary. In the next and final chapter, I offer a conclusion to this study. Included is an overview of this study, a discussion of its limitations and implications, and suggestions for directions that future studies might take.
Chapter 8: Conclusion In this final chapter, I offer a comprehensive review of this study. This chapter includes a quick overview of the study (the participants, a description of the research methods, a summary of the data analysis methods) and a summary of the results that contextualizes this study within the literature about international students and Saudi students. I also offer a review of the themes that arose from this study and end with thoughts about the implications of this study, discuss some of its limitations, and suggest some directions that future studies might take. Overview of the Study The purpose of this study was to help language programs, colleges, and universities gain greater understanding of the success strategies Saudi Arabian students use to reach their academic goals. In addition, this study can be of use to the Saudi Arabian Cultural Mission and the Ministry of Higher Education, Saudi Arabia as they select students to receive scholarships and study abroad, orient students before they travel to the U.S., and advise students while they are here. Prior to this study, the literature about international students lacked information about Saudis. This study is one of the few that focus on Saudi students; thus, it fills a gap by contributing the Saudi voice to the literature. Of the literature about Saudi students, this study is unique in that it examines their success strategies. Earlier studies focused on problems and barriers to success. In addition it is one of the few written by a non-Saudi researcher. This study adds important data about what is known about Saudi students—an underrepresented group in the literature about international students.
221 Participants This dissertation has focused on the differences between the home educational environment and the American educational environments of a group of Saudi students. It has inquired into the success strategies these Saudi students developed during their English language studies or took undergraduate university course work. Of the 25 participants, seven were women, and eighteen were men. All were high school graduates. Nineteen were undergraduate students, and 6 were graduate students. They were either English language students, university students, or a combination of both. Research Methods The research was conducted with three types of interviews: semi-structured, photo-elicitation, and focus groups. In all, there were 61 individual interviews, six focus groups, and a grand total of 80 interactions between the participants and myself. In addition, a reflective journal was kept throughout the research portion of this study, and I engaged in a series of on-going discussions of my findings, thoughts, and conclusions with my colleagues through the research, data analysis, and dissertation writing stages of this study. The three different types of interviews were conducted for triangulation purposes as recommended by Stake (2000) and Gall, Gall, and Borg (2005). In addition, photo-elicitation was chosen because I wanted an interview method that would help participants communicate their thoughts and feelings more easily. Similar to the work of Alerby & Hornqvist (2005), Clark-IbáŇez (2004), Collier and Collier (1986), Douglas (1998), Harper (2002), Hurworth (2003), Parker (2005), Samuels (2004), Stanczak (2004), and Twine (2006), I found that photo-elicitation has value
222 when interviewing those who do not speak the same language as I, offers a rich and open alternative to spoken language, and encourages the expression of reflections and thoughts that may not be available with other types of interviews. The results of using photo-elicitation as a research method were everything hoped for and more. It was an excellent triangulation tool, confirmed the data that had been collected through other interview methods, and contributed nuances and new information that were not found through semi-structured interviews and focus groups. When the participants were asked to take photographs and bring them to an interview, they responded with alacrity. They were happy to take photographs and share them because it enabled them to actively participate in the interview process. There was a real difference in the participants‘ willingness and ability to speak, as well. During the first semi-structured interview, the participants were happy to answer the questions and offer information. However, during the photo-elicitation interviews, the length of answers to questions and the amount of information offered increased ten-fold. The photographs truly served as spring boards from which the participants spoke about their feelings, experiences, and views, and the photo-elicitation interviews added a richness and depth that would not have been present without the use of photos. In addition, the photo-elicitation interviews allowed the participants to be creative, imaginative, and literal or metaphorical. Chapter 6 is replete with literal photographs, but there are metaphors as well. When taking metaphorical photos, two participants brought in pictures of OSU‘s clock tower. They said that the clock tower represented the importance of time management to their success in their studies. Another participant brought in pictures of Linus Pauling‘s Nobel Prize medals nestled
223 in his and his wife‘s hands. These photos symbolized setting goals, and Participant M said that the medal showed that one could ―reach for the highest‖ goal and attain it. Many participants took photos that allowed them to be creative and imaginative as well. Included in Chapter 6 are some beautiful photographs that demonstrate the participants‘ skills as photographers and artists. Finally, the photo-elicitation interviews provided insights that I would not have gotten elsewhere. Several participants brought in pictures of bicycles. As discussed in Chapter 6, the bicycle photos were surprising because I was not sure what they signified. Eventually, through probing I discovered that the bicycles were a metaphor for feelings of inclusion in OSU and represented the value the participants placed in feeling a part of the campus community. This was something that was not revealed in the other types of interviews. Had photo-elicitation interviews not been conducted, I would have missed an important element of success. In this instance, the photos added depth, richness, and new data. Chapter 4 listed the benefits of photo-elicitation, and I found them to be true. Photo-elicitation helped the participants articulate their feelings and experiences more easily, it helped them take charge of the interview, and it facilitated trust and feelings of rapport. Furthermore, it provided unpredictable information, it was an opportunity to triangulate data, it increased buy-in for the participants by allowing them to share and contribute to the research. Photo-elicitation promoted longer and more detailed interviews, and it provided insights and information that were not otherwise found through the other interviews. The photo-elicitation interviews were extremely positive, and I recommend the use of photo-elicitation as a research method.
