Njood Almousa and Eamon McArdle come from very different places.
Almousa is a Saudi student studying in Bahrain, a series of islands whose first export is oil. The country lies to the east of Saudi Arabia and is governed by a constitutional monarchy.
McArdle came to West Virginia University from Washington, D.C., the U.S. capital city of nearly 70 square miles where residents’ license plates bear the slogan “taxation without representation” and where the largest single industrial sector is government.
Click below to listen as Joe Perks, of West Virginia, a student at WVU's Honors Leadership Academy, explains how the university is yearning for global engagement.
[ Click to listen ]
This summer, their worlds intersected when McArdle and 12 other students began their freshman year at WVU early at the Honors Leadership Academy, and Almousa and six other students from the Royal University for Women in Bahrain attended this summer program as part of a developing relationship between the two universities.
Before he met the RUW students, McArdle had thought from reading media reports that men forced all Arabic women to wear the hijab or headscarf. But what he found in talking to the seven visitors was that for them their devotion to their Islamic religion was the reason they wore the scarves. It’s a religious devotion he finds difficult to fathom.
“I don’t think I could even do that, but it sounds like they love it,” he said.
The cultural exchange while turning in assignments on leadership has given him an opportunity he would otherwise have had to travel across the seas to get.
“I think it’s awesome,” he said of studying with the RUW students. “I keep on learning new things about a different culture in a country I’ve never been to.”
Almousa said this great experience has given her a look into how Americans think and behave. And she’s been able to explain her own often misperceived culture and Islamic faith to her classmates.
“We’re really proud to make it more clear about our culture,” she said.
Like others from her university on this trip, this is Almousa’s first time studying abroad. It’s a trip that has been filled with opportunities to experience a lifestyle she’d never lived and explore a culture so different from her own.
“You realize how wide is the world,” she said.
The world is still small enough that four brothers from Saudi Arabia who attended WVU in the 1970s and 1980s would later send students on exchange trips to WVU from a school they helped to found in Bahrain.
The Royal University for Women, founded in 2005, began a partnership with WVU in 2008 following recruiting trips to Bahrain by David Stewart, WVU dean of students; Tom Sloane, senior associate dean of students ; and Michael Wilhelm, director of the Office of International Students and Scholars .
Lisa DeFrank-Cole, who heads the leadership studies program at WVU and the Honors Leadership Academy, began teaching an international version of her course in Bahrain this June and welcomed students from RUW to her class from July 11-31.
The Honors Leadership Academy will be only one way the two universities will interact, DeFrank-Cole said. As the program develops, a variety of colleges and schools at WVU could be part of the exchange.
One of her students, Mary Chupa, 18, of Florida, believes this program is one of many that are giving the university a reputation for forging international connections.
“WVU is really well known for its sports programs everywhere,” Chupa said. “It will be another thing to be known as a school that really supports international students and where they can adapt to our culture and hopefully we will in return.”
Students in that first class report changes in their outlook, goals and opportunities after going through just a few weeks together.
Click below to hear Amanda Vane, a WVU student, tell how her views changed after studying with students from the Royal University for Women in Bahrain.
[ Click to listen ]
Lama Almoosa, a 19-year-old Saudi Arabian student who wants to major in human resources or international business, said she loves the learning environment so much at WVU that she would like to transfer here.
“I believe that life includes chances and opportunities that we never want to miss,” she said. “I can get a good education in Bahrain, but why can’t I shoot two birds with one stone? Why can’t I get the experience of studying abroad and knowing different people other than the Arabs that I know in my university?”
Like Almoosa, the American students greet this chance to intersect with another culture with excitement, energy and appreciation for the university that made it possible.
Kellene O’Hara, 18, of Maine, says a diverse environment is very important to her.
“When I came to West Virginia University, I wanted to know what programs does the university have that would further my knowledge of diversity,” O’Hara said.
She says the university celebrates diversity and has a variety of study abroad and exchange programs that are providing her with an opportunity to learn from diverse perspectives that will help her succeed in a global workplace.
“I’m actually quite proud to call myself a Mountaineer now,” she said.
Noura Alzamil, 20, a Saudi who attends RUW, says she may be “the most excited person from seven that came here.” She wanted to try living on her own in a foreign country to get a taste of what it would be like to study abroad for a master’s degree. Before her time at WVU, much of what she’d learned about the U.S. and other cultures had come from movies.
“Americans are real friendly, this is really what I’ve experienced,” Alzamil said. “And they’re helpful. When we face any problem with printing or anything, they will help, especially the honors students.”
“We really feel very welcomed, and they did everything for us to feel comfortable,” she said.
She’s impressed by the studious atmosphere on campus and WVU’s ambitious students and sees herself coming to this country to study after she gets her undergraduate degree in early childhood education.
Through this experience, the students learned something more than each other’s studying habits and ways of life. Alzamil said the WVU students bravely asked questions that she and her friends answered, which may help them all later on.
“This will affect the future because we will know about each other,” Alzamil said. “We will appreciate each other’s culture. We will respect one another, and this is what matters in the future generations.”
By Diana Mazzella
WVU News and Information
CONTACT: Lisa DeFrank-Cole, director of WVU leadership studies program
Follow @wvutoday on Twitter.