ACADEMIC SOCIALIZATION: A COMPARATIVE STUDY OF THE EXPERIENCES OF THE EMIRATI AND SAUDI  STUDENTS AT U.S. UNIVERSITIES

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ACADEMIC SOCIALIZATION: A COMPARATIVE STUDY OF THE EXPERIENCES OF THE EMIRATI AND SAUDI  STUDENTS AT U.S. UNIVERSITIES

ABSTRACT

The present study examines academic, cultural, discipline-related challenges Emirati and

Saudi students face at U.S. universities and investigates Emirati and Saudi students’ coping strategies to face their challenges. Based on a sample of 219, a mixed methods approach was used to analyze responses from participants who responded to a 15 item Likert-type scale Gulf

Region Students’ Questionnaire that had been posted online (Qualtrics). The results of the questionnaire instrument reveal that the majority of Emirati students and Saudi students indicated that their linguistics deficits “rarely” prevent them from classroom participation. Also, the survey shows that the majority of Emirati and Saudi students indicated that gender is not an issue when collaborating with other students. However, the interviews results indicate that the language challenges kept the Emirati and Saudi students silent and afraid to participate in the classroom. Also, female Emirati and Saudi students stated that they try to avoid interaction with male students in their classroom interaction. Writing is the most difficult aspect the Emirati and Saudi students’ face, so to overcome this difficulty they go to writing centers, take more writing courses and use dictionaries to improve their writing. Further analysis used in-depth interviews from six participants to expand the analysis of their lived experiences. Some categories are produced from the data, related to academic preparation and literacy; classroom environment; cultural adjustment and gender issues. In general, results show more similarities between Emirati and Saudi students because UAE and Saudi Arabia are global countries and have strong connection with U.S., are the wealthiest countries among the Gulf Region countries, have similar history of education system reform, and similar religion that has been impacted by  “Sharieah” in Education and social life.  The dissertation appendices contain details of the quantitative and qualitative research instruments used in the study.

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TABLE OF CONTENTS

 

 

1

Chapter 1……………………. ……………………………………………………………………………………. ………..

`1

Introduction ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………… ……….

Statement of the problem………………………………………………………………… …………..     2

Autobiographical Roots of the Study……………………………………………………………….      3

The United Arab Emirates and its Education System  ……………………………………………………. ……..    8

Suadi Arabia and its Education System ……………………………………..………………………        10

The Gulf Region Studnets’ Linguistics Challenges………………………………..……………………..        11

Purpose of the Study………………………………………………………………..……….                   14

Significance of the Study…………………………………………………………..…………                    15

Limitations of the Study…………………………………………………………..……………………..         15

Delimitation of the Study…………………………………………………………..………………..        16

Definitions…………………………………………………………………………………………….       16

   

Summary……………………………………………………………………………………………….           18

Organization of the Study …………………………………………………………………………           18

Chapter 2………………………………………………..………………………….….…..………..         20

20

Literture Review ………………………………………………………….…..………………

Empirical Studies on Cross – Cultural Adaptation and Academic Socialization…………          20

Adjusment Complications of International students  ……………………………………………………… ……… 20

 

Theoritical Consideration  ………………………………………………………………………………………….. ……..       24

 

Cultural Adjusment Socialization  ………………………………………………………………………………. ……..       24

 

Social Adjusment  …………………………………………………………………………………………………….. ……… 29

 

Language Adjustment  ………………………………………………………………………………………………. ……… 32

 

Identity Adjustment ………………………………………………………………………………………………….. ………. 33

Academic Socialization  ……………………………………………………………………………………………. ……… 34

Langauage Socialization ……………………………………………………………………………………………. ……… 35

First and Second Language Socialization …………………………………………………………………….. …….     37

Literacy Socialization ……………………………………………………………………………………………….. …….      39

 

Academic Disciplinary Socialization………………………………………………………                  43

Impact of Academic Socialization on international Students Success and Retention……………….    46

Summary …………………………………………………………………………………………………………………. …….     48

50

Chapter 3……………………………………………………………………………………

50

Research Design and Method…….. …………………………………………………………………………….