224 Data Analysis Data was collected against three research questions: What are the Saudi Arabian students‘ perceptions of the differences between the educational environment in Saudi Arabia and their new educational environment in the U.S.? What strategies do Saudi students develop to succeed in their U.S. studies? When these strategies are shared with peers, do they facilitate academic success? The data were analyzed using the recommendations of Creswell (2007) for a qualitative case study and Jennifer Mason‘s (1996) suggestions for reading and indexing data. Therefore, the data was organized, coded, reduced into themes, and finally represented in tables which can be found in Chapter 5. In addition, the data were read literally, interpretively, and reflexively. They were indexed non-crosssectionally using different lenses to view the data, arranged into categories, and organized by interview question. Chapter 6 contains a discussion of the data as it addressed each research question. Throughout this process, I made notes, reflected on the data, and discussed my findings with my colleagues. Eventually, several themes arose (which included differences between study in the United States and Saudi Arabia and several success strategies) and from these, two major themes emerged: resilience and intercultural competence. Summary of Findings What follows is a short discussion of the results of this study compared with the extant literature.
225 Differences Between Saudi Arabia and the United States Several threads or themes arose from my data analysis. As did the work of Al-Banyan (1980), Oliver (1987), the Saudi Arabian Cultural Mission (1991),and Flaitz (2003), I found significant differences between the educational environments in Saudi Arabia and the United States. My participants reported that American classroom practices—which include active classrooms, pair work, group work, projects, papers, frequent quizzes and exams, required attendance, constant homework, and selfdirected learning—and culture to be elements of their new environment that were different, sometimes challenging, and often marginalizing. One of the classroom cultural differences that almost all of my participants commented upon was the lack of negotiation, which led to what they perceived as inflexible rules. For example, generally in Saudi Arabia attendance was not rigorously focused upon. If a student was ill, didn‘t attend class, or missed an exam, he or she spoke to the teacher. The absence was excused and exam rescheduled. Things were usually negotiable. My participants found quite the opposite to be true here. They resented the rules of American classrooms and teachers and the absence of negotiation. Difficulty with a new educational environment, such as the one just described where international students have trouble adjusting to a different class room culture and environment, is common. The early work of Spaulding and Flack (1976) and later work Schmitt, Spears, and Branscombe (2003) and Lee and Rice (2007) reported that international students in a new educational setting felt that they were perceived as outsiders, rejected by the host culture, and marginalized. The resentment the participants of this study felt was based on feelings of being different, misunderstood, and rejected.
226 Thus, the findings of this study echo that of earlier researchers and brings the Saudi voice to the literature. Another difference that several participants mentioned was how difficult it was to be away from home and family. When in Saudi Arabia, they were surrounded by family members who supported of them. Here they were alone, and one problem was homesickness. This finding agrees with the research about Saudi experiences in the United States by Al-Banyan (1987), Haneef (1996), King-Irani (2004), and Nydell (2006) and brings the Saudi experience to the literature about international students (Hull, 1978; Leong & Chou, 1996; Lin & Yi, 1997; Luzio-Lockett, 1998; Stafford, Marion & Salter, 1980). In the literature describing education in Saudi Arabia and how it differed from the United States, Al-Banyan (1980), Oliver (1987), the Saudi Arabian Cultural Mission (1991),and Flaitz (2003) mentioned same gender classes and the year-end school exams as significant dissimilarities. The participants of this study also brought up the presence of the opposite sex in U.S. classrooms and the amount of homework they found they must do here. Rather than studying and cramming for mid-terms and final exams, the participants reported that they needed to study every day to prepare for classes, and they had to complete projects and write papers. Finally a difference between Saudi Arabia and the United States that had an impact on the participants was the climate and natural surroundings of Oregon. For most, this was the first time they saw snow. My participants reported that the climate and weather were dramatic differences and had indirect effects on their educational experiences. The climate in Saudi Arabia did not encourage remaining at school after classes and most schools did not have the amenities that create a campus life; when
227 classes were over, students left school. In the U.S., participants are happy to experience campus life, and they felt that the milder climate of Oregon contributed to their willingness to remain on campus and participate in campus events. They also found the natural beauty of Oregon to be calming and stress relieving. Thus, the natural environment of Oregon was a contributor to their success. I did not find research that supported this finding in either the literature about Saudi students in the United States or the literature concerned with international students. Perhaps the importance of the natural environment arose in this study because photo-elicitation was used as a research method and no other research that is related to this study used photo-elicitation.. The act of taking photographs may have led the participants to focus on the natural beauty surrounding them, which in turn led to a deeper reflection on the importance of surroundings as a contributor to success because ot reduces stress and restores calm. Success Strategies Discussions of the needs, issues, and success strategies are found in the literature about international students. A major review of studies about international students done by Spaulding and Flack (1976) reported that international students had problems with finances, advising, and orientation, but perceived interactions with Americans to be important to success. Lin and Yi (1997), Hull (1978), Stafford, Marion and Salter (1980), Leong and Chou (1996), Luzio-Lockett (1998), and Maundeni (1999) add that international students have trouble with depression, adjusting to a new culture, academic demands, language, food, religion, loneliness, homesickness, personal identity, and self-worth.
