Take a stroll across the campus of Pittsburg State University, and it’s easy to develop an appreciation for the diversity of the students, some of whom have traveled thousands of miles from countries across the world just to study here.
When they arrive to a welcoming community that is curious about their culture, it makes their experience even better - and gives everyone a new perspective.
For Mashael Almowallad of Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, coming to PSU was a big change from her life at home, where she worked at a statistics company.
“I loved my life, my work, my friends, so it was hard to come here,” she said. “But my sister came here and I wanted to experience it too. I took it as a challenge.”
Now a freshman biology major at PSU, Almowallad spent last year improving her English through PSU’s Intensive English Program before beginning her degree requirements. After she moved onto campus and began circulating with Americans, she quickly realized her friends from both her new and native countries could benefit from getting to know one another a little better.
“I decided to live with an American roommate and she said ‘You’re totally different than what I thought,’” said Almowallad, who comes from a culture where women are often shrouded when out in public. “Sometimes we’re perceived as not being able to laugh, or get jokes, or have interests like our American counterparts.”
She decided it was time to clear up those misperceptions. Last November, Almowallad organized the first “Saudi Ladies Night” to coincide with International Education Week. Nearly 100 women - a mix of Saudi, American, as well as those from other countries - gathered to learn more about the lives of Saudi women. After a fashion show demonstrating the types of styles Saudi women wear indoors and a Q&A session that allowed the women to talk openly about their lives, the group sampled traditional Saudi foods and enjoyed the company of their counterparts.
“I have fun when I’m with either group of friends - Americans or Saudis. I just thought it was time we came together,” said Almowallad, a self-described feminist who chooses to focus on what the two groups have in common - being women - than the ways they are different. Putting together an event like this, she said, is well worth the work for the educational and social benefits it can bring.
“I feel like my goal of educating each other and bridging these groups is coming true,” she said. “We’re all developing an understanding of one another and how we live our lives.”