Introduction…………………………………………………………………..…..………….                50

 

Research Questions…………………………………………………………..…..………….                50

The Research Design…………………………………………………………………………                50

Research Method ……………………………………………………….……………………                54

Cross-cultural Comparison………………………………………………….…….……………………    59

 Comparability…………………………………………….…………………………………………..     61

Equivalence………………………………………………………………………. ……………………..     63

Functional Equivalence…………………………..………………………….…………………..…..     64

Conceptual equivalence……………………………..…………………………………………………     56

Metric equivalence…………………………………………………….…………………………..    66

Implications of “Comparability” and “Equivalence” for the Current Study….…………………………      66

Research Instrumentation………………………………………………………….…………                68

Preliminary Instrument Development and Revision…………………………………………….. 68
The Questionnaire and the Demographic Information Form…………………..…………… 69
Interviews with Emirati and Saudi students …………………………….…..………………….. 71
Pilot Study …………………………………………………………………….……………. 71
Sample Size and Site ………………………………………………………..….………… 72
Discussion of the Pilot Study………………………………………………………………… 72
Benefits of the Pilot Study ………………………………………………………………… 73
Study Sample ……………………………………………………………………………… 74
Data Collection Procedure  …………………………………………………………..…… 75
 Data Analysis……………………………………………………………………………… 78
 Reliability of Study Results…………………………………………………………………………… 79
Role of the Researcher …………………………………………………………………… 80
 Interpretation of the Results……………………………………………………………………. 81
 Summary…………………………………………………………………………………………… 81
Chapter 4……………………………………………………………………………..…… 83
Results …………………………………………………………………………………… 83
 Demographic Data……………………………………………………………………… … 83
Questionnaire Results…………………………………………………………..…………………. 88
 Questionnaire Results related to Research Question 1……………………..…..………………….. 89
 Linguistics Challenges ……………………………………………………….…………………….. 89
Challenges Encountered by Emirati and Saudi Students in Writing Papers…….……………………       97

Social and Cultural Challenges ………………………………………………….………………….     103

                                                                                                                                                     104

Questionnaire Results Related to Research Question 2………………………….………………….

 

 American Students’ Support ……………………………………………………………………….      104

Gulf Region Students’ Support ………………………………………………………,………..…..      107

 

Teachers’ Support………………………………………………………. ………………………….      107

 

Improving Writing……………………………………………………….. ….………..…………….     109

 

Comfort of Discussing Cultural Knowledge…………………………………..… ..… …………….     113

   
 Preference for Individual Work …………………………………………………………………….

 

114
Interview Analysis……………………………………………………………………….……………. 115
Interview Format …………………………………………………………………………………….. 116
Profiles of Interview Participants……………………………………………….…………………….

 

116
The Emirati Participants …………………………………………………….…………………….. 118
The Saudi Participants ……………………………………………………….…………………….

 

122
 

The Phases of qualitative Analysis ……………………………………….………………………..

 

123
Common Themes……………………………………………………………,,…………..………….. 125
Research Question 1……………………………………………………………………………….. 128
Category 1: Academic Preparation and Literacy …………………………………….………………

 

128
Theme 1: Inadequate Saudi schools’ and universities’ English preparation………….…………… 128
Theme 2: Admission requirements’ challenges ……………………………………….……………

 

130
Theme 3: Linguistics Challenges (Writing, Reading, Presentations, Listening, Accent, Vocabulary, 131 and Grammar) …………………………………………………………………….……………….

 

Category 2: Classroom Environment …………………………………………….…………………        134

 

Theme 4: Different Classroom Expectations of Teachers…………….. …………………………..       134

 

Theme 5: Communication Challenges with American Students………………………….…………  136

 

Theme 6: Arabs’ Negative Influence on Their Peers ………………………………………………      137

 

Category 3: Cultural Adjustment ………………………………………………………………………      137

 

Theme 7: Cultural and Social Challenges……………………………………………………………      137

 

Theme 8: Lack of Cultural Knowledge ………………………………………………………………       139

 

Category 4: Gender issues ……………………………………………..……………………………..      140

 

Theme 9: Women’s communication challenges with men………….………………………………..       140

 

Research Question 2 …………………………………………………………………………………    141

 

Category 1: Academic Preparation and Literacy …………………………………………………..       141

 

Theme 1: Orientations and Preparation Programs …………………………………………………       141

 

Theme 2: Language and Cultural Preparation Program……………………………………………       142

 

Theme 3: The Importance of English………….……………………………………………………      144

 

Theme 4: Improving Writing Skills…….……………………………… …………………………..      144

 

Writing Courses  ………………..…………………………………………………………………… 145

 

Writing Center…………….………………………………………………………………………….     145

   
Theme 5 : Improving Vocabulary ……………………………………………………………………

 

146
Vocabulary Use and Comprehension………………………………………………………………. 147
Studying Scientific Terminologies ………………………………………………………………….. 148
Unique Way of Learning Vocabulary……………………………………………………………… 148
Theme 6: The Ease of Presentations and Speaking ……………………………………………….. 148
Theme 7: Learning Strategies ……………………………………………………………………… 149
Category 2: Classroom Environment ……………………………………………………………….