228 Hull (1978) found that international students found interaction with Americans to be a significant contributor to success. Boyer and Sedlacek (1988) reported that persistence, self-confidence, realistic self-appraisal, long range plans and goals, and availability of a strong support person helped international students succeed. Study skills, time management, study groups, tutors, friends, and support communities contributed to success as well (Abel, 2002; Al-Sharideh & Goe, 1998; Faid-Douglas, 2000; Stoynoff, 1996, 1997; and Tseng & Newton, 2002). The doctoral work of Jammaz (1972) and Mustafa (1985) examined the experiences of Saudi students in the United States. They both found that Saudi students had problems with adjustment and using English, in particular writing, and full-time study while learning English was difficult. Both studies reported that interacting with Americans was contributory to success. The Al-Shehry (1989) and Shabeeb (1996) dissertations agreed with the earlier studies concerning Saudi students‘ problems and found that those who participated in pre-departure orientations had an easier time adjusting to differences. During this study, the participants reported having problems with English, adjustment, managing full-time study in a foreign language, and homesickness, thus agreeing with and contributing to the earlier research done with Saudis. The participants of this study also reported that while they did not interact a great deal with Americans, they did find their interactions with Americans beneficial. Finally, one of the recommendations the participants made was for thorough pre-departure orientations that informed scholarship recipients about American culture and classroom expectations.
229 In addition to confirming the Saudi literature, this study contributes the Saudi experience to that of international students in general. Considering the Abel (2002), Al-Sharideh & Goe (1998), Faid-Douglas (2000), Stoynoff (1996, 1997), and Tseng & Newton (2002) discussions of contributors of success for international students, which include study skills, time management, study groups, tutors, friends, and support communities, this study supports those findings as well. Specifically, the success strategies reported by this study‘s participants include the following: Time management and goal setting Developing and using study skills Forming study groups Taking advantage of campus resources Working hard and persisting Taking advantage of the natural environment of Oregon as a stress reduction strategy. Interacting with other students/cultures Developing a sense of community and feeling part of the OSU student body Shared Success Strategies Research question 3 addressed whether or not the research participants shared success strategies and if this contributed to success. All participants indicated that they shared their success strategies with their peers, and not only did their peers find them helpful, the act of sharing contributed to the participants‘ success as well. The strategies that were shared included:
230 Giving opinions about professors and recommending classes Attending all classes Getting advice for listening and speaking from teachers Managing time Studying hard Getting good study materials/books for the GRE, TOEFL Spending free time in the Learning Center Asking for writing help from the free tutors in the Learning Center Doing homework Using good reading strategies Making good notes for the TOEFL speaking section Watching the time when taking the TOEFL Including an introduction, body and conclusion in the writing sections of the TOEFL Once again, the strategies the participants reported sharing dealt with study skills, time management, seeking help from campus resources, and sharing information about professors. Forming support communities, one strategy stressed in several studies about international students (Abel, 2002; Al-Sharideh & Goe, 1998; Faid-Douglas, 2000; Stoynoff,1996 & 1997; Tseng & Newton, 2002) was also emphasized by the research participants when they unanimously said that they formed study groups and helped one another. In addition, when participants were asked about advice for future Saudi students, they volunteered the following: Know more about the culture you are going to. Learn about the environment
231 Be optimistic. Believe in one‘s self Seek help from advisors, teachers, Americans, and other students This is in line with the findings of Boyer and Sedlacek (1988) who wrote that international students found success through persistence, self-confidence, realistic self-appraisal, long range plans and goals, and availability of a strong support person. Themes that Arose from the Research Findings The major themes that arose from the research findings are that successful Saudi students who participated in this study have two important, fundamental characteristics: resilience and intercultural competence. Resilience is rarely associated with international students and there is an absence in the literature about Saudis. Studies about intercultural competence usually examine the experiences of American students studying abroad; there is an absence of research about the Saudi abroad experience. Resilience Resilience is defined as the ―capacity to endure stress and bounce back‖ (Harvard Mental Health Letter, 2006, para. 2). By combining similar characteristics of resilience found in the literature (Carver, 1998; Harvard Mental Health Letter, 2006; Santa, 2006; Wang, 2004, 2009;), I arrived at the following list of resilience characteristics: Goal orientation Self-confidence Strong support system/persons and realization of the need to rely on a support system Optimism and positive outlook
232 Motivation Self-discipline Organized methods for meeting problems/challenges These resilience characteristics align with the information I gathered from interviews. The comparison of resilience characteristics to my participants shows that resilience is a common denominator of successful Saudi students. The work of Wang (2004) investigated the quality of resilience in successful international students. However, I could find no research that looked at resilience in specific country groups of international students. This study does so. Intercultural Competence The second quality that I believe all my participants possess is intercultural competence. Research has found that intercultural competence contributes to successful adaptation to life in a different country, achievement of educational goals, and comfortable living in a multi-cultural world Intercultural competence can be grouped into the general categories of traits, knowledge, attitudes, behaviors/skills, and outcomes. The entry point for Deardorff‘s (2006) process of developing cultural competence is attitudes. Intercultural competence progresses through knowledge, comprehension, and skills. The end point is the external outcome of effective and appropriate communication and behavior in an intercultural situation (Deardorff, 2006). When comparing the results of this study‘s interviews with Deardorff‘s (2006) components of intercultural competence, I found that the participants have developed the external outcomes of effective and appropriate communication and behavior.
