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Wilson College delegation heads to Saudia Arabia

February 06, 2004|by DON AINES

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - There is a world of difference between Chambersburg and Jidda, Saudi Arabia, but a Wilson College student embarking on a five-month stay at a Saudi women's college expects to adapt well to the culture.

Women cannot drive in Saudi Arabia, but Ihsan Abdur-Rahman said Thursday before her departure that will not be a problem.

"I don't drive anyway," said Abdur-Rahman, a biology major from Baltimore.

The language barrier may prove more daunting, she said. Although she attended a Muslim school in Baltimore through 10th grade, she said her Arabic is a bit rusty.

"It used to be good, but I can't speak it fluently now," she said.

Last fall, Wilson College entered into a partnership with Effat College in Jidda, the first women's college in the kingdom. Effat has established similar partnerships with Mount Holyoke and Smith College, but Wilson College President Lorna Duphiney Edmundson said Abdur-Rahman is the first American student from any of those schools to attend Effat, which opened in 1999.

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The college is named for Queen Effat Al-Thinayaan, who opened the first Saudi girls' high school in 1955. The queen's daughter, Princess Lolowah Al-Faisal, and the college president were among those who visited Wilson when the partnership was finalized in November.

Jidda will offer a stark contrast to Chambersburg in many ways, especially by numbers. Jidda has a population of more than 2 million people.

Edmundson is accompanying Abdur-Rahman and is leading a delegation from Wilson that will include Dean Of Faculty Enid Burrows and Dean of Enrollment Kathie Berard. Edmundson said they will spend about five days at the college, during which she and the others will have to make a few adjustments of their own.

"Our heads will be covered," Edmundson said.

The delegation will be met at the airport and supplied with abayas, the traditional head covering worn by women. Edmundson said she did not know if that would be required while on the Effat campus.

"I wanted to experience something different, and I always wanted to go to an Islamic country to study my religion," said Abdur-Rahman, who has never been to the Middle East. She said she preferred to study in Saudi Arabia rather than Egypt, Morocco or one of the other more westernized countries of the Middle East.

"I have certain expectations of Muslims," she said.

"I want to go because I want to see more students from the Middle East countries coming to Wilson," said Abdur-Rahman, who will be taking courses in Islamic studies, biology and Arabic.

She said Wilson has qualities that are attractive to parents in Islamic countries, including rigorous academics and the fact that all the residential students are female.

Edmundson said the college is ready, with summer courses planned in math, computer studies and American culture for students from Effat.

Berard said she will take a lot of Wilson College literature to try and recruit Effat students to attend during the summer, or as exchange students.

For much of its history, Wilson has hosted students from around the world, Edmundson said. About 10 percent of the students enrolled in the College for Women are from outside the United States, she said.

Edmundson said the college also has relationships with colleges and exchange programs in South Korea, Japan, Northern Ireland and the former republics of the Soviet Union. Students from 14 countries are attending Wilson this year.

"We're small, we're personal, we're safe and we're respectful of other cultures," Edmundson said, listing reasons foreign students find the school attractive.

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