 

151
Theme 8: Classroom Participation and Socialization………………………………………………

 

151
Theme 9: Socialization with Americans…………………………………………………………….

 

151
Americans’ Respect ………………………………………………………..………………… …….

 

152
American friends ……………………………………………………………………..…………….. 152
Socialization with American students……………………………………………………………… 153
American students’ assistance to Emirati students for writing ………..………………………….. 153
Preference for Working with Americans (Native Speakers of English)………….……………….. 154

 

Theme 10: Teachers’ Socialization and Support …………………………………………….……… 154
The Need for Arab teachers………………………………………………………………….………. 156
Category 3: Cultural Adjustment……………………………………………………….……………. 157
Theme 11: Family support in the U.S…………………………………………………..………….

 

157
Theme 12: Gulf Region Students’ Support ………………………………………….….…..……..

 

158
Summary…………………………………………………………………………………………….. 159
Chapter 5……………………………………………………………………………………… 162
Conclusions and Discussion  ………………………………………………….…………….. 162
Summary of the Findings ………………………………………………………………..

 

162
Questionnaire Results Related to Research Question 1…………………………………. 162
Questionnaire Results Related to Research Question 2…………………………..……… 163
 Interview Results Related to Research Question 1……………………………………….

 

164
 Interview Results Related to Research Question 2……………………………………….

 

164
Discussion…………………………………………………………………………………. 167
1) Major findings related to cultural socialization and adjustment………………..………

 

167
2) Major Findings Related to Language Socialization and Adjustment……..……………..

 

172
3)    Major Findings Related to Disciplinary Socialization and Adjustment …….…….……..

 

178
4)  Major Findings Related to Gender Issues ……………………………….……….………

 

183
Implications for Emirati and Saudi Students, their Sponsors, U.S. Universities and their Language

Preparation Programs Providers………….…………………………………………………………

 

183
Future Research ……………………………………………….……………………….…………… 186
Study Design ………………………………………………………………………….…………….

 

188
Addressing Limitations of the Current Methodology……………………………….……………… 188
References…………………………………………………………………………..………

 

190
Appendix A…………………………………………………………………………….…… 202

 

Results of Review of Proposal – Expedited (IRB #36503)………………………..………….                  202

 

Appendix B   …………………………………………………………………….…………                   204

 

Informed Consent Form for Social Sciences:Interview………. ………………………………………. …………204

 

Appendix C …………………………………………………………………………………..

 

206
Interview Questions …………………………………………………………………………………………………

 

206
Appendix D ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………

 

207
Recrutiment Letter for Emirati and Saudid Studnets… ……………………………………

 

207
Appendix E ………………………………………………………………………………

 

208
Informed Consent Form for Social Sciences: Survey  …………………………………

 

208

Appendix F  ……………………………………………………………………………… ..                 210

 

Surevey Questions…………………………………………………………………………………………………… 210

Chapter 1

            Introduction

In some ways, this dissertation is a story of a personal journey. It is about my long-time quest to pursue graduate study in the United States. Upon arrival to my destination, I realized that I was not adequately prepared or nearly ready as I should be for the new challenges that lay ahead in academia. One of the many challenges had to do with academic language socialization. As a discourse community, each academic discipline seems to represent particular ways of talking about the discipline with which members communicate, address issues, and so on. I realized I was not part of this discourse community. Another challenge was about how to deal with my own culture shock in this new environment. Though culture shock is expected every time someone changes one’s cultural environment, the impact varies from person to person and the experience can alter one’s perception of anticipated outcomes.

This dissertation analyzes my story and the stories of academic socialization among students from the Gulf States (e.g., UAE, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Bahrain, and Kuwait) pursuing post-secondary studies in the United States. My goal in this study is to explore what their challenges are and how widespread they might be among the population of students coming from the Gulf region to study in U.S.A. That is: How do students cope with these challenges? How do they compare between countries with regards to acculturation, preparations before entry and language skills. The following chapters in this dissertation tell this story and analyze what the findings mean for future studies in higher education in the Gulf countries and the U.S.A.

 

 

 

 

Statement of the Problem and Context

The overarching quest of the proposed research is to examine the mechanics and dynamics of individual adjustment processes within the academic environment, the sources of difficulty, and the reason some students adjust more easily than others. The motivation for this comparative research arises from personal struggles in academic endeavors as an international student at a U.S. university. This pursuit of academic goals and my quest to understand my own struggles hopes to illuminate the complex matters underlying the dilemmas, choices, and challenges such as linguistics practices, cultural shock, cross-cultural differences, students’ advisor /mentor relationships, and meeting academic expectations of various student populations and the constituents of success while in an academic institution. In sum, how do these populations (e.g., Emirati and Saudi) socialize and acculturate in their new academic environments?

The goal of this comparative case study is to identify important variables and analyze them to determine which variables cause Gulf-region students’ academic and social challenges as they transition through U.S. universities. This examination includes the interaction of a variety of factors including, linguistic, cultural, policies, and departmental environments.