233 Intercultural competence has become accepted as a standard in educational and cross-cultural situations as a comprehensive and relevant measure of the achievement of the goals in an international setting. As such, it is a component of and a contributor to successful overseas study. Intercultural competence has not, however, been investigated with Muslim, Arab, Middle Eastern, or Saudi Arabian students. This study, to my knowledge, is the first to do so. Recommendations I have arrived at two recommendations. One is related to resilience and coping skills and the other is related to intercultural competence. Because resilience and intercultural competence enabled the research participants to bridge the gap between Saudi Arabia and the United States, settle comfortably in a new environment, adjust to the changes and challenges the encounter, and develop the strategies to successfully reach their academic goals, I recommend that language programs and schools help their Saudi students acquire these two skills. Therefore, I suggest that language programs help their Saudi students develop or enhance their resilience by including the components of resilience in the curriculum. For example, students can be asked to set short-term goals at the beginning of each term for each course they are taking, and they can also set longer term goals that focus on their language study or future university study. At the end of each term, goals can be revisited and reviewed. Creating study skills courses can help students acquire self-discipline and establish an organized method for meeting the challenges of their studies. Establishing a support system of advisors, conversation partners, study groups, language tutors, and the like will provide important resources that promote resilience, and students should be encouraged to
234 rely on the support systems. Also, students can acquire resilience through the acquisition of coping skills. Coping skills can be explicitly taught, and are easily polished and enhanced. They should be integrated into the curriculum. Universities and colleges should bolster the components of resilience by making counseling, tutoring, and other support services receptive to international students. If support services are only focused on the needs of American students, they are not serving international students.
Also, since coping skills are something
that resilient and successful students possess, then perhaps less successful students experiencing trouble can be taught coping skills and perhaps succeed in their studies. Helping flailing Saudi students develop coping skills and deal with the stresses and demands of study in the U.S. might increase their resilience and enable them to succeed. Secondly, I recommend that Saudi students be helped to acquire intercultural competence. Students need to learn about American classroom culture, and English language programs can include such instruction in their curriculum. In addition, efforts can be made to help Saudi students learn effective and appropriate means of communication and behavior that will enable them to easily meet their needs in their new American cultures. Rather than a short, one-day orientation, language programs and universities need to address the necessity of learning intercultural competence with long-term, on-going programs and support systems. The Saudi Arabian Cultural Mission and Ministry of Higher Education of Saudi Arabia can offer improved orientation programs to students who are about to embark in international study. These students need a realistic view of the classroom and host culture they are about to enter, they need to know what is expected of them, they
235 need intermediate language skills, and they need realistic views of American culture that are not informed by movies and television. When Saudi students are in the United States, they should have strong support systems that help them adjust to the new world in which they are living and studying, and they should be helped to learn effective ways to communicate and interact with their new culture. Limitations of This Study This qualitative study is a representation of the voices of 25 Saudi students as they discussed their educational experiences and the strategies they developed to succeed in their higher education and language classes in the United States. Because there is a dearth of research about Saudi students, it offers data about an under-represented group of international students that compliments the extant literature on international students. It also adds data to a previously unexamined area of what is know about Saudi students in the United States because this study focuses on success strategies, rather than problems, issues, or needs. While examining success, however, I have not delved into the flip side of success—failure. I have made no attempt to interview students who are failing classes or failing to attain their educational goals. In addition, I have not contacted any students who failed to advance in their language studies or those who did not matriculate into OSU. Thus, a limitation of this study is the absence of comparative data from unsuccessful students. Future investigations might wish to look into why Saudi students fail to succeed. Secondly, this is a qualitative case study. It is localized and contextual. Its aim is to offer a representation of the voices of a specific group of students and to gain a deeper understanding of this specific group of students. Because this study
236 does faithfully represent the voices of the participants and is an in-depth case study, it contributes to educational research and the understanding of the experiences and success strategies of Saudi students in the United States. Future work is recommended that examines the success strategies of groups of international students from other countries. Implications I have collected data about the success strategies developed and used by Saudi students. One implication of this study is that success strategies can be learned and shared. Future students from Saudi Arabia can benefit from the success strategies developed and identified by this group of participants. In addition, schools and language programs can use the data from this study to help students develop some of the identified strategies, such as time management, goal setting, study skills, collaboration and study groups, and learning about and using campus resources. In addition, students can be helped to feel a part of a campus community, and field trips to areas of natural beauty and interactions with students from other countries can be organized. Furthermore, this study has implications for the Saudi Arabian Ministry of Higher Education and the Saudi Arabian Cultural Mission in Washington, D.C. The participants in this study had several recommendations for future Saudi students. Specifically, they recommended that scholarship recipients not come to the United States with basic English skills. It is too difficult to learn the language and advance to university-level skills in the time allotted them. The participants also recommended that the Ministry enhance its orientation program for students who are about to embark for study in the United States. Students need to be adequately oriented to
