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YSU foreign student: I feel safe here



Published: Mon, February 4, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



One of the two Kuwaiti students who left YSU after Sept. 11 has returned.

By RON COLE

VINDICATOR EDUCATION WRITER

YOUNGSTOWN -- Despite the terrorist attacks Sept. 11 and rampant reports of backlash against Arabs, Faisal Al-mukhaiter says he never felt unsafe in Youngstown.

His mother felt differently.

And mom won.

Al-mukhaiter and Mohammed Salem, both of Kuwait, were the only two of YSU's approximately 125 foreign students who returned home after the attacks on New York and Washington, D.C., two weeks into the fall semester.

"My mother kept calling me every day: 'Please come home,'" Al-mukhaiter said. "She had my dad call. She had everybody call me. So, I went back."

After three months in Kuwait, Al-mukhaiter came back to Youngstown in time for the start of YSU's spring semester last month. He again is enrolled in classes with hopes of receiving his bachelor's degree in electrical engineering sometime next year.

Salem, on the other hand, remains in Kuwait but plans to return to Youngstown this summer or fall, Al-mukhaiter said.

Salem and Al-mukhaiter were among hundreds of foreign college students in the United States, many of them from Middle Eastern nations, who fled to their homelands shortly after Sept. 11.

Here was concern: "The stuff that was heard around the country about people treating Arabs badly got all of the way back to Kuwait and everywhere else, of course," said Susan Khawaja, the university's assistant director of international student and scholar programs.

"And every parent said to every child, 'Are you OK? Do you want to come home?'"

The Kuwaiti government offered free trips home for students studying in the United States, and about 300 left.

Of the students who left, most returned to the United States in January for the start of winter and spring classes.

Al-mukhaiter, who has six brothers and three sisters, said he felt safe after the terrorist attacks and still feels safe, but he left for one reason: His mother.

"My mother was asking me, 'Please come back,'" he said.

"I told her I feel safe. I told her there's nothing here. It's safe. We're having no problem. But she said, 'I feel more comfortable if you come here. At least I see you, I know what's going on. But over there, I don't know what's going on.' And she kept calling me every day, so I just went back to make her comfortable as she wanted."

What transpired: Al-mukhaiter, whose father manages a school in Kuwait, said he left YSU in late September and enrolled in classes at Kuwait University, which made special arrangements for students returning from the United States.

When it came time to return to Youngstown this month for spring semester, Al-mukhaiter said his mother again tried to persuade him not to go.

But he said the three months in Kuwait already likely has delayed his graduation by more than a year, so he came back to Ohio.

"I don't want to waste my time over there," he said. "When I'm over there in Kuwait, I don't study too much."

Some college officials had feared that students returning after Sept. 11 may have visa problems when trying to return, but Al-mukhaiter said his visa to study in the United States is valid for four more years and he had no problem returning.

YSU enrolls about 15 students from Kuwait, said Nasser Al-Shareef, 22, a senior studying civil and environmental engineering at YSU.

Al-Shareef said his parents also encouraged him to return to Kuwait temporarily, but he stayed in Youngstown and said he has not been the target of any backlash.

"I feel like I didn't need to leave," he said. "It's like a small city, Youngstown is, so I didn't feel like anyone was going to harm anyone. So, I'm safe here."

Although hundreds of foreign college students left after Sept. 11, the vast majority chose to stay. U.S. campuses enrolled nearly 550,000 foreign students last year.

At other schools: At Kent State University, only one of its nearly 800 foreign students left after Sept. 11, said Dr. Charles Nieman, associate director of international programs. The student, from Saudi Arabia, has not returned, he said.

Ohio State University enrolls more than 4,000 foreign students and only 25 left after the attacks, said John Greisberger, director of OSU's office of international education.

Twelve of the 25 were from the United Arab Emirates, and all of them have returned for winter quarter classes that began three weeks ago, Greisberger said. He said he is not sure of the status of the 13 others who left.

cole@vindy.com




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