Focusing on an exploratory comparative case study of students from the Gulf-region is particularly important in investigating the context of higher education programs in which the issue of institutional transition may be just as important and play a greater role than linguistic and cultural influences. Specifically, this comparative case study investigates Emirati and Saudi students’ academic experiences in their academic discourses as they transition through U.S. universities, to identify important variables which cause Gulf-region students’ academic challenges: What are the challenges?   How do students cope with the challenges? How do students compare between countries in terms of their ability to cope, acculturate, and socialize in their academic disciplines?

 

Autobiographical Context of the Study

I recognize that a study of academic challenges is not new but every story is unique. My journey and struggles to acquire academic writing skills to become a legitimate participant in an academic discipline are complex and long term. The initial struggles began with my decision to study English in my native country, the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Some of these struggles are both linguistically and socio-culturally based. Evidently, as a Muslim woman from the UAE, my primary language is Arabic, and English is my second language. Although my studies of the English language began at an early age, several issues in future years would impact the way I speak, write, and communicate in “academic speak.” This process was primarily influenced by my teachers and mentors, who relied mostly on grammar translation as opposed to communicative language teaching, speaking and listening. Collectively, these processes, totally unknown to me, accounted for the ways in which, in later years, I would communicate whether in my academic writing or in an academic discipline in a U.S. university context.

This situation, though not necessarily accurately perceived at the time, equally accounted for the many challenges I encountered during my first year at a US university setting. Even though I spoke English reasonably well, these communicative challenges provoked an internal struggle between my self-esteem and the quest to remedy the situation, and often not finding a method of oral or written expression that was acceptable to my peers and teachers. Because of these dilemmas and contradictions, I have determined to do something about it: to investigate the little known complexity of this phenomenon, particularly in the Gulf region.

The underlying assumption of my predicament is that my bachelor’s degree preparation in the UAE did not prepare me adequately to tackle the new situation in American graduate education. For example, I remember my writing drills in High school was kind of memorizing some sentences and connecting them through simple paragraphs. I recall my teacher at my university writing class telling us we have the freedom to choose any topic we wish to write about. In one of these classes, I decided to write about smoking, a subject I had strong opinions about and wanted to voice.  My first draft was horrible. But as Silva (1930, p.33) noted long time ago: “Arabic learners of English wrote everything as an argumentative essay, they did less reporting of conditions, less defining, and less exemplifying, less paragraphing, less rhetorical connectedness; sometimes position statements interrupted the flow of their texts; they provided a looser segmental (introduction, discussion, conclusion) structure, less variety and more errors in the use of conjunctive elements, and less explicit formal closure.”

Silva’s characterization of writing among Arab students typifies much of how I was taught to write. Even though, my teacher sometimes explained to me how to shape the thesis statement, main ideas, supporting details, refuting details and conclusion during the semester, there were few examples in class or in practice that modeled this style of writing.

I should note further that English language classes were not taught in a vacuum. They were taught among other subjects that happened to be predominantly taught in Arabic. In fact, learning how to write better in English and Arabic at the same time was confusing for me because there are some differences between them. For example, Arabic is written from right to left which is different than English. The English written text has capitals and small letters but, Arabic does not have such convention. Arabic has joined letters while English has separate letters. Arabic sentence has “two parts which are a subject and a predicate” (Wright, 1862, p. 30). Arabic requires “a maximal break in the sentence between the theme and the predicate in thematic structures, and between the verb and the agent in verbal structures’’ (Ostler, 1987, p. 65). These superficial but significant differences can explain the difficulties students from Arabic linguistic regions encountered as a language student since knowledge of Arabic was not instrumental or helpful for me to transition to English as a second language. Such differences are markedly dissimilar in the ways in which learners are socialized into these two distinct language spheres.

In spite of these conflicts and gaps in my writing skills, I have not given up even though errors I made then have persisted to worry me in graduate school until today.  Simply put: though expected, and rightly so, but not inevitable, acculturating into the academic world at the doctoral student level becomes more complex when it involves students whose home language and culture are different than that of the mainstream within the university. Such situation makes their first year to be the most challenging and stressful year (Golde, 2000).

Having reflected on my own struggles as a graduate student, I would like to understand the experiences of others who go through academic socialization in U.S. universities and use newly gained knowledge to support students from Gulf Regions and other areas of the world. 

Like other international students from Gulf countries who speak Arabic, I have faced struggles during my graduate study. I joined Penn State University three years ago when I was admitted to the Applied Linguistics Department to further my language studies. As explained in the previous paragraphs, the difficulties I experienced in the first year have influenced me to examine these challenges among other students from the region I come from.

