Reconciling Cultures

July 19th, 2010
How ironic that I would read "THE View from Riyadh" by Nathan Deuel '03 while sitting on the Green just after arriving from Saudi Arabia for my five-year reunion (May/June).

If the two ladies Deuel interviewed were to study at Brown, they would be joining a succession of Saudi women and men who have had the honor and privilege of calling themselves Brown graduates, including six Saudi women who were undergraduates at Brown during Deuel's time there.

Ironies aside, the assertion that Saudi Arabia and the United States offer "two ultimately incompatible ways of life" is representative of the view of many of the students I met while a Brown undergraduate. As a Saudi woman who never once felt out of place at Brown, I was used to the unabashed curiosity of friends and strangers, all wanting to know what it was like to be a Saudi woman, both at Brown and in Saudi Arabia.

It was not as evident, however, that my country of origin would be just as readily accepted as I was. Instead, the journey of accepting me as a Saudi woman would generally go through a number of stages: first, there would be pity for my voiceless existence. Then, upon hearing me speak, they would label me an exception, someone who did not represent the "typical" Saudi woman. Finally, I would be glorified as a heroic woman returning home to liberate her country from the backwardness of tradition. Along the way, however, my voice would be drowned out because of the impossibility of fathoming the idea that someone would choose to live in Saudi Arabia after being exposed to the West.

Why did I go back after having experienced the joys of life abroad? For one thing, I have reconciled my commitment to my country with my aversion to some of its laws and customs, the same way that citizens around the world may express their disapproval of their nations' policies but would never consider living elsewhere. When I go home, I return to a busy and fulfilling life and to a "real" job, even if I do dress more conservatively and do not have the option of driving myself to work (yet!). And after a long day of work, the "catered parties" are a fun, albeit frivolous, treat.

Ultimately, however, I returned to Saudi Arabia for the same reasons I come back to Brown every chance I get: the people are warm and welcoming, a comfortable, familiar piece of myself remains there, and I see a deep-rooted hope for the future, with us as active members and participants in shaping it.

Noura Alturki '05
Jeddah, Saudi Arabia



Please spare us any more pieces of the caliber of Nathan Deuel's musings. The piece was not only tedious and quite repetitious; it was utterly lacking in any attempt at thoughtful engagement with its subject. Instead it treated us to Deuel's uninspired speculations about what the young women he interviewed might experience. The essay was absent any appreciation of the culture that these young women clearly valued and which might well offer compensations lacking in our own not very healthy culture.

This is not to say that I or Deuel would want to live in Saudi Arabia. But people from other cultures offer truly different perspectives. That is something I learned at Brown. Too bad Deuel didn't.

Judith McGaw '68
Portland, Ore.

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Related Issue
July/August 2010