Student from Saudi Arabia manages his culture shock

Kristen Thompson

Nayef AL-Otaibi says he’s gotten used to American ways

Nayef AL-Otaibi will always remember the first day he set foot on American soil in 2006. Departing from a long flight from his home in Saudi Arabia, AL-Otaibi was exhausted.

“I didn’t sleep very well,” he said. “This was the first time I would be away from my family for a long time.”

Lacking sleep and speaking only broken English, AL-Otaibi faced his first American geography lesson soon after he set foot off the plane: Cincinnati does not neighbor Kent.

The international student’s plane landed four hours from his final destination. Not knowing his way around made for an adventure, he said.

“I didn’t speak much English, so I kept saying, ‘Yes!’ and, ‘Okay, I will pay,'” AL-Otaibi said. Five hundred dollars later, he arrived by plane in Akron to hail a cab to take him to a hotel.

“I just looked for safety. I only knew a few words so I kept saying, ‘safety place, safety place,'” AL-Otaibi said. “When I got to my room, I slept so well. I sent a text message to my family, ‘I am fine.'”

Almost three years later, AL-Otaibi, 30, has grown in many ways from his experience in America. Coming from a conservative country governed by Islamic law, he has undergone a sense of culture shock in the United States. AL-Otaibi explained he has become more open minded and doesn’t see people for their nationality.

In Saudi Arabia, “If I was really doing something wrong, they would control it,” AL-Otaibi said. “Americans like freedom; this was something I was ready and excited to embrace.”

AL-Otaibi said he’s accustomed to the American way.

“Right now I don’t have culture shocks anymore. I am used to it,” he said.

However, his first visit to the Student Recreation and Wellness Center caught him off guard. In Saudi Arabia, letting too much skin show is considered inappropriate. He was surprised to open the doors of the men’s locker room, only to find men walking freely in the nude.

“I asked some American friends, and I asked my teacher,” AL-Otaibi said laughing. “I explained the locker room, and that I might have found something strange. She laughed, telling me not everyone is cool with this. Even today, I ask other guys if they are OK with this and they go, ‘no, no!'”

AL-Otaibi chose to study in the United States because the education is a richer experience.

“Learning here is more fun. I try not to be absent from class because there is always something new and interesting going on,” he said. “Here, there’s more knowledge and everything is new. In Saudi Arabia, the books are old. The technology is used very well, unlike home. I can do classes online; it’s fun.”

Wesam Alayyad, 26-year-old finance major and international student from Saudi Arabia, also came to America for a higher education.

“When I came here, I learned more about so many things in the field that I am studying,” he said.

Alayyad has studied at Kent State for three years and lived in the United Kingdom for two years prior, and he says he’s experienced no culture shock in the United States.

“I have been to so many places in the world. I’m used to different cultures,” he said. Alayyad looks forward to finishing his degree at Kent State, having had a great experience.

Once AL-Otaibi achieves his degree in accounting, he will return home to find work in Saudi Arabia. “It’s going to be hard, and I will miss it,” he said. “But right now, there is a big change going on in my country. Young people and women are in government who have studied abroad and are replacing older, more conservative officials. I am very excited.”

Contact student life reporter Kristen Thompson at [email protected].