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Saudi students and coping striges with their university education in study abroad


Background: Various studies have revealed that studying abroad can pose various challenges not only to the learners but also to their instructors. With the implementation of Saudi scholarship program, a high influx of Saudi students in International Universities is expected. All these students are expected to face various challenges ranging from poor language skills, cultural challenges among others. Therefore, there is a need for immediate researches to find out the various challenges faced by Saudi students studying abroad, and hence help in coming up with effective coping strategies for these students. In line with this, the research aimed at finding out the various challenges faced by Saudi students studying abroad in order to come up with effective coping strategies.


Literature review

Studying abroad can poses a culture shock not only to the students but also to the instructors (Belanger, 2011). The Saudi scholarship program will lead to influx of Saudi students in most of the international Universities (Keller, 2009). Student is likely to experience one or combination of issues such as plagiarism, poor language skills, country-specific cliques, and cultural taboos against counseling (Belanger, 2011). This means that appropriate coping mechanism should be put in place for students studying abroad. Saudi students, for example, use Arabic language in all areas of their social life (Knickmeyer, 2012). These students experience a lot of problem in coping with other languages when they study abroad (McMurtrie, 2011). However, they have devised strategies and methods to contain their predicament. This is compounded by the fact that the education system in Saudi Arabia does not equip them with essential skills. According to Krieger, (2007), most methods used are outdated. Many of the Saudi students who choose to study abroad, are attracted by various positive reasons; most of them choose to study abroad to take advantage of education and scholarship opportunities that are not offered in their home country, for instance the scholarship opportunities (Elzubeir&Magzoub, 2010). The paper aims at elucidating how Saudi students cope with their university education in study abroad. The paper will be based on three major hypotheses that focus on: Social group as a coping strategy, the challenge of English as a second language and also the pressure, which is facing international programs to Saudi students.

Firstly, It is undisputable that most of the Saudi students are Muslims, and has strong cultural affiliations and, therefore, find a hard time to adapt to abroad cultures (Al-Sheikhly, 2012). Despite the impediments that constantly challenge them while they study abroad, Saudi students came up with possible solutions to contain this situation. Research by Fischer (2011) reveals that same-country groups can offer a safe and sympathetic environment. Fischer noted that while in United States, Saudi student faces a study environment that is vastly different from their home environment, studying in non-native language, experiencing cultural distinctiveness, and the fact that they live far from home (Al-Sheikhly, 2012). Therefore, forming social group is crucial to help them adopt the new environment. This social group of Saudi student engages the Australian student to learn about the different cultural and motivating new Saudi student to be liberal and welcome diversity of cultural and social life (Students of the University of Scranton, 2007). Such phenomenon helps the student to Saudi students to familiarize themselves with education system and education needs, they are supposed to incur.

Secondly, ESL is another fundamental hypothesis of concern that needs to be addressed. Most universities abroad have English parallel program besides the normal course that students from abroad are supposed to enroll, when commencing their studies abroad (Saudi Arabia, 1981). Sources shows that Oregon University in the United States and many other universities has made it mandatory that all abroad student enrolled in this institution were supposed to study English from English Learning Institute (Harman, 2006). Despite this measure by most abroad university, Saudi students` faces underrepresentation considering the general composition of international student existing in the English institution of learning (Harman, 2006). Although most Saudi students take time to adapt to English, its acquaintance stems from their social relation with other students from abroad. Through interaction with abroad culture, thus Saudi students become cultural competent and develops good communication skills (Al Thowaini& Johnson, 2010). Therefore, through this development they are able to get benefits that they are supposed to get abroad.

Thirdly, another important area of concern in this review is the pressure result of use English language by Saudi student (Lindsey, 2011). The use of English language poses a great challenge to the Saudi students. It is evidenced in the work done by Al Thowaini& Johnson (2010) that most student struggle to understand English language, before even starting to use it in their study (Lindsey, 2011). To make the matters under pressures, all course work and examination is offered in English, therefore, presenting of the assignments and examination become an intricate issue (Denman &Hilal, 2011). This affects those students at their early years of study abroad. However, after some years of stay in the abroad institution, most students are able adapt to using English language and thus are able to submit quality work in their studies.

The research explores issues related to the way Saudi students studying abroad manage to cope with their education, and this is after an interest raise by the culture shock that is experienced by both students and instructors. In fact, there is a high likelihood of a student experiencing issues related to poor language skills, cultural taboos against counseling and country-specific cliques (Belanger, 2011, p. 6). Therefore, there is a need to develop an appropriate mechanism of coping with the situation for students studying abroad.

Research Question

The research question is seeks to identify the way students can cope with university education in study abroad, thus establishing the mechanism that can contribute substantially to the process of coping and reducing the impact of these issues on students.

Aims and Hypotheses

The aim of the research is to test the following hypotheses; the first hypothesis relates to the cultural affiliations of the students that make it difficult for Saudi students to adapt to abroad cultures. The other hypotheses relates to ESL that needs to be addressed through the provision of English parallel programs besides the normal courses. The other hypothesis relates Saudi students experience pressures as students studying abroad.

Research Plan, Methods, and Techniques

According to the research plan, the research will be conducted through a survey for Saudi students abroad with different genders and age, and the number of participant in the research will be thirty. This is a quantitative research that will apply qualitative techniques of data analysis in order to establish a substantial basis of discussion after attaining the desired results. The discussion will enable researchers to make a relevant conclusion and recommendation concerning the issue.

Study Design

The research will have a quantitative study, whereby the researchers will be use a cross-sectional study design to records the behaviors of the participants systematically, and provide a description of these behaviors, fully and accurately thus providing a basis for further research.The research will also apply cross-sectional researching methods that are since it will be based on social science and education related to developmental psychology.

Cross-Sectional Studies

This design is quick and easy to analyze the gathered information and gives a snapshot of the Saudi students and coping strategies in studying abroad at this point.Therefore, the research will utilize different groups of Saudi students with differentiated variable of interest. Therefore, the research will also have an element of description of the behaviors that have been identified in the participants.

Participants and sampling

Thirty Saudi students participants with different ages will be approached either email or personally, and will be sourced from flinders university. A convenience sampling method will be used to recruit participants in this study.

A convenience sampling is quicker and easier method to gather information due to time and resources are short.This method is the best to recruit and select participants by a researcher, which are accessible and convenient, and it is unlikely to be representative.

Data collection

The data will be collected from the primary sources using 15 item questionnaires designed in a way that they can gather the relevant information from the participants, who will be selected through A convenience sampling (Appendix 1).

The data collected will be analyzed using quantitative techniques in order to derive relevant information. The discussion of the information will use the analysis of charts tables and graphs as a way of developing a relationship between the collected information and literature review. It will take around (5- 10) minutes for each participant to complete the questions.

Descriptive statistics and preliminary results

The survey was completed by 30 participants (27 male and 2 female) all of them Saudi students with slightly more married than singles. Participants were aged between 19 and 40, with most aged 31to 40 (73.3%). Of these participants, 26 participated include married and singles stated they faced pressure (86%). Only 4 singles participants stated they didn’t have any pressure during study abroad.

Participants were asked about their most experienced at the beginning of study abroad. Chart 1 reports the result of these questions. It can be seen that (n=27, 90%) of the participants experienced the poor language skills. Only (n=7, 70%) answered country-specific cliques, (n=1, 30%) said cultural taboos against counseling.

Saudi students and coping striges with their university education in study abroad

Chart 1: The most experienced

The next graphs describe the question about feeling helpless or powerless when try to cope with the new culture. The result shows most (n=22, 72%) of the students feel powerless only at the beginning of scholarship. The (n=7, 24%) said occasionally fell helpless and powerless and only (n=1, 4%) answered never fell helpless of power less.

Saudi students and coping striges with their university education in study abroad 1

Graph1: feeling helpless and powerless

The next chart displays how the social group is important issue for Saudi students to cope with their universities life during studying abroad. Where as (n=5, 16.7%) said strongly agrees and (n=24, 80%) agrees and only (n=1, 3%) disagrees.

Saudi students and coping striges with their university education in study abroad 2

Chart 2: join to social group

All consenting participants to join with social groups they were answered form their experiences where they already joined to different social groups. The next graph will demonstrate the type of social group where as (n=19,63.3%) of students joined to Saudi students group. Ten participants (33.3%) said they joined to international students. Only one participant answered other.

Saudi students and coping striges with their university education in study abroad 3

Graph 2: type of social group

The following Table 1 shows the most common reason that causes pressure during studying abroad. Whilst (n=24,80%) of students stated the most pressure during study abroad is a course work and examination. On other hand only (n=4,13.3%) of the students stated they didn’t faced any pressure studying abroad.

