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George Vlahakis
University Communications

Last modified: Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Saudi students at IU hope open house Thursday fosters greater understanding

April 21, 2009

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Members of the Saudi Student Club at Indiana University have extended an invitation to people living in Bloomington. They hope their open house this Thursday (April 23) will foster better understanding of their native home, Saudi Arabia.

Loay Alfi, an IU graduate student and the organization's president, said the open house will promote cultural understanding and awareness of Saudi Arabia, its people, its culture and its tradition and will allow for cultural exchange with Americans and fellow IU students from around the world.

"The event also will provide the guests with an opportunity to taste the famous Arabian coffee, and authentic Arabian cuisine and desserts from various regions within Saudi Arabia, as well as enjoy seeing different cultural displays and booths, representing various aspects of the kingdom," Alfi said.

The open house will take place from 5 to 9 p.m. at the Hilton Garden Inn, 245 N. College Ave., in downtown Bloomington. The event is free, but registration is required for a dinner that will begin at 7:30 p.m. Registration is available online at

Dr. Mohammad A. Aleissa, Saudi Arabian cultural attaché to the United States, will speak at the event, along with Patrick O'Meara, IU vice president for international affairs.

Mody Al-Khalaf, director of cultural and social affairs at the Cultural Mission of the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia in Washington, D.C., will lead a panel discussion, "Saudi Arabian Culture and Traditions Between Fact and Fiction." Other presentations will focus on art and music from Saudi Arabia.

The dinner menu will include fatouche salad, tabouleh, hummus, gaba ghanoush, grape leaves stuffed with ground beef and rice and biriany chicken.

Alfi and Anas Alahmed, another graduate student from Saudi Arabia, say it is important to them that people in Bloomington and elsewhere can overcome stereotypes about Saudi Arabia and its people.

""We are introducing ourselves as students and our culture to the public," said Alahmed, who is completing a master's degree in journalism. "When I introduce myself in class and that I am from Saudi Arabia, a lot of questions come to me. Bloomington for me is a very diverse city. I like it because I am not a foreigner here."

"Stereotypes take us nowhere," added Alfi, a graduate student in information science. "During the past several years, we have found our image being tarnished by a minority of our population, who have twisted the merciful words of God in order to fulfill and pursue their own intolerant agenda and who have absolutely doubted the science of interpretation; they disrespected the richness of our learning traditions."

Thursday's event is the first of what the Saudi students think could become an annual event. But in the future, they hope its purpose can move away from overcoming stereotypes and be even more of a celebration.

"We are eager to appreciate the multitude of cultures that exist in our world today, