MENOMONIE — They are about 7,000 miles from home. The language is different. So are the foods and many of the customs. The weather is downright cold compared to where they’re from.
Despite having had to adjust in many ways, four students from Saudi Arabia say they will sorely miss UW-Stout and Menomonie. They graduated Saturday, Dec. 19, along with more than 700 other students in two ceremonies at Johnson Fieldhouse.
The four graduates are excited to move on with their lives and begin their careers. But after living in west-central Wisconsin for several years while they learned English and completed their bachelor’s degrees, they have come to appreciate the small-town aspect of American life.
“I love Menomonie so much. It’s been good for my life. If I have children, I want to bring them here someday,” said Sultan Aldhubayb, who earned a degree in information technology management.
Nearly 25 students from Saudi Arabia graduated Saturday. About 150 Saudi Arabians are attending UW-Stout, making up nearly a third of the university’s approximately 350 international students. Most of the Saudis take English as a Second Language courses on campus before beginning their studies.
“Before I came to the United States, I thought it was really dangerous and that there were a lot of guns. But I feel really safe here in Wisconsin. The people are friendly,” said Shatha Al Shehri, who graduated in apparel design and development.
Alhassan Nasraddin, who majored in hotel, restaurant and tourism management, said that while Menomonie and UW-Stout are not perfect — he said Saudis have faced some discrimination by American students — he feels fortunate to have studied here.
“I lived here not always liking it and the small town, but every time I go away I miss it and the lifestyle,” Nasraddin said.
Nasraddin, Aldhubayb, Al Shehri and Ali “Salil” Al-Ghadeer have traveled extensively in the U.S. during their three or four years here, and while they enjoyed visiting Orlando, Chicago, Houston, New York, Las Vegas, Minneapolis and other metro areas, they have felt most at home in Menomonie, they said.
The Saudi students said they have found that Americans generally are friendly toward them. Menomonie residents don’t seem to have had their views of Islam negatively affected by ISIS or by recent controversial comments made by presidential candidate Donald Trump, who has called for a ban of all Muslims entering the U.S., the students said.
“In Wisconsin there has been a lot of support of Muslims,” Al-Ghadeer said of the reaction to Trump’s idea. However, he admitted to some concern that a presidential candidate would have such a view.
The four students are examples of typical, peaceful, progressive Muslims from the Middle East. By being allowed to study in the U.S., they have helped close cultural gaps for themselves and for Americans. Their view now of Americans is much more positive than when they arrived, they said.
Al-Ghadeer, one of nine children, said after living in Menomonie and attending UW-Stout, he believes Americans and Muslims can coexist. “We can live together with different beliefs,” said Al-Ghadeer, who also taught an Arabic language class this fall at UW-Stout.