Table 1: the most common reason causes pressure for Saudi students studying abroad

What do you think the pressure relate to:

Strongly Agree


Strongly disagree


Cultural barrier


Social isolation


Language barrier

English college

Financial pressure

Academic skills

Course work and examination

I haven’t faced any pressures


Method: The research used survey method using a sample of 30 Saudi students, both male and female of ranging ages studying in various International Universities. Convenience sampling method was used to come up with the study sample since it is easy and simple. To collect data, a 15 item questionnaire was issued to the participants and collected after the participants filled it. A cross-sectional study was used to record the behaviors and challenges faced by the participants.

Results: The results gathered were analyzed using cross-tabulation statistics package and presented in tables, graphs and pie charts. According to the study’s results, as many as over 76% students faced language barrier as their main challenge in studying abroad. Other challenges revealed in the study’s results include poor academic skills, Poor English language, cultural barriers and homesickness.

Conclusion: The research concluded that there are various challenges that are faced by Saudi students studying abroad especially due to poor language skills and cultural barriers hence the need to find effective coping strategies for these students.

Data Analysis

The data gathered was analyzed using cross-tabulation statistics package. Various indexes to measure the various challenges faced by Saudi students studying abroad were created. The various challenges were listed down and the number of participants agreeing or disagreeing with them recorded in percentage form. The responses which ranged from ‘strongly agree’ to ‘strongly disagree’ were averaged in scales to represent the emerging themes from the gathered data. In describing the statistics obtained from the questionnaire’s responses, percentages were calculated and represented in tables, charts and pie charts.

From the hypothesis, the researcher expected to get results which indicated that there are various challenges facing Saudi students studying abroad especially, poor language skills, poor academic skills and cultural barriers. Therefore, a chi-square test was used to test whether there was any correlation between the collected and the expected results. The chi-square was therefore used to test a null hypothesis, which states that the difference between the collected and expected results is not noteworthy. The test revealed that the actual results obtained were similar to the results that the researcher expected hence confirming a null hypothesis.


From the results gathered, there is enough evidence that Saudi students studying abroad face many challenges especially on English language, other academic skills and cultural barriers. The results answered the research questions by bringing out challenges faced by international Saudi students such as poor language skills, poor academic skills, language barriers, home sickness, segregation among others. By providing the answer to the research question, the research results also confirmed the research hypothesis. It was found that over 76% of the participant argued that their main challenge in studying abroad was poor communication skills. The existing theory is that due to the difference in culture and language, international students studying abroad are bound to experience many challenges. The results of this study agree with this theory as it exposes many challenges facing Saudi students studying abroad.

Just as the study carried out by Lee (2010) indicate, many Saudi students possess poor language skills especially English and this limits their academic potentials. The results of this research confirms the findings of other past researches on the same topic such as the studies by Paige (1993) and Shaw (2009), which showed that cultural barrier is a major challenge faced by Saudi students studying abroad. According to Alsayyed (2007), the Saudi Scholarship program is sponsoring many Saudi students, who prefer Canadian universities instead of US Universities. A study carried by Church (2010), found out that many Saudi students prefer Canadian Universities not only because of economic benefits but also cultural benefits. This study’s results agree with this observation since it was confirmed that cultural barriers form a major challenge to Saudi students mainly because they are Muslims. It is an undisputable fact that most Saudi students are Muslims and hence find it highly difficult to adapt to various cultures found in western societies. According to Burt (2004), many international students are motivated to learn through active learning in order to promote their level of interaction with other people and hence avoid home sickness and loneliness. The results of this study align with this observation since many students especially females expressed home sickness as one of the challenges that they face while studying abroad. Therefore, from the results, it was concluded that Saudi students face various challenges while studying abroad and hence the need for identifying effective coping strategies.

The main strength of this study is that the study sample comprised of Saudi students studying in various International universities. This allowed for inclusion of varied challenges since the challenges faced by Saudi students studying abroad may differ depending on the institution the student is enrolled in. Another strength noted with this study is the inclusion of both male and female students. This is because the challenges faced may also vary according to student’s gender. However, the main limitation with this study is the use of a small sample. This sample would not allow for generalization to cover all Saudi students studying abroad. Therefore, it is recommended that future researchers should use larger samples to allow for generalization.


From the study, the researcher concluded that there are various challenges facing Saudi students studying abroad. Some of these challenges include: poor language skills, poor academic skills, cultural barriers, and home sickness among others. Since poor English language was indicated as the main challenge faced by many students, the researcher concludes that one of the coping strategies is the enrollment of Saudi students in a separate English course to enhance their language skills. The research has various implications on the existing and future researches on the same topic. It has added value to the existing literature on challenges faced by international students studying abroad. The research has also created the need for future research on the same topic in order to come up with effective coping strategies for Saudi students studying abroad.


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