A scan of the literature reveals little or no significant studies have been undertaken recently in the Gulf area and I believe research on this topic will be important to educators and policymakers. In recent informal conversations with a few international students at Penn State, I learned that Arab students experience challenges and struggles in their first year compared to the succeeding years of study as they may lack certain cultural and linguistic capital that is necessary to successfully function in their disciplines, particularly at the doctoral level. I was surprised to find that I was not alone in this situation. These students are away from their families; therefore, they merge their social and academic lives. Most UAE students for example, are returning adult students who typically have interrupted their careers to earn degrees that permit them to return to their country to help others to grow. Some of these students told me how they got shocked and lost when they did not get support in their academic work from their classmates, instructors or friends. As a result of their linguistic barriers, they kept silent during discussions in class. As some studies have indicated, some international students view themselves as less competent and linguistically less experienced.  However, stories of success are rarely discussed which in and of itself might impose misconceptions or stereotypes that international students, particularly Arab students, are inferior to mainstream students.

The highly interactive and collaborative nature of post-secondary education in the US (i.e., writing papers, working on group projects, making presentations inside and outside the classroom, engaging in academic conversations and discussions), collectively demand Western academic literacy practices and require individuals to construct pieces of writing on the way to becoming scholars in their chosen disciplinary realms. Stories of these challenges, which are still happening repeatedly on a daily basis for many international students, need to be told, documented, and analyzed. Clearly, these are only some of the motivating factors that persuade me to look further into this phenomenon.

My selection of the students who are from the UAE and Saudi Arabia to be my participants and conduct this comparative study is based on several factors:

  1. The UAE and Saudi Arabia are different in size. Saudi Arabia is the largest country in the Gulf region.
  2. Saudi Arabia dominates the culture of the Gulf. It has a lot of influence over the Gulf states than the UAE.
  3. Saudi Arabia has strong ties relationships with the U.S. than the UAE.
  4. Emirati and Saudi students have maintained the highest enrollments in U.S.

universities (e.g., Penn State University) among the Gulf region students over the years.

  1. Measuring the decision and preference of the Emirati and Saudi higher education administrators to send their students to U.S. universities over other countries such as Australia, Canada and others.

Comparison of countries such as those proposed in this study is not without problems. For example, Farell (1979) cautioned researchers that the concept of comparability should not be confused with the idea of sameness.  Farell also quoted J. S. Mill who assured that the process of convergence and divergence is vital in establishing a causal relationship. Mill thinks that “the phenomena under the comparison may be alike in all properties except one, and they may also be different in all but one of their properties.” Thus, Mill asserted no logical reason why the comparison made must be grounded only on the principles of convergence (Farell, 1979, as cited in Raivola,

1985, p. 364).

The similarities between Emirati and Saudi students are multiple. These students, generally considered to be Arabs, share the same religion (Islam), and native language (Arabic).

They are non –immigrants and entered the U.S. via students’ visas. They are enrollees of different U.S. universities. They have transitioned to U.S. universities for higher education and plan to return to their native countries. However, the differences between the UAE’s and Saudi Arabia’s students are numerous. They have different experiences and language proficiency levels.  Based on their differing native countries, they represent divergent experiences from educational systems, college preparation, and teachers.

 

The United Arab Emirates and its Education System

 

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) with a total area of 83,600 sq km, is sited at the Southern tip of the Arabian Gulf. The Gulf region surrounding countries are Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Sultanate of Oman. It has a tropical desert climate with very little or no rainfall. It encompasses united seven emirates: Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Ajman, Ummal-Quwain, Ras al-Khaimah and Fujairah and governed by a federal system instituted on the 2 December 1971. Abu Dhabi city is the capital of UAE.

The discovery of crude oil and its commercial production in the UAE established a new economic position that was reflected in the availability of substantial financial resources and investment in the country development. Over the past thirty years, the UAE developed economically as a result of the oil and gas discovery and tourism. The population has been increased and influenced by the rapid development. Various cultural groups are settled in these seven emirates with the nationals such as Arabs, Iranians, Filipinos, Indians, Europeans and

Americans. They are known as expatriates which are approximately 70 percent of the population.

The education system of the UAE is new comparing to other countries. It is divided into public and private sectors. The public schools are funded by the government which all nationals have access to them. The public schools’ curriculum is influenced by the Islamic religion and Arabic language (Gaad, Arif & Scott, 2006). The classes in public schools are single gender classes (Gaad, 2001). The majority of expatriates go to private schools to meet their religious, cultural and education needs. The language of instruction in most private schools is English, which some Emirati parents send their children to improve their English. Based on the analysis of the UAE education system, some researchers found that the public education system is ineffective despite the government funding (Shaw et al., 1995). In the past, the dropout rate and repetition rates are higher in the UAE than any other gulf states (Muhanna, 1990).  The attrition rates in the public schools are critical (Badri, 1998).

