“Working together for humanity”

American and Saudi Arabian students are getting together at Western Carolina University, breaking stereotypes and creating the groundwork for an era of tolerance and progress between western and eastern cultures.

WCJ talked with some of these students to try to get an inside perspective about how this is taking place.

Tariq Al-bosaily age 22 is, like most of the Saudi Arabian students at Western Carolina University, enrolled in the university’s Intensive English Program, before starting his four year long major. Tariq himself will seek a degree as an electrical engineer next fall.

He is enjoying life at WCU pointing out a major difference from college life in Saudi Arabia to the States the fact that in his country women and men have their own separate educational institutions. In the future Al-bosaily wants to go back to his country so he can help his fellow countrymen with the education his government is providing for him.

Wael Almohammadi, another student enrolled in the English program, will become a freshman in Emergency and Medical Care (EMC) in the next academic year. At first he thought living in Cullowhee would be boring, especially for him being from a major city like Jeddda.

“I think it’s hard to live here specially without car, but now since I have a lot of friends I can hang out and it has made me comfortable”, Almohammadi said.

Saudi Arabian, Chinese and American students at "ESSE QUAM VIDERI" exhibition on March 22nd at FPAC. Photo by Marcelo Maia

Joseph Alamri believes that initiatives like the creation of the club Ummah (meaning community in Arabic), is helping the further integration of all Islamic students in WCU. He defines the club’s purpose as

“to build a connection between people from different cultures”.

Alamri said, “everything is getting better, people are getting more knowledge about good real Muslims and this is my purpose for coming here, to give a good idea about Muslims like me.”

Alamri has already indulged in the American culture as well, exemplifying one episode when he wasn’t on time for a meeting, a mistake that was later corrected by his close American friends.

“The Americans don’t have a lot of knowledge about Islam”, says Taleb Al Sharmah.

From his experience in America so far he believes that Americans are eager to know more about Islam but this is being overshadowed by bad and unbalanced media coverage.

He mentions that most media portrays a small portion of Muslims as the whole Muslim world – which represents roughly one fifth (1.6 billion) of the entire world population, according to the Pew Research Center.

“This people don’t connect with Islam, or anything about Islam, they don’t know the Islamic culture,” said Al-Sharmah referring to the minority Islamic extremists.

Hussain Hassan Sheik, along with some other Saudi students, dressed the traditional Gulf Arab attire for a lecture about the Muslim community in North Carolina. The exhibition featured 20 self-portraits and was put together by artist Todd Drake on March 22 at the Fine and Performing Arts Center.

Visibly pleased about the outcome of the event, Sheik called Todd the “perfect man to talk about us”.

“I didn’t know the Muslim community was so large in North Carolina”,

said Linda Singleton, an Education major from Asheville. She joined the Ummah club and has made friends with the Saudi students.

After Todd’s presentation she now feels that fellow Americans are curious and interested to know more about the Muslim culture.

“I remember when they first came I was scared of them, but now they’re my best friends and I feel bad for even having being scared. They’re just different” – she explained – “all I knew about the Muslim communities was what I heard from the media, which is never positive. Every news program, everything I heard was negative, so I didn’t have anything else to base it off of what I knew. It has changed completely now.”

Allie Dundorf, another American student says she joined Ummah because she has a lot of international friends, mainly Saudis, and because she thinks that “people need to know the real them and not just their stereotypes”.

Mohammed Shutayfi, has proactively embraced his knew lifestyle at WCU, having started a job at “Freshens” in the dining hall, joining Ummah, and a series of other community-based activities.

“My life is getting better so much in this country. I love it”, Shutayfi said. “Honestly I never thought I would meet people like this in this area. They’re so friendly, nice and helpful…they’re amazing!”

Shutayfi revealed that he constantly feels a responsibility to help the Cullowhee community.

“Right now we’re starting to organize everything. We chose our friend Andy [Miller], who is majoring in Philosophy and Religion and International Studies, to be president of Ummah.”

He speaks passionately about making a difference in his generation by enlightening people with “new ideas”. He hopes that during his stay he’ll help shorten the gap between the American and Muslim cultures.

His dream is “to start a huge organization around the world about peace and love.”