Wisconsin Educator Shares Insights from Saudi Trip

Post a Comment » Written on May 14th, 2007     
Filed under: News
MADISON, WI (May 14, 2007) – High school librarian Kristine Brown already is busy informing students and civic groups about her recent educational trip to Saudi Arabia, a country that lets in few outsiders.

“Very few people ever get to travel to Saudi Arabia – it is only open to Muslims going to Mecca on their pilgrimage and to people who will be employed by the Saudis,” says Brown, who attends Arbor Covenant Church.

Camel“I have already talked with world history classes about globalization and its impact on Saudi Arabia, and soon I will talk with a community art class about the sculptures and artwork of Saudi Arabia,” Brown says. “I plan to prepare presentations for science classes on the Saudi view of science and for economics classes on the oil industry and how it has impacted Saudi Arabia. I also will include Saudi literature in our world literature curricula.”

That is just the beginning, she says. “This summer I will talk to community groups such as Rotary, and I have already gone to two book groups to share some information on books I read in preparation for the trip.”

Brown made the trip as part of the “Educators to Saudi Arabia Program” operated by Aramco, the oil company of Saudi Arabia. The company pays all the participants’ expenses and hopes the program will lead to better communication and understanding with people of other countries.

Brown was one of 25 educators – out of 100 applicants from around the country – chosen to make the trip.  She had to write an essay on why she wanted to make the trip and prepare a plan for sharing what she learned with the school and her community.

VeilThe program achieved some progress towards reaching its goal of promoting understanding, Brown believes. “I found that Saudi Arabia, like all countries around the world, has wonderful, warm people.”

Brown was impressed by the words of one lecturer. “He said that if you invest in a relationship with someone and then that person harms you, you are more likely to forgive him because of your relationship,” she relates. “If you do not know that person, you are more apt to jump to the conclusion that the person meant to harm you,” she continues. “Then the relationship will be difficult to repair. This is the lesson we all need to learn.”

Brown maintained a Saudi Arabia blog during her trip. Her travels included visits to government and cultural centers as well as schools. One trip was to the ash-Shoura Council, the consultative body that advises the king. At times, Brown had to wear a hijab (veil – lower photo), and some trips required that men and women of the group be separated.

Saudi Arabia does have cultural norms that are difficult for Americans to understand and even accept, she explains. “I was surprised by the absence of women in places where we normally see them,” she says. “Women are not employed in restaurants, stores, or hotels.  In fact, only four percent of Saudi women are employed. The average Saudi woman has six children.”

Religious differences within Islam also became more apparent. “I realize how the entire culture of Saudi Arabia is affected by their interpretation of Islam,” Brown says. “Other Muslim countries interpret Islam differently. For example, women are treated differently in other countries.”

Brown admits that she was nervous about traveling to the strife-torn Middle East, but says, “I met some astonishing people. Since I returned, articles in the Wall Street Journal and New York Times feature people that I met.”

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