Emirati students come to the U.S. universities and they have studied their high school or the bachelor or Master degree in their native countries which the educational system , the language of instruction , culture ,are different than the U.S. culture and universities. The majority of Emirati students sponsored by the UAE Ministry of higher Education to study in the U.S., U.K., Canada,

Australia and other counties around the world. Its mission is to

keep abreast of the progress and developments in the international teaching and training methods; to strive to improve performance and acquire further experiences, where the instructional outputs will represent a key component of the overall development of the community, through which future leaders are well prepared and developed so as to satisfy the UAE needs for academically qualified national manpower (Students’

Guide for scholarship, 2011)

 

Other sponsors of the Emirati students are the United Arab Emirates University, Abu

Dhabi Education Council,Abu Dhabi Investment Authority,Dubai Police, and Presidential Scholarship Program. Most of these students attend orientations in their institutions before traveling to the U.S.   These orientations are mostly focus on student financial benefits, medical issues, travel, reimbursements, housing,banking,driving in the US,safety tips, universities accreditation, diplomas authentication,student visas, etc. Most the sponsors offer a whole year for admission and language preparation programs such as TOEFL, IELTS, GRE, GMAT, etc.

The focus of these preparation programs is preparing the students’ linguistically and academically more than socially.

 

Saudi Arabia and its Education System

Saudi Arabia traces its roots back to the earliest civilizations of the Arabian Peninsula. Over the centuries, the peninsula has played a significant role in history as an ancient trade center and as the birthplace of Islam, one of the world’s major monotheistic religions. Since King Abdulaziz Al-Saud established the modern Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 1932, its transformation has been astonishing. In a few short decades, the Kingdom has turned itself from a desert nation to a modern, sophisticated state and a major player on the international stage (Information Office of the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia in Washington, DC, 2011).

The Saudi educational policy objectives are to ensure the affectivity of the Saudi students’ education that meets the religious, economic and social needs of the Saudi Arabia and to decrease illiteracy among Saudi population. The Ministry of Education sets overall regulations for the Saudi Arabia educational system that encompasses public and private sectors. Moreover, it oversees special education for the handicapped. The Ministry of Higher Education was established in 1975 to apply the Saudi Arabia higher education policy .The Ministry of Higher Education supervises scholarships of Saudi students studying abroad, coordinates international inter-university relations and oversees the educational and cultural mission offices in various countries (Saudi Arabia Cultural mission to the U.S., 2011)

The Saudi Arabian Cultural Mission (SACM) is to apply Saudi national educational and training policies to provide Saudi Arabia with qualified individuals capable of achieving Saudi

Arabia objectives of progress. Saudi Arabia tries to provide Saudi students with the best possible educational opportunities at the best educational institutions in the U.S.A. The Cultural division in the Saudi Arabia Embassy in Washington, DC tires to support Saudi students academically and financially so that they may concentrate on achieving their academic goals. Moreover, the cultural division tries to collect and publicize information that reflects Saudi culture, tradition, and heritage through their active participation in academic, cultural, and social activities in the U.S. (The Saudi Arabian Cultural Mission, 2011).

The issue of untrained teachers affects the quality of Saudi students’ learning and education over the past 40 years (Cross ,1995).The Ministry of Education has recruited non-Saudi EFL teachers, especially from Arab countries, who are not well trained (Al-Awad, 2002).The English teachers are not qualified to undertake such a task. They lack subject knowledge, language proficiency, and competence in second/foreign language teaching methodology (Al-Ahaydib,1986; Zaid, 1993). The Ministry of Education has tried to improve and update English language curricula since 1991 (Sheshsha, 1982; Zaid, 1993).

 

The Gulf Region Students’ Linguistics Challenges

The Gulf region countries encompass the states of Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, Oman, Iraq, and Islamic Republic of Iran. Emirati and Saudi students are considered Gulf region students as well because they are from the Gulf region countries. The Gulf has been developed rapidly in a short period. Based on this expansion, the education has gone through that progress as well. Gulf region students have gone from small, ill-equipped huts to classes with laptops. The number of students in universities has been increased in the latest years. For instance, the number of students in the United Arab Emirates increased by 67.5% and the number of schools by 62.0% between 1985 and 1996 (Mograby, 1999). Progress has arisen at all levels, which gives little time for students’ adjustments. The rapid development has had influence on the strategic planning of the English language preparation programs.  The Gulf region countries are multicultural and multilingual countries which their populations speak Arabic, Urdu/Hindi, Malayalam, and especially English. Policy makers in these countries encouraged learning English to keep up with the modernization, which is a significant subject to teach in their curriculum at all educational levels. However, Gulf region students see no significance in communicating in English in their native countries where the surroundings are mostly communicating in the native language, Arabic. English might not be used beyond their classroom (Syed, 2003).