237 study here—they need to know more about the differences between the U.S. and Saudi Arabian educational systems, classroom cultures, and expectations. They also need to be prepared to be away from friends and family and helped to establish new support communities. They need a basic understanding of American culture. Finally, the Saudi Arabian Cultural Mission can use the success strategies the participants shared and the resilience and intercultural competence data from this study to support students once they are here. Because coping skills can be taught, the Cultural Mission can focus on helping Saudi students better cope with the stress and differences they encounter. The Cultural Mission can also help Saudi students understand American culture thus enhancing the students‘ skills and attitudes in order to increase their intercultural competence. There are implications concerning resilience and intercultural competence for language programs, colleges, and universities as well. The significance of resilience and intercultural competence is that they are both contributors of success in a changing and stressful international environment. In addition, coping skills are an important aspect of resilience. Students who are not succeeding as well as others can be counseled and helped to develop coping skills to have an easier time in reaching their goals and succeeding. Language programs and universities might consider helping faculty members learn about ways in which they might coach their students into developing better coping skills. Students who are studying in the United States can be helped to develop intercultural competence by working on the attitudes and skills associated with intercultural competence. Universities and language programs might consider developing programs, courses, or workshops that address the elements of
238 intercultural competence. Developing cultural understanding and learning the appropriate ways of interaction and communication with a host culture are skills that can be learned and enhanced Finally, resilience and intercultural competence can be assessed. Potential Saudi students who wish to receive scholarships and study in the United States might be assessed for resilience characteristics and the attitudes that contribute to intercultural competence. Greenholtz (2000) recommended the Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI) as a measure of intercultural sensitivity and maintained that it can be useful in the area of student services as an aid to giving counseling assistance for students whose difficulties in adjusting to a different culture are harming the achievement of their educational goals. Perhaps, students who are experiencing difficulties can be assessed for their resilience qualities, as well. Recommendations for Future Research I have several recommendations for future research. First, studies can be conducted that examine the reasons why Saudi student fail and do not progress to ward meeting their goals. Future research may be able to establish a connection between failure to progress in meeting educational goals and a lack of intercultural competence and/or resilience. Second, a study similar to this study can be done with other groups of international students or with Saudi students studying in a different university or school setting so that the findings can be generalized to other contexts. Third, additional research can confirm or refute my belief that successful Saudi students are resilient and develop cultural competence. Also, research can also be conducted on other groups of international students to generalize this belief. Furthermore, Greenholtz (2000) recommended the Intercultural Development
239 Inventory (IDI) as a measure of intercultural sensitivity. Research might be conducted that looks at the IDI with groups other than English speakers. Concerning resilience, I recommend a study that examines using an assessment tool to measure the resilience of successful students and/or unsuccessful students. The Connor-Davidson Resilience scale (Connor & Davidson, 2003) has been used to screen people in high-stress activities. It might prove fruitful to assess Saudi students and/or other groups of international students for their potential to succeed in their studies in the U.S. However, the questions on the Connor-Davidson Resilience scale would need translation and checking for cultural bias. The same can be said for the Brief Resilience Scale (BRS), developed by Smith, et. al. (2008). In addition, the BRS has only been recommended for use with those dealing with health-related issues. It might be informative to look further into the usefulness of the BRS with international students in the United States. Finally, photo-elicitation deserves more in-depth study, especially with international students in the United States. It is an under-used interview method that proved to be of value in this study. Concluding Comments In conclusion, this dissertation provides an in-depth study of the success strategies of a group of Saudi students in the United States over a period of one academic year. While there is extensive research concerning the difficulties encountered by international students, little is known about success. With its focus on the specific success strategies that Saudi students develop in order to reach their educational goals, this study is unique in that it contributes to the body of knowledge
240 about the experiences of a specific group of international students that have been under-represented in the literature. As Tseng and Newton (2002) wrote, ―How and why some international students experience their study abroad lives in positive ways is largely ignored in existing research‖ (para. 1). This dissertation has helped shed light on the issue and has added the Saudi students‘ voices to the discussion of how international students successfully bridge the differences between home and U.S. higher education and how they attain their educational goals. Thus the problem this study addressed, a dearth of information about Saudi students in the United States, has been met. More is known about the experiences of Saudi higher education students in the United States, and this is the only study, to date, that focuses on their success strategies. Language programs, colleges, and universities have the means of gaining a greater insight into their Saudi students and helping them reach their academic goals by understanding more about their experiences and the strategies they develop to succeed and thrive. In addition, this study contributes to the tools the Saudi Arabian Cultural Mission and the Ministry of Higher Education, Saudi Arabia have for selecting scholarship recipients, orienting them prior to their travel abroad, and helping and advising them once they are engaged in their studies.
