Wednesday , January 16 2019

Students from GCC studying in US facing ‘growing’ problems

KUWAIT CITY, March 25: The GCC students in general and the Kuwaitis and the Saudis in particular studying in US universities are facing growing problems especially those studying at the University of Idaho, reports Al-Qabas daily quoting from the New York Times, a US newspaper.

This has left behind a trail of economic and cultural implications for the State of Idaho, which has basked in ‘luxury’ at the expense of foreign students particularly from the Middle East. The daily highlighted the complaints filed by some Gulf students who are allegedly being subjected to harassment and ill-treatment, including a Kuwaiti student who is studying Mechanical Engineering who complained of discriminatory attitudes practiced against him and his counterparts in addition to being branded as ‘terrorists’.

The newspaper at the beginning of the story recounted how the Rev Jim Jones, pastor of the Blazing Grace Church in Idaho approached the lectern at City Hall, holding a copy of the Holy Quran. “I get very fearful because I live close to this place,” Jones told the panel, which was considering a rezoning request. The mosque was approved. But the remarks by Jones and other opponents at the February 2014 hearing were signs of the fissures developing in this railroad town as Idaho State became increasingly dependent on Saudi and Kuwaiti students to replace income lost from steep declines in local enrollment and state funding.

The potential payoff of having these students was big — $20,000 per student in annual out-of-state tuition, nearly three times what state residents pay. As the number of Middle Eastern students grew to nearly 1,200, almost 10 percent of the school’s enrollment that meant an estimated $40 million for the local economy every year, the daily added. But Idaho State had not bargained for the cultural clash in this isolated community. Even if they were just normal, rowdy college kids, the behavior of the mostly male students stood out in this conservative, predominantly Mormon city.

Free from the strict cultural mores of their home countries, some students have faced charges like drunk driving and stalking, the daily said. At the same time, professors said students, many of them unfamiliar with English, were ill-prepared and frequently resorted to cheating. For Idaho State, it is a moment of truth, with a loss of more than $2 million a year in tuition alone from 100 students who left last summer amid more declines which are expected. “We’re preparing for the worst,” said Scott Scholes, the associate vice-president for enrollment management.

Idaho State students from Kuwait and Middle East have recounted episodes of discrimination, and 100 left Idaho State last summer. As the number of Saudi students grew, Kuwaiti students also began to arrive. Sales of Mustangs soared at a local car dealership. Abandoned storefronts downtown reopened with hookah lounges and Middle Eastern restaurants. Merchants and landlords relished the business. “The economic impact has been humongous,” said Dave Packer, the president of the Pocatello Rental Housing Association. But the students also brought unease.

On campus, several professors said their colleagues chafed at the extra work required of them because of the poor English skills of many students who needed help after class. Some professors also believed the students did not have the proper math backgrounds for their chosen majors: A chart sent to the faculty by one dean revealed that in some classes with more than 20 Middle Eastern students, 90 percent of them had failed in physics, 75 percent had failed introductory English, and more than 60 percent had failed in math.

David Rodgers, an associate dean of science and engineering, described the challenges many students have faced. “In engineering, every single class is scripted,” Dr. Rodgers said. “There’s not a lot of room for a screw-up. If you fail a class, you can make it up perhaps by taking 18 hours the next semester. You know your funding is running out. You know you’ve come to America to be an engineer. The cultural change, the language barrier, all these things stress kids.”

That might explain why several professors said Middle Eastern students seemed prone to cheating and plagiarism. Eighty percent to 90 percent of the cheating cases reported in recent semesters in engineering and science have involved foreign students, Dr. Rodgers said. On a recent afternoon at the engineering school, groups of Middle Eastern students chatted outside. Inside, Saudi students worked in a basement laboratory on a virtual shield to protect United States borders from incursion, both by undocumented immigrants — and terrorists. Kuwaiti student, Alheid said that at a gathering of students last month for Kuwaiti National Day, more than 100 signed a petition complaining of discrimination on campus and in town. He plans to transfer to Arizona State.

“They think we are terrorists,” said Alheid, describing several episodes. As he drove his Mustang one night to a gym and tried to park, a car with an open door blocked his parking spot. When Alheid complained, he said, the man flashed a handgun at him. On another day, a middle finger was directed his way as he approached the newly built mosque, he said. While acknowledging instances of discrimination, officials and professors say some of the students have done little to adapt. Some have made inappropriate overtures toward women, according to the Police Department. Others have raced their sports cars on city streets and, unaccustomed to local laws, ignored speeding tickets

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