Emirati and Saudi students are considered Arabs. They face similar challenges as Arab learners because they share common language and culture. For instance, Arab learners of English face difficulties in speaking and writing (Abdul Haq, 1982; Harrison, Prator and Tucker,1975; Abbad,1988 and Wahab,1998). For instance, Jordanian students learn English in their native countries which the official language is Arabic as the Gulf region countries. The opportunities of learning and practicing English naturally are very limited to communicating with tourists.

The most obvious problems that hinder the progress of Arab students at University level may be attributed to the “inadequate mastery of the four language skills; namely listening, speaking, reading and writing” (Sulieman,1983: 129). The Arabs students face difficulty in communicating in the target language at the university level (Sulieman,1983)  The native language , Arabic , interference is not the only  factor of  the Arab students’’ challenges , but the teaching and language process also contribute to their challenges in English (Rababah, 2002) .

The language of instruction in most the Gulf region and Arab courtiers is English. The Gulf region students face linguistics challenges to communicate in English fluently in their native countries. Some of these students decide to travel to the U.S. for their post-secondary education. Most of them are sponsored by their governments.  For instance, at Pennsylvania University, in 2010, the number of the Emirati students was 74 and the number of the Saudi students was 128, as shown in table 1-1.

Table 1-1: Distribution of Gulf Region students at Pennsylvania State University

 

Gulf Cooperation Council # students

2005

 

# students 2006 # students 2007 # students 2008 # students 2009 # students 2010
Bahrain 1 2 0 2 3 3
Kuwait 20 18 21 23 38 40
Oman 12 16 18 21 18 19
Qatar 1 4 5 4 8 7
Saudi Arabia 29 55 62 95 128 128
United Arab Emirates 17 14 25 40 48 74
Subtotals 80 109 131 185 240 271

 

It is noticed that number of Emirati and Saudi students is increasing. Also, the number of

Saudi students is the highest among other Gulf regions students who attend Pennsylvanian State University. The lowest number of Gulf Region students is Bahraini students because the population of Bahrain is very small compared to the other Gulf Region countries.

During the transition process of the Emirati and Saudi students to the U.S. culture and universities, they try to adjust to the new environment. This cross-cultural adaptation process causes some social and academic challenges. Understanding these challenges is important for the sponsors of these countries and the U.S. universities as well.

Most the sponsors of the Emirati and Saudi students send their students to a language institute to prepare them linguistically. These students usually do not have admission to a university. Therefore, they have to prepare for some admission requirements such as the TOEFL, IELTS, GRE, GMAT, etc. The students try to manage their time between their study in the language institute and their admission requirements work which guarantees their study in U.S. universities. Spending half of the day in the language institute and its daily work, take most the students’ time instead of focusing on their admission requirements which are more important for the students to get admitted in a university. The issue is that the absence is associated with the F1 visa and the students’ immigration status. Failure in the language preparation program is not an issue for the students so; they do not care that much on doing well in the language institute. The problem is that most these language institute prepare just for the language sake not for TOEFL or IELTS or GRE or GMAT which the students really need to get admission. Another problem is that some of these language institutes which are part of a university, if the students pass all the levels, the university will not give them admission, the students still have to meet all the language admission requirements. Moreover, in some cities which have known universities, they do not have tests centers to take the required tests. The students have to travel to other cities to take these tests.

 

Purpose of the Study

The purpose of this study is to explore the major factors affecting the Emirati and Saudi students’ social and academic experiences in U.S. universities. The focus is whether or not these students were successful in their adaptations to western cultural leading into higher levels of English language proficiency and academic achievement.  More specifically, the purposes of this exploratory cross-cultural comparative case study are to explore academic, cultural, disciplinerelated challenges Emirati and Saudi students face at U.S. universities, and to investigate Emirati and Saudi students’ coping strategies to face their challenges.

 

 

 

Significance of the Study

The Gulf-region students’ social and academic experiences in U.S. universities have not had extensive research, thus this focus deserves scrutiny and has value for higher education through creation of a “global lens.” This study is beneficial for illuminating the situations students from Gulf-region countries and other international students who lack certain cultural and linguistic capital necessary to successfully function in their disciplines, and in broader communities outside higher education. This study’s value accrues to sponsors of international students, particularly for its potential to expose fault lines in higher education and study-abroad preparatory programs that are inattentive to the needs of first-time international students attending American Universities. A scan of available literature reveals few or no recent, noteworthy studies involving Gulf-region scholastic endeavors. This study becomes extremely important for retention programs and for educators and policymakers in the Gulf-region and elsewhere.

