The re-entry experiences of returning Saudi international students after studying abroad

16th December 2021 : 14:00 - 15:00

Category: Webinar

Speaker: Naif Daifullah Z Alsulami, Umm Al-Qura University

Location: Zoom webinar, registration required

The purpose of this qualitative case study is to gain an in-depth understanding of Saudis returning to Saudi Arabia from studying abroad, particularly English-speaking countries such as the U.S., the U.K., and Australia, their experience of the re-entry and why they have such experiences.

By focusing on a sample of Saudi returnees who return to work in academia as teaching staff at Umm Al-Qura University in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, the researcher generated the data from semi-structured individual interviews with the participants. The overall findings of this study reveal that the re-entry experiences are not always negative, as conceptualised by the findings of most studies focusing on the re-entry experiences. In other words, there are positive sides to the re-entry experiences that need to be expanded in order to examine closely and look fairly at the re-entry experiences. Nevertheless, there are some challenges of the re-entry requiring profound understanding by both returnees and their surrounding nationals. However, these challenges did not reach the level to be appropriately described as reverse culture shock, the term used in much of the literature, rather it is socio-cultural challenges with a few educational challenges that dissipate over time through using coping strategies.

The socio-cultural challenges include challenges of conflicting values, challenges with third-culture kids, challenges with the ban on driving cars for Saudi females, challenges of missing freedom and independence, challenges with ‘wasta’ or favouritism, and challenges with bureaucracy. The educational challenges are the workloads as faculty members, pedagogy and curricula challenges and students’ academic standards. On the other hand, the benefits or (the positive side of the re-entry) include English language proficiency, new knowledge and skills, personal growth, global awareness, self-awareness, open-mindedness (cultural empathy) and coexistence and tolerance. The characteristics of the re-entry and important factors affecting the re-entry experience and the implications of this study are further explained. Based on the overall findings of the study, this study suggests a new model of cross-cultural re-entry called N-curve – Naif’s model of cross-cultural re-entry. This newly proposed model is based on an understanding that the notion of reverse culture shock should be revisited, considering the provision of powerful connections between international students and their home culture facilitated by such application as Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp, Snapchat, and Instagram. Moreover, it is based on the idea that re-entry experiences are not always negative, rather there are positive sides to the re-entry that need to be maximised. Therefore, I propose amendments to the ‘W-curve’ model (Gullahorn &Gullahorn, 1963), particularly the second U curve that is related to the re-entry experiences. These amendments suggest four stages of the re-entry experiences. These stages are honeymoon, socio-cultural challenges, recovery and enjoying the positive sides of the re-entry.

This webinar is part of the free public seminar programme hosted by the Centre for Global Higher Education (CGHE).