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Saudi student serves as cultural ambassador on campus

Jan 15, 2020
A smiling woman poses for a picture in front of a world map
A smiling woman poses for a picture in front of a world map

KOKOMO, Ind. – Be the change you wish to see in the world.

As an international student at Indiana University Kokomo, Hibah Falatah embodied those words of Mahatma Gandhi, by helping other international students get off on the right foot and educating others about her own culture.

“I know how I struggled when I first came here,” said Falatah, who came from Saudi Arabia to earn a Master of Science in Nursing (M.S.N.). “I wanted someone who had been in my shoes to guide me through. I tried to make other international students feel heard, and answer their questions as a peer.”

For many students, she may be the only person they’ve met from Saudi Arabia.

“I’m the face of my country to people who haven’t been there,” she said, an ambassador for the Office of International Student Services. “You have to try to be the best you can be, because people will define Saudi Arabia by your conduct. It’s a lot of responsibility.”

It also gives her an opportunity to dispel myths about life back home. For example, she’s been asked if they rely on camels for transportation — they don’t— and if she has to wear a head covering— she does not.

However, Falatah appreciates that people are interested.

“One of the things I love here is that people ask when they have questions,” she said. “There are people who really want to learn about other countries, and how people live there.”

She’s also enjoyed the diversity of people on campus.

“Here, you have people with different religions, people with different backgrounds, people with different colors. But you can live together and accept the differences,” Falatah said. “Sometimes we had religious discussions, and we had people who were Christian, Jewish, Muslim, sitting together and talking. There are fewer cultural barriers. You can be what you want to be, and people accept that.” 

After completing her degree in December, she looked forward to returning home, not only to see her family, but to continue her role as a cultural ambassador, sharing her first-hand experience of Americans from living among them, first with a host family, and later in her own apartment.

“The way we know about the U.S. is from the media,” she said. “I’ve learned that people are people, wherever you are. My host mom talks to her daughter the same way my mother talks to me. I feel like I’m more connected with American culture and religion.”

Falatah received a scholarship from the Saudi Arabian Cultural Mission, which provides funding for students to earn degrees overseas.

Her time at IU Kokomo has given her the confidence to pursue the dream of moving to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia’s capitol.

“It’s been about more than earning a degree, it’s about how I’ve developed as a person,” Falatah said. “I come from a community where you live with your family. You don’t leave home unless you get married. Living on my own, speaking another language, I learned that I am capable of doing things. I can travel, and still maintain a strong relationship with my family.”

Indiana University Kokomo celebrates 75 years as north central Indiana’s choice for higher education.

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