Last semester I went through an experience I'd never gone through before in my teaching career: I taught a student whose face I couldn't see. The reason? She was from Saudi Arabia, and she was wearing a niqab, that part of her all-black burqa that covered her face from the bridge of the nose down.
The class was an English as a second language class, and Sara (let's call her) was there under the auspices of Saudi Arabia's generous scholarship program for international study. The program arose out of a 2005 meeting between Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Abdullah (now King) and President George W. Bush to find ways to build understanding between the two cultures after the September 11 attacks.
The number of Saudi students in the United States has grown every year since the scholarship program began, and today some 70,000 Saudis are studying here. While initially only men took advantage of the program, now 20 percent of Saudis here are women.