By looking at which nationalities are most represented in a college that already attracts international students, Ohio University, one can almost pin-point which country’s economy is flourishing at the moment just from a walk around campus. In my experience in-and-out of the foreign language building where English intensive classes are held, I can tell you with confidence that Saudi Arabia is one of the countries that are most highly represented in the international student population. This resonates with recent strategic geopolitical steps taken by the country to send their youth to remote institutes of higher education.
Learning English is a smart move for competing in the global economy, and therefore countries craft desirable citizens by sending them abroad. A few weeks ago, I glossed over some major themes in Saudi Arabian higher education, including the massive influx of students to the United States in recent years. King Abdullah granted a scholarship allowing thousands of Saudis to study abroad in United States and in other economically-flourishing countries. Something interesting to consider is the amount of romantic relationships that have ensued simultaneously as students have less behavioral restrictions.
The mingling of sexes is strictly forbidden in Saudi Arabian Sharia Law, yet intercultural relationships are springing up, even marriages. Evidence for this can be found on the multitude of blogs outlining precautions and other advice on the highly-problematic Saudi-American relationship. People write from personal experience and observations. Why is this pairing so problematic?
- Marriage permit itself is hard to obtain. The Saudi marriage permission is required for any Saudi male or female who desires to marry a non-Saudi. It is difficult to obtain unless husband knows an influential person (called “wasta” in Arabic) or coughs up a hefty bribe in order to get the permit approved quickly
- Pressure of Family expectations. If a Saudi man decided to marry a foreigner it is safe to say he circumvented the expectation of an arranged marriage, which is typically considered taboo. Depending if the husband wants to return to his home country or not, the new couple may decide to live with the husband’s family where the American women would have to stay home, and she may never be exactly accepted and comfortable with herself in her new surroundings.
- Children of Failed marriages. Failed marraiges lead to custody “battles,” that almost always give the Saudi man and his country possession over the dual-national children. In a number of highly publicized instances, these children have been taken to or kept in Saudi Arabia by their Saudi fathers, against the will of their American mothers. The U.S. embassy doesn’t typically have jurisdiction to step in, if it miraculously does, the process is long for the woman to return home, often without her child. (if you would like to read more about Saudi Children left behind, click here)
Overall, the amount of international university students gives rise to intercultural marriage. This happened after the initial geopolitical move of economic comradery between George Bush and King Abdullah. Big decisions in politics trickle down to affect the minutia of personal lives, and it always has. One example I can conjure as an American is the Baby Boom: After World War II had drawn to a close (political affairs), the United States underwent an unprecedented population increase that still, present day, has shaped the social and political landscape of the United States, and changed how and where many Americans live (personal lives).
It is important to note that there are varying experiences among different types of people, as not all people of one region or religion tend to hold the same exact constituency of values. However, consensus from the blogs I linked above argues above are that the best relationships between the two parties occur when the Saudi Arabian man is striving to deviate from his home culture in some achievable way that still balances his image with his family and community.