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210 Education Hall, Corvallis, Oregon 97331-3502 T 541-737-4661 | F 541-737-8971| http://oregonstate.edu/education
Informed Consent Title of Research Project: Bridging Differences: Saudi Arabian Students Perceive Their Educational Experiences and Share Success Strategies Principal Investigator: Dr. LeoNora Cohen Student Researcher: Donna Shaw Please read this form carefully. 1. Purpose of the study: I understand that I am invited to take part in this research study. I understand that the project which I am participating in involves research. The purpose of this project is to gain a better understanding of the U.S. educational experience of Saudi Arabian students who are studying in the United States. This research project is interested in learning more about the differences I see in education in the U.S. and Saudi Arabia, how I manage the differences, and what I do to be successful in my studies. The results of this research project will be used for Donna‘s Ph.D. studies and help her complete her degree. 2. The purpose of this form: I understand that this form is to give me the information I need to decide if I wish to participate in this research. I may ask any questions I have about the research, what will happen during it, what Donna‘s part will be, what my part will be, or anything else that is not clear. When all my questions are answered and I feel that I fully understand, I can decide if I want to be in this research study or not. 3. Why you are invited to be in this study: I understand that I am invited to be in this study because I am a Saudi Arabian student, studying in the United States. Also, I am invited because I am now or have been an ELI student, and I am not in one of Donna‘s classes this term. 4. What will happen during this study and how long it will take: I understand that during this study, I will be interviewed, alone, three times. For one of the alone interviews, I will be asked to bring in some photographs or pictures. I will also take
260 part in two focus groups (group interviews). I will spend no more than 6 hours during _____ Fall 2007, ______ Winter 2008, ________ Summer/Fall 2008 term (please check the term(s) you would like to participate). If I live in Corvallis, all of the interviews will take place in the OSU library (or other convenient location away from the ELI). If I don‘t live in Corvallis, all interviews will be done on the telephone and I will not be part of the group interviews. I understand that Donna may possibly tape my interviews. If she chooses to tape them, it is okay. I understand that all focus groups will be audio taped and my solo interviews may possibly be audio taped. ____________ (participant‘s initials). 5. Risks: I understand that there are no risks in this study. I understand that I can refuse to take part in this research project. I also understand that whether I choose to be part of this research project or not, my grades will not be affected, my relationship with the ELI will not be affected, my relationship with Donna as the international student advisor will not be affected, and my grades or relationship with Donna should she be my teacher in the future will not be affected. 6. Benefits: I understand that the benefits of being part of this study are the opportunity to contribute to understandings of Saudi students‘ experiences in the United States and their success strategies by English Language programs, the Saudi Arabian Ministry of Higher Education, and the Saudi Arabian Cultural Mission. I understand that I also may benefit from the opportunity to practice my English, and I may also feel a sense of satisfaction from sharing success strategies with my peers and helping one another succeed, as well as helping future Saudi students. I understand that I will not be paid for participating in this research project. 7. Confidentiality: I understand that my identity will remain unknown and my name will not be used in any written reports, publications, or presentations the researchers may give. Any reference to me will be by a letter of the alphabet, and I understand that any information I give during this study will be confidential. All interview notes, write ups, audio tapes will be kept in a locked drawer and destroyed after three years. 8. Voluntary nature of this research project: I understand that I take part in this research because I wish to, and my participation is voluntary. I understand that I can refuse to answer any questions, that I may stop being part of this research project at any time, and that my participation or lack of participation does not affect my standing at the ELI, at OSU, or with Donna in any way. I understand that I can request an explanation of this consent form in my native language. 9. Questions: If I have any questions, I understand that I can contact Dr. LeoNora Cohen at 541-737-4567 ([email protected]
) or Donna Shaw at 541-7276986 ([email protected]
). If I have additional questions about my
261 rights as a participant, I can contact the Oregon State University Institutional Review Board (IRB) Human Protections Administrator, at 541-737-4933 or by email at [email protected]
I understand that my signature indicates that this research study has been explained to me, that my questions have been answered, and that I agree to take part in this study that includes three personal interviews (one with photos) and two focus groups.
Name of Participant
Researcher Statement: I have read and discussed the above points with the participants, using a translator when necessary. It is my understanding that the participant understands the risks, benefits, and procedures involved with participation in this research project.
Signature of researcher
262 Appendix B Semi-Structured Interview #1 Questions Fall
Time, Place, Date of interview:
Telephone interview? _________
1. Where are you from in Saudi Arabia?
2. How long have you been in the United States?
3. Is this your first visit to the U.S.? If not, where were you before and for how long?
4. Are you an ELI student, an OSU student, or a CAP student?
5. Are you a grad/undergrad?
6. What is your major?
7. How many terms have you studied at the ELI? Another school?
8. What level of schooling did you compete at your home school?
9. Did you take English classes in Saudi Arabia?
10. Describe your English classes (how many hours per week; how many years of English; what skills were stressed – listening, speaking, reading, writing; did you study grammar; how knowledgeable were your English teachers)
11. Do you think your English classes prepared you for study in the U.S.? Why/why not?
12. Will you please describe your education in Saudi Arabia? a. What schools did you attend?
b. What classes did you take?
c. Did you regularly spend time studying or doing homework after school?
d. What types of exams did you take? How often were exams scheduled?
e. What sort of grades did you get?
f. How would you judge yourself as a student -- poor, average, good Why?
g. How do you define a good student?
h. How do you define a successful student?
i. What did you do in Saudi Arabia to help yourself succeed in school?
j. What did you do at home that was not very helpful for your schooling?
264 13. Did you have any problems in school? What were they?
14. When you had a problem in school, what did you do to solve the problem?
15. Has anyone is your family visited the United States _____ Gone to school in the U.S.? ___
16. Tell me about your family members‘ education. Father Mother Brothers Sisters Uncles/aunts Grandparents 17. Did any family members or friends have problems in school? What were they?
18. What did they do to solve the problems they had in school?
19. Can you please describe your relationship with your teachers? Saudi Arabia
20. How to students and teachers typically interact? Saudi Arabia United States
265 21. What are your goals for coming to the U.S. to study?
22. What do you expect from being here?
23. What were your feelings and reactions to school when you first began studies in the U.S.?
24. How did you feel when you first took classes in the U.S.?
a. What things were easy for you?
b. What things were difficult for you?