 

Limitations of the Study

With only six students from each group as interviewees, generalizing the results from this study is problematic; likewise, despite each group of students’ similar characteristics, variance in number of residence years in the U.S. and academic levels complicate students’ U.S. universities characteristics and their unique and diverse experiences as they interact within the university, frustrate generalization. Moreover, data from each interview represents the unique experiences of the twelve individual students. The findings represent experiences of the participants interviewed for this study, and therefore may not represent all the Emirati and Saudi students. Since the survey questionnaire was self-reported instrument, perhaps, the participants reported inaccurate data.

Finally, the questionnaire instrument, despite sensible construction, has not had previous application in studies, so no published information exists on which to form comparisons. Therefore, care in interpreting results is necessary, although actual results have their merit. Academic Socialization studies have considered Latino and other minority students in the U.S. as research subjects and rarely consider Emirati and Saudi students.

 

Delimitation of the Study

One of the delimitation was to exclude the financial issues because most the Emirati and Saudi students are sponsored from their governments that pay their tuitions and their living expenses. Moreover, I have decided to exclude Emirati and Saudi students who have been in the U.S. with their families for more than ten years and have studies their high schools in the U.S because they have already adjusted to the U.S. educational system and social life.

Definitions

The Gulf region students: The students who are from the Gulf region countries that encompass the states of Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, Oman, Iraq, and Islamic Republic of Iran.

Cross-Cultural Adaptation: “stress-adaptation-growth’s” dynamics of cross-cultural experiences, which “bring about cultural strangers’ gradual transformation toward increased functional fitness in the host milieu” (Kim ,1988, p. 200).

Culture shock: It is the international students’ feelings of anxiety, surprise and confusion when they travel to a foreign country and contact with an entirely different social environment. Initially, they feel unable to assimilate to the new culture, causing challenge in knowing what is appropriate and what is not (Oberg, 1955)

Cultural identity: It is the mental framework through which individuals interpret social cues, choose certain behaviors, respond to their surroundings, and evaluate the actions of other people (Sussman, 2001). Identity’s basis is “membership of many different and simultaneously overlapping demographic categories such as religion, culture, and nationality” (Brown 2009, p. 60).

Language adjustment: It refers to the newcomers’ acquiring a second language during their

social interaction with the hosting people (Yang and Clum, 1994).

Language socialization:  It is the socialization of individuals “through the use of language and socialization to use language” (Schieffelin and Ochs, 1986; p. 163).

Academic Socialization: it is a process in which students undergo a social and cultural transformation from one cultural and linguistic context to acquire academic writing skills in another context or language in order to become legitimate or proficient participants in a given academic discipline

Academic Literacy Socialization: It is a complex process which the academic writing practices are embedded in cognitive, linguistic, social, political and institutional frameworks

(Golde, 1998)

Organizational socialization: it is “the process by which an individual acquires the social knowledge and skills necessary to assume an organizational role” (Van Maanen and Schein, 1979, p. 211).

 

 

 

Summary

Despite challenges that could otherwise cripple Emirati and Saudi students’ academic success, some are able to graduate from U.S. universities. Such students face their social and academic challenges, which propel them to achieve their academic pursuits. The present study considers the social and academic challenges of Emirati and Saudi students and their coping strategies to face these challenges and succeed in their studies. The study includes a comparison of experiences of academic socialization of students from the United Arab Emirates and Saudi

Arabia. Analysis of the participants’ interview transcripts and narrative accounts of their social and academic experiences as students in U.S. universities identifies the factors that influenced these individuals and enabled them to overcome obstacles. Moreover, the discussion includes a comparison of the United Arab Emirates and its education system with the Saudi Arabia and its education system. Also, it discusses some of the Gulf region and Arabs (Emirati and Saudi) students’ linguistics challenges. The next chapter introduces empirical studies on cross – cultural adaptation and academic socialization, language adjustment, identity adjustment, language socialization, academic literacy socialization, disciplinary socialization, and impact of academic socialization on international students’ success and retention.

 

Organization of the Study

This study organization constitutes five chapters. Chapter 1 is the introduction and includes, statement of the problem, purpose of the study, significance of the study, limitations of the study, delimitation of the study, research questions, organization of the study, and definition of terms. Chapter 2 includes a literature review including empirical studies on cross – cultural adaptation and academic socialization, language adjustment, identity adjustment, language socialization, academic literacy socialization, disciplinary socialization, and impact of academic socialization on international students’ success and retention. Chapter 3 describes the research method used in the study population, data collection and analysis method, and research questions. Chapter 4 presents the analysis of the data and the findings. Chapter 5 discusses the results and offers discussion of the study‘s findings, and offers conclusions and implications for future practice, research, and policy.

ACADEMIC SOCIALIZATION: A COMPARATIVE STUDY OF THE EXPERIENCES OF THE EMIRATI AND SAUDI  STUDENTS AT U.S. UNIVERSITIES

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