Saudi Students House holds event to promote national awareness

Outside the University Center’s Connan Room last Wednesday, pamphlets laid on tables provided information about Islamic terrorists, moral systems, and politics. Inside, Saudi Arabian students celebrated cultural values with fellow Carnegie Mellon students from all kinds of backgrounds.

To foster cultural exchange, the Saudi Students House (SSH) in Pittsburgh led the Saudi Open House last week.

The open house filled every inch of the Connan Room with spectators and Saudi culture.

The event featured Saudi games, food, art, dances, and tattoos. Students dressed in traditional Saudi attire greeted visitors and served authentic food to a long line of chattering guests.

Hoda Moustapha, who recently received her PhD from Carnegie Mellon, displayed her works of art at the open house.

Moustapha takes cultural and religious words and makes them into many different designs for paintings. She believes that this event will help students a lot.
“Once people see a different culture, they change their perception,” Moustapha said.

The SSH held a similar event at the University of Pittsburgh recently. Basil As-Sadhan, a PhD candidate in Carnegie Mellon’s electrical and computer engineering department and the president of SSH, said that the Pitt Open House received positive feedback that encouraged him and his fellow students to bring the event to Carnegie Mellon.

“In order to learn about others, we must present ourselves,” As-Sadhan said. “It’s a two-way exchange.... [Saudi] students in America are not only just studying. They are mingling and living with Americans as well.”

Students of different backgrounds mingled quite a bit in the small room, and interested students could learn about Saudi traditions through PowerPoint presentations and display boards with printed information.

Nazeeh Al-Othmany, a graduate student in electrical engineering at Pitt, believes that such information exchange both educates and counters poor media representation of both cultures.

“I want people to take from this [an unwillingness] to surrender to media stereotypes,” Al-Othmany said.

Al-Othmany believes that Americans think of Saudi Arabia as a desert country with a lot of oil, and he said that the open house would encourage more
interaction to change that perception.

He also said that the Saudis see America as a haven of high crime rate and killings on the street.

“The image of the United States in the eyes of Saudis is the image of Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis, and Jerry Springer,” said Al-Othmany.

“If the American media is doing such a bad job at presenting its own culture, you can image how bad it’s doing at presenting other cultures.”

As for the influence of cultural exchanges, Al-Othmany believes that changing stereotypes through grassroots movements will eventually influence politicians.
He also emphasized the importance of more educational programs like delegations and student exchanges.

“We need to be proactive in presenting our culture and our values to the society so that people would learn about us and would not be scared of us, because people fear what they don’t know,” Al-Othmany said. “The only way to make these perceptions disappear is through interactions.”