Over the weekend, Suffolk University and the Saudi Students Club hosted the Saudi Arabian Cultural Mission to the United States to celebrate their National Day. Though formally celebrated on September 23, Saudi National Day provides a chance for Saudi’s in the U.S. to come together and embrace a piece of home during their time abroad. Visitors included the Cultural Attaché, Suffolk University President James McCarthy, and most of the Saudi Arabian student population coming from universities all over Boston. The event brought together a distinct culture from another country aiming, and prevailing to represent, a heritage they are all positively fond of.
For the Suffolk community and namely the students passionate about their homeland, this was a paramount moment to represent the university. As stated by the Suffolk Saudi Students Club President, this was “a special day” for the club and their community on campus.
The Saudi Arabian Cultural Mission to the U.S. (SACM) is an agency set up by the Saudi government focusing on the educational needs of students in the U.S. They provide annual trips back and forth to Saudi Arabia for the students as well as scholarships to subsidize, in full, their educational experience. Their goal, as stated on SACM’s website homepage, is “to provide our country with qualified individuals capable of achieving the country’s goals for progress and development.”
A visit from Cultural Attaché at Suffolk University signified how important the working relationship Suffolk has with Saudi Arabia and their students. In a welcoming speech, the Cultural Attaché stated that the event and Suffolk’s involvement required an “American expression” best describing the feeling as “wow.” He was overly grateful for the “90,000 ambassadors” representing Saudi Arabia in the U.S., speaking of the students he oversees.
The Director of the Department of Medical Health and Science Programs, Samar Al Saggaf, asserted her overwhelming joy over the students in her field and how much progress they were making. Saudi students at the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences were represented at the event, and the director commented on how much return Saudi Arabia is receiving on account of the exemplary performance of the students in Boston. Not only from health and science programs, but engineering students from MIT and Northeastern were in attendance, reiterating the wide dispersion and eclectic range of Saudi students in Boston.
Suffolk President James McCarthy visited the event and spoke on behalf of the prodigious international community that Suffolk is so renowned for. Having presided over Suffolk for seven months to date, President McCarthy was delighted to celebrate, for his first time, the Saudi National Day at Suffolk which has had great showings in the past. In his speech, the president commented on how he was “pleased that Suffolk University enriches and provides a wealth of experiences” for the international student population. He reiterated that his “door is open” for any student to come in and discuss the future of any groups and their campus involvement, and that he “looks forward to meeting” the Saudi students personally.
The Suffolk Saudi Students Club set up the event with a true taste of what Saudi Arabian culture means. Upon entering the event, visitors were presented with traditional Saudi coffee and chai to immediately evoke the feeling of being directly in their homeland. Dates, a sweet fruit which are considered to be best in Saudi Arabia, were presented in various flavors from pistachio and almond to more traditional versions such as black seed.
Extravagant presentations of Saudi traditions were displayed amidst the event outlining the most important tenets of the Muslim religion and Saudi history. A proportional representation of the Holy City, Mecca (or Mekkah in Arabic) was exhibited in order to illustrate the holy pilgrimage that all Muslims are suggested to make at least once in their lifetime. Students explained the assorted displays to each passerby. The Najd, a tent used in history to facilitate migration toward the rain for cultivation was fully displayed. Another exhibit, the Jalbyah, traditional gowns worn by women differentiating in color and style for each specific region, were shown off exemplifying their true historical elegance. A Suffolk student was even playing a traditional instrument, Oued, for curious guests.
For students from Saudi Arabia, this was just as satisfying as a true homecoming. Suffolk freshman, Norah Bawaked, reiterated that “as a freshman, this event made me feel at home.” A common theme professed by the students; the celebration of their country’s national day, was a successful effort to experience a piece of their homeland. Being students studying full-time abroad, feelings of comfort were generated in knowing that their community is so actively welcomed and represented in Boston.
Although certain students did find themselves at odds with the food provided, it was a considerable mix of Egyptian and Turkish, and not formally Saudi. A favorable change that most students agreed on would have been to toss the silverware and eat out of a communal bowl of meat and rice with only their hands as frequented in their homeland.
The mutual understanding Suffolk has created with international students, especially from Saudi Arabia, has been a pivotal part of the school’s allure. Suffolk and its students have been differentiating each other from the norm of universities, making their education exactly what they want it to be; bringing Saudi Arabia to Suffolk for a day was a great example.