25. How are things going now?
26. Are there any strategies that you are using that help you deal with school in the U.S.?
27. Before coming here, what did you expect in the U.S.?
28. What surprised you after you arrived here? Why?
29. What differences do you notice between education in the U.S. and education in Saudi Arabia?
30. Is there anything you‘d like to add that I haven‘t asked?
Appendix C Photo-Elicitation Interview Questions Fall
Time, Place, Date of interview: Spring _____
Telephone interview? _________
Pictures of Differences between school in Saudi Arabia and the United States: (questions to be asked about each picture) 1. Why did you choose this picture?
2. What does this picture mean?
3. What does this picture show?
4. How does this picture relate to education/study in Saudi Arabia?
5. How is [item in picture] different from Saudi Arabia/United States?
Pictures of things that contribute to success or show success strategy: (questions to be asked about each picture) 1. Why did you choose this picture?
267 2. What does this picture mean?
3. What does this picture show?
4. How does this picture relate to success?
5. How did [item in picture] help you in your studies?
268 Appendix D Focus Group Protocol and Questions Protocol: Meet group in lobby of library and show them to the group study room. Introduce assistant and explain the assistant‘s role. Discuss the reasons for the focus group Ask participants permission for the session to be audio taped. Ensure that all participants have signed informed consent forms. Post session discussion questions on wall and facilitate discussion. Review discussion‘s main points and offer a summary to the participants. Ask them for corrections and additions. End focus group and thank the participants. Invite them to contact the researcher if they have additional thoughts, perceptions, or observations to add. Meet with assistant as soon as possible after the focus group meeting and debrief.
Discussion questions for Focus Group #1: Question #1: What Were Your Goals for Coming to the United States? Question #2: Why did you decide to come to the United States and study? Question #3: What Does Success Mean to You? Question #4: What problems have you had at the English Language Institute or OSU? Question #5: What strategies did you use to manage any of the problems you‘ve had?
269 Discussion Questions for Focus Group #2: Question #6: Do you interact with Americans. Who do you mostly interact with Americans or Saudi? Question #7: How do Americans interact with you? Question #8: What do you do to be successful? What success strategies do you have? Question #9: Do you share them with others? Are they useful? Question #10: What advice do you have for future Saudi students? Question #11: What can the ELI or OSU do to help you succeed?
Appendix E Semi-Structured Interview #2 Questions Fall
Time, Place, Date of interview:
Pseudonym: Telephone interview? ______
1. When we began these interviews, at the beginning of ________ term, where were you in school?
2. What has happened, in school, since then? What have you accomplished? What goals have you met?
3. What did you do to meet these goals, do these accomplishments?
4. What are your success strategies for meeting the stress of studying in English?
a. Handling the demands of doing graduate/undergraduate work at OSU?
b. Being away from home/handling homesickness?
c. Meeting your educational goals?
271 5. What makes you successful?
6. Who helps you be successful?
7. What success strategies have you shared with friends, study partners, etc.
Have your friends found them helpful? How?
8. What have you noticed about how American students on campus or in classes interact with you?
9. What have you noticed about how Americans in general interact with you?
10. What else would you like to add to this interview?
11. Is there anything you‘d like to add to any of our other interviews?
Appendix F Invitation to Participants
The following email was sent to all current ELI students and former ELI students for whom there was an email address:
Dear ______________, As you may already know, along with being a teacher at the ELI and your international student advisor, I am also a Ph.D. student at OSU. As a Ph.D. student, I am conducting a research project with Saudi Arabian students. The purpose of my research project is to gain a better understanding of the U.S. educational experience of Saudi Arabian students who are studying in the United States. I am interested in learning more about the differences you see in education in the U.S. and Saudi Arabia, how you manage the differences, and what you do to be successful in your studies. I would like it very much if you could be a part of my research project. If you agree, you will take part in three interviews and two focus group meetings this term. The maximum amount of time you will spend is not more than 6 hours. You are receiving this email because you are not in one of my classes this term. Please understand that can choose not to be part of my research project. Whether or not you are part of my research project will not affect any of your grades at the ELI, your relationship with me as your international student advisor, your relationship with me if you are in my class in the future teacher or your relationship with the ELI. If you are willing to be a part of my research project, please let me know as quickly as you can by replying to this email or coming to talk to me. The information you give me should be very helpful to future Saudi students. Thank you very much. Donna Shaw
Appendix G Glossary
Al Saud: Literally, the House of Saud, the name of the ruling family of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. (BBS Frontline has an explanation of the House of Saud, which can be found at http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/saud/tree/).
EFL (English as a foreign language): This is the term that is applied to the teaching and learning of English in a non-English speaking country.
ELI (The English Language Institute): The intensive English program for which I teach at Oregon State University.
ELL (English language learner): This is a term, used synonymously with ESL student, for a person who is a learner of English in an English-speaking country. Often, the term ELL is used in K-12 schools, and ESL is used in other contexts.
ESL (English as a second language): This is a branch of education that deals with students are actively acquiring English in an English-speaking country. The term ESL student is used synonymously with ELL. Often, the term ELL is used in K-12 schools, and ESL is used in other institutions.
274 IEP (Intensive English program): A sub-set of ESL education, IEPs are immersion English programs, not necessarily but often affiliated with a college or university. Usually, the students‘ goals are to procure sufficient English proficiency to enter a college or university.
