Russell House event celebrates Arab culture, contributions
Sporting traditional ankle-length thawbs and ghutras an iqal head coverings, about 12 Saudi Arabian students stood by at the Russell House Thursday afternoon to educate curious observers on their home country’s culture, economy and job market contributions.
Members of the Association of Saudi Arabian Students (ASAS) had planned to hold a showcase on Greene Street to celebrate the 81st anniversary of the union of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, but rain forced them to move their displays onto the second floor of the Russell House. ASAS members chatted with passing students as they stopped to try on traditional Arab clothes, sample Arabic coffee and candied dates and receive Henna tattoos. They also handed out information on Saudi recipes, history and geography, technological innovations, economic growth and religious practices.
First-year Spanish student Peter Dolbir received an unexpected lesson in Islam, Saudi Arabia’s majority religion.
“I was taken by surprise, but it’s definitely great that the school sponsors these events so students can learn about foreign cultures,” Dolbir said as he surveyed a pamphlet. “Personally, I’ve never known anything about Islam before.”
ASAS president and second-year international business student Bader Almandeel hoped that the event would promote a better understanding of Saudi culture, which has grown on campus in recent years due in part to a scholarship program initiated by King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al Saud and former President George W. Bush in 2005. Founded to promote international human resources development, the King Abdullah Scholarship Program (KASP) has sent more than 60,000 Saudi students to study in more than 30 countries worldwide in the past six years. The U.S. is now the KASP’s top host country, with 25,000 Saudi students matriculated into American Universities. The program supports men and women seeking degrees in medicine, engineering, science and business -— specialties which are currently high in labor demand in Saudi Arabia. ASAS currently has about 170 Saudi members, but Almandeel says this number does not include the many American comrades and fellow international students who have joined the group over the years. According to Almandeel, Saudi Arabia has always maintained a mutually beneficial relationship with the U.S. ever since former President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed an oil-search agreement with King Abdul Aziz ibn Saud.
“People shouldn’t judge all Saudi Arabians by the actions of a few people,” Almandeel said. “Try to get to know Saudis here on campus — you’ll find that there aren’t that many differences.”