Omani students bring their slice of life to OU

When one is sent to live and study in a foreign country for a long period of time, it can be a daunting prospect.

That is partly why the Omani Students Association was formed at Oakland University. In addition to reserving a special community for students coming from Oman, the association aims to promote the culture of its home country to the OU community.

Faisal al-Shukaili and Mohammed al-Araimi are president and vice president of the group, as well as its founding members. They and 11 other Omanis are currently studying at OU.

Oman is a small, oil-rich country that sits at the tip of the Arabian Peninsula, next to Saudi Arabia, Yemen and the United Arab Emirates. It has a population of just over three million, and it doesn’t make the news here as often as its neighbors.

Still, al-Shukaili and al-Araimi hope to widen their country’s reputation abroad.

One of the differences they immediately noticed from Oman was the weather. Al-Shukaili said that he chose to come to Oakland partially because it sat in a climate that produced snow, which is unheard of in his country.

This intrigued him until he felt it for himself.

“The weather there is so hot,” he said. “Here, it’s totally different, so cold.”

Al-Araimi said that this is what also drew him to Michigan.

“The reason I was interested in here [was because] I saw the snow,” he said. “But, to be honest, after one week, I want to go back because the snow is so cold,” he added with a laugh.

Al-Shukaili and al-Araimi came to Michigan the previous winter, meeting for the first time at the airport. They arrived without knowing anyone in the area.

“We are here alone, without anyone from our family,” al-Araimi said.

Pretty soon though, they and the other Omanis bonded and helped each other in navigating American culture.

“They are my family now,” al-Araimi said.

Like all the other Omanis at OU, al-Shukaili and al-Araimi are here on government scholarships. These are provided to those who get high marks in the Omani equivalent of high school. Students that do well are given the opportunity to do collegiate study in the country of their choice, fully funded by the Omani government.

Although they didn’t realize it beforehand, they said that they are living the dream of many Omani students.

One of their challenges to adapting to American life was learning English.

“To be honest, I studied it back home,” al-Araimi said. “In our high school, we have subjects called ‘English,’ but that subject, like, we don’t have focus.”

He and al-Shukaili said that there are private schools in Oman where learning English is more of a priority, but they both attended free, government-funded schools.

In Oman, “To speak with someone and make conversation, I don’t know how,” al-Araimi said. “I don’t have the chance to do it.”

Now, through trial-and-error, they said that they have come to the point where they can hold conversations in English.

“Maybe sometimes people laugh at me,” al-Araimi said. “But, like, by them laughing, I start learning.”

Another thing for them to get used to is the dining experience.

For one, Omanis traditionally eat with their hands. Secondly, al-Araimi noted that meals are mostly shared at home with family, rather than dining out.

Then there is the food itself. Al-Shukaili and al-Araimi spoke of Arab dishes that were hard to come by in the States, such as kabsa and harees. Al-Shukaili said that it made him homesick just to think of them.

“I think most people would prefer the food that they would eat in their country and with their culture in their country, because they used to eat it from their childhood,” he said.

Al-Shukaili is studying human resources management, while al-Araimi is majoring in mechanical engineering. Both of them say that jobs are easier to come by in Oman than in America, especially if one has a degree. Al-Shukaili estimated the average salary of one with a degree in Oman to translate to between $10,000 and $20,000 a month.

“In the end, we want to thank our president back home,” al-Araimi said, speaking of Oman’s Sultan Qaboos. It is because of him, they said, that they are here today.

“It’s a good thing to have the opportunity to live in another country for five years,” al-Shukaili said.

The Omani Students Association can be found on Grizzorgs. Anyone is free to join.