THRIVING IN THE USA: Tips for Middle Eastern Students (pt. 6)

Hello friends! Where are the✨ Middle Eastern students ✨ reading this blog? 👀

I asked some Middle Eastern friends to give tips for students like them to THRIVE in the US! 💪

I got tips from five people– how amazing is that?! 🤩

Among them are Saim Muhammad from Pakistan who’s studying Computer Engineering in Columbus, Ohio, and Mouad Maarouf from Morocco who’s studying Engineering Management in Rochester, New York. I’d like to thank them and the other friends who also provided valuable tips. Thank you so much for helping me put all this material together– you know who you are! 🫶

Okidokie… ready for these tips? I’ve put them in order of a student’s experience when preparing to come to the U.S. and when they arrive here.

Shall we? 👇

1. Find well-suited living conditions 🏠

Choose a roommate who shares the same customs as you. This will bring numerous benefits, including creating an environment for sharing customs, meals, and support.

Regarding locomotion, cars generally don’t stop for pedestrians as they do back home, where pedestrians have high priority. Therefore, if you go walking, be careful when crossing the street. Another thing to know is that Americans are good at giving directions on how to get to a place, so if you ever get lost, you’re in good hands!

2. Look for halal food options 🥩

Look for halal food options. Look for local halal restaurants, grocery stores, and markets that meet your dietary needs. That way, you can enjoy meals without compromising your faith.

3. Be aware of greetings 🤝

If you requested IFI airport pickups, the first person to greet you when you arrive at the airport will be an American. Americans generally shake hands when meeting someone for the first time, regardless of whether they are the opposite sex. The greetings change as the friendship becomes more intimate. Men and women often hug each other. If you feel uncomfortable about this, make sure you communicate this to them and why, so they know you still want to be friends, but with physical boundaries.

4. Be aware of hierarchy differences 👑

American culture tends to view everyone as equal. Saim Muhammad shared some experiences he had:

“I was surprised that my English class instructor came to pick me up at the airport. It would never happen in my home country. A student would do that to a teacher, but a teacher would never do that to a student. Another surprise I had was knowing that if I call a man/woman older than me by his/her first name, he/she will like it. In my home country, this is considered very disrespectful. It took me a while to get used to it.”

5. Be aware of their direct culture ➡️

American society is very independent and people prefer to manage themselves. If you need something, ask! Otherwise, your American friend might think you’re perfectly capable of taking care of yourself and won’t help.

It’s also important to say that Americans are direct communicators. If an American offers help, whether in the form of a ride or even a cup of tea, say yes the first time. If you say no, they’ll believe you meant no and won’t offer again.

6. Embrace diversity 🌍

The U.S. is a mix of different cultures. It’s important to be open to this diversity, seek to know other cultures, and also share your own culture! 

About learning new cultures…

It’s important to recognize that true growth and understanding come from engaging with people from different cultures and religions beyond our own community. By reaching out, listening, and communicating with individuals from diverse backgrounds, we can break down barriers and stereotypes, promoting mutual respect and appreciation. Engagement in intercultural communication opens doors to new perspectives, deepens our empathy, and promotes a more inclusive society where everyone’s voice is heard and valued. Therefore, try to meet people from different backgrounds and religions. Participate in multicultural conversations and events and celebrate diversity. This will broaden your perspective and enrich your overall experience.

About teaching your culture…

You have the opportunity to promote understanding and dispel misconceptions about Middle Easterners. Engage in respectful dialogue and educate others about your faith, customs, and practices. By sharing your experiences and knowledge, you can create a more inclusive and welcoming environment.

People have very little knowledge about the Islamic faith and practices. In this sense, inform people about your culture in a polite way if you’re under Islam. Explain why you’re doing certain things and why you cannot do certain things. For example, if you’re invited to an American home for a meal, be sure to let them know that you eat halal. Many Americans don’t know what that means and you’ll have to explain it to them. They’ll want to do whatever they can to make you comfortable in their home.

An important point is to not get offended if an American is doing something you think is offensive. Possibly he/she isn’t aware of this. On the other hand, try to adapt your customs so as not to offend people of other cultures. For example, I (Saim Muhammad) have to do ablution, which involves the washing of feet. This usually makes the bathroom floor wet, and in my experience, it’s unpleasant in American culture; therefore, I took extra care to dry the floor after ablution, or do it in the bathtub.

7. Stay connected with your family 👨‍👩‍👧‍👦

Moving house can be challenging, but staying connected with your family can provide a sense of support and familiarity. Utilize technology to maintain regular communication with your loved ones, attend virtual gatherings, and seek guidance from leaders.

8. Find balance for well-being 🧘‍♀️

College life can be demanding, both academically and socially. Remember to prioritize self-care and maintain a healthy balance between your studies, social life, and religious commitments. Find time for relaxation, exercise, and personal reflection to ensure your well-being.

Regarding your prayer life, locate designated areas for prayer and enjoy them. 

9. Seek support 🤗

One of the most valuable discoveries upon arriving in the U.S. was the existence of a vibrant Middle Eastern community. This provides a sense of belonging, familiarity, and a shared understanding of our faith. Connecting with others like me has allowed for new friendships, finding support in difficult times, and celebrating our religious traditions together. The community’s diversity in terms of cultural backgrounds and perspectives enriched my experience and broadened my understanding of Islam.

On campus, get involved with student organizations and clubs. It’s a great way to expand your network and connect with other like-minded students, faculty, and staff who understand the unique challenges you may face. They’ll usually provide a platform for social, cultural, and religious activities, fostering a sense of community and belonging.

Other ways to seek support are to explore the Christian community and cultural and community centers. The Christian community can be incredibly supportive and considerate of Muslims. They are often welcoming and eager to help students, regardless of their religious background. Do not hesitate to reach out, participate in interfaith events, and foster meaningful relationships. At cultural and community centers, you can connect with individuals from different backgrounds, participate in cross-cultural exchanges, and learn more about the local community.

SWITCHING OVER– Mariana here! 🇧🇷

The guys did a great job getting all these tips together. I’d like to hear from you, my friend– are the tips helpful in your U.S. journey and do you have any other tips for our Middle Eastern students? Please add them in the comments below!

And that’s it for this series! Stay tuned for the next! 😉

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