When Saad Alshahrani first arrived at WSU in 2005, he had never been to the United States before and did not speak any English.
"When I got to the Pullman airport, nobody was there," he said. "I was looking at myself thinking, ‘What am I doing here?'" Since that day, Alshahrani has made his mark. He received a master's degree in statistics in 2007 and is working on his doctoral degree in economics and natural resource sciences.
In the summer of 2007, he established and instructed the WSU Arabic Language and Culture program. He teaches all three Arabic courses in addition to his work as an economics teaching assistant.
In 2008, Alshahrani won both the WSU Excellence of Teaching Award and the President's Award, among other recognitions.
On top of this, he is also president of the Muslim Students Association at WSU.
"We try to educate people, whether they are Muslims or non-Muslims, about what Islam is," he said.
After the first few months of living in the U.S., Alshahrani noticed distinct cultural contrasts.
"There are a lot of differences between here and Saudi Arabia," he said. "Back home, because all the people are Muslims, everyone has the same culture and same traditions. For instance, when it is time to pray, all the stores close so that we can go to the mosque. The food is also very different. We have McDonald's, Pizza Hut and other restaurants that exist in the U.S., but we also have our own unique style of food." In Saudi Arabia, social relations are also much stronger, he said.
"There, a couple hundred family members will get together to celebrate holidays or to spend time together during the week," he said.
At first, when many Saudi Arabian students come to the U.S., they are shocked because they are no longer living in such close-knit communities, Alshahrani said.
"When I talk to them, they tell me that they are very surprised," he said. "Back home, you see all the people around you from your own country. But, when you come here, you meet people from all different countries and cultures." Alshahrani has had to face many of the incorrect beliefs and opinions about Islam that some hold.
"For instance, many people believe that Muslims are strict, Muslims don't have fun, Muslims don't like to interact with people," he said. "These stereotypes are very wrong. In fact, we have more fun than other people and we would like to show them that we joke, we dance, we eat and we listen to music like everyone else." Alshahrani said he encounters a great deal of ignorance in the U.S. about other countries.
"A year or two ago, I met this guy who asked me if Saudi Arabia was in Washington or Idaho," he said. "Saudi Arabia is one of the most secure countries in the world. It's beautiful, it's safe and people are really friendly. But, because of the long distance and cultural infractions, many people do not know about it. I feel that it is my responsibility to deliver this message about my country. If anyone has a chance, Saudi Arabia would be a good place to visit one day." Now, Alshahrani is considering a job offer he received from the Saudi embassy in Washington, D.C.
"Right now I am still thinking about the offer and I haven't made a final decision yet," he said. "I really like international affairs and issues – maybe one day I will become a politician."