Dilemma of Saudi students abroad

Dilemma of Saudi students abroad

As an international student from Saudi Arabia living in the United States, a question I’m frequently asked and find it difficult to answer is, “where do you work?” Or, a more direct way of phrasing that sentence would be, “Where do you get the money you need to live on?”
The question is difficult to answer. The reason is I don’t work anywhere. I don’t have a job and I don’t need one. As a Saudi citizen, I have been granted scholarship by my government. It covers all academic expenses and a monthly stipend that pays for all my other expenses. It takes care of rent, food, other necessities and a modest amount for leisure activities and food. Food is mentioned twice because it’s twice as important as anything else on that list.
Most of my peers from elsewhere, on the other hand, have to take a different, less luxurious course. They obtain student loans, not because scholarships are impossible to come by, but because these students rarely cover the whole four to five years of education as an undergrad. Unless you’re a student athlete, in which case you’ll get a full-ride that pays for all things academic, a free, no-strings-attached degree is almost unheard of and a monthly stipend for just going to school is non-existent. Once a graduate secures a job, the first order of business, then, would naturally be to start paying off student loans she or he had taken. In the meantime, throughout their education, most students take up low-paying jobs to sustain the very modest lives they live. It really is a struggle — a nightmare, even.
Based on the information above, as an international student from Saudi Arabia, the last thing you would want your classmates to know is how sweet your scholarship package is, if you want to avoid envy. Because when they find out how easy you have it, they will likely be jealous, at best, and perhaps hate you, at worst. Why? Most of them work three jobs, volunteer weekly, and do it all while going to school everyday. On top of all that, they owe thousands of dollars in student loans while you enjoy a free ride and get paid to go to class. American society doesn’t look kindly on non-working folks, the work ethic being a strong influence in life here. Just going to school, by society’s standards, isn’t enough. It is a culture that thrives on hard work and does not respond well to what is perceived as a “freeloader.”
That’s why when someone asks me now where I work, I tell them I work for the college radio station — which technically is ‘work’ but it’s a volunteer gig that I don’t get paid for. You learn that whenever you say, “I don’t work” or “I don’t have a job,” people will find it hard to respect you.
If you keep quiet about your scholarship deal, some wrong math will be done and the kids from class will have you pegged as some sort of a millionaire. They’ll think you are rich. They will think you live the jet-set lifestyle, complete with a jet-black American Express card, a brand-new and also jet-black Mercedes-Benz, and a near-by runway where a, yes, jet-black private jet — with your name literally written on it — fills up for weekend flights to wild gambling sprees in Monaco or, less glamorously, Vegas or Reno. We all love the smell of jet fuel in the morning, but hardly any of us, Saudis are the billionaires we’re made out to be.
Compared to your peers at school, you may as well be an alien, thanks to your easygoing and comfortable lifestyle. The best you could do is to try and not rub it in so much. When asked about how much I owe in student loans as my peers compare how worse off they are with one another, I try to avoid the question altogether. “Not really sure” is a good answer. I do so because answering such a question directly would be as cruel as describing how delicious the steak you just ate was to a starving homeless person who can smell it on your breath. It would be a discourteous and inhuman gesture.
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