IELTS (International English Language Testing System): This is a proficiency test that international students take to demonstrate sufficient proficiency in English to undertake academic work in a college or university. A passing or acceptable IELTS score is set by a particular school or department within a university. Usually, graduate programs require higher IELTS scores, while community colleges need lower scores than a university. The IELTS is jointly managed by the British Council, IDP: IELTS Australia, and the University of Cambridge ESOL Examinations (Cambridge ESOL). It is delivered through more than 500 locations in 120 countries. The IELTS assesses reading, writing, speaking, and listening. International students normally take either an IELTS or a TOEFL test to gain entrance into U.S. universities and colleges.
Michigan International Student Problem Inventory (MISPI): A quantitative survey instrument, the Michigan International Student Problem Inventory was developed by John W. Porter in 1962 and revised in 1977. It has been widely used in research dealing with international students to identify problem areas common to international students. The MISPI contain 132 items equally distributed into 11 problem areas: admission-selection, orientation services, academic records, social-
275 personal, living-dining, health services, religious services, English language, student activities, financial aid, and placement services. Porter‘s purposes for the MISPI are to conduct research on the problems of international students, facilitate counseling interviews, help identify needed college program changes, provide faculty and others involved with international students with an instrument for orientation and discussion.
Ministry of Higher Education – Saudi Arabia (MoHE-SA): The Ministry of Higher Education was created in 1975 and is responsible for support and services for all of Saudi Arabia‘s seven universities and fifty-three colleges—for men (all education for girls and women is under the control of the General Presidency of Girls‘ Education, established in 1961). The MoHE-SA grants and oversees all scholarships for study abroad, supervises all Saudi students studying abroad, and coordinates international inter-university relations.
Photo-elicitation: This is a qualitative research method that uses photos (either participant-taken or researcher-taken) as an interview aid. The theory behind photo-elicitation is that the photos serve as memory prompts, metaphors, or language aids. The basic idea behind photo-elicitation is ―a picture is worth a thousand words.‖
Photo ethnography: This term is used interchangeably with photo-elicitation and refers to a qualitative research method that utilizes photos as an interview aid.
Saudi Arabian Cultural Mission (SACM): This is the group of advisors and administrators who help and administer to the needs and issues of all Saudi students
276 studying in the United States with a scholarship from the Ministry of Higher Education – Saudi Arabia. The cultural mission is located in Washington, D.C. and is responsible for all aspects of student advising.
Shia (Shia or Shi'ite derives from a shortening of Shiat Ali or partisans of Ali): Islam is divided into two major divisions, Sunni and Shia. In Saudi Arabia, the Shia are in the minority and make up about only 5 percent of the population. They are concentrated principally in the Eastern provinces. Worldwide, Shia are in the minority and form 10 to 15 percent of the Muslim population. That said, Iran is 89 percent Shia, and Shias form a majority of the population of Yemen, Azerbaijan, Bahrain and 60 percent of the population of Iraq. Saudi Shia belong to the same sect as the Shia of Iran and Bahrain—the Twelvers. The Twelvers believe that the leadership of the Muslim community belongs to the descendants of Ali, the son-in-law of the Prophet, through Ali‘s son Hussayn. The term the Twelvers comes from the belief that there were twelve rightful rulers, known as Imams. The Shia believe that the only legitimate successor is the fourth caliph, Ali (cousin of the Prophet and wife of his daughter Fatima, father of Hassan and Hussein and the second person ever to embrace Islam).
Sunni: The most populous division of Islam (approximately 90 percent of the Muslim world), Sunni Muslims believe that the first four successors of Mohammed (caliphs), and their heirs, are the rightful and legitimate leaders of Islam. Sunni Muslims have no centralized clerical institution, stretch geographically from Indonesia to Africa, through Asia to the Middle East, and range ideologically from ecstatic
277 Sufism to the fundamental, conservative Wahhabis. In Saudi Arabia, Sunni Muslims make up 95 percent of the population and control all of the legal, religious, and educational leadership, the upper levels of bureaucracy, and are recruited into the military, police, and national guard.
TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language): This is a proficiency test that international students take to demonstrate sufficient proficiency in English to undertake academic work in a college or university. A passing or acceptable TOEFL score is set by a particular school or department within a university. Usually, graduate programs require higher TOEFL scores, while community colleges need lower scores than a university. The TOEFL is owned by Educational Testing Service (ETS) a U.S. nonprofit that also has developed and administers the GRE, GMAT, LSAT, SAT, and others. The TOEFL is in paper-based forms and Internet-based forms. The iBT (Internet based TOEFL) assesses reading, listening, speaking, and writing in a series of integrated-skills tests. International students normally take either an IELTS or a TOEFL test to gain entrance into U.S. universities and colleges.
Wahhabi: This term is used outside Saudi Arabia to refer to the adherents to Wahhabism. The preferred term is Salafism from Salaf as-Salih, the pious predecessors. Wahhabism is the official Saudi interpretation of Islam. This faith is a conservative concept of Unitarianism (the call to the oneness or unity with God) that was originally taught by Muhammed ibn Abd al Wahhab. Wahhab clerics have high ranking positions in bureaucratic departments in Saudi Arabia, thus enjoy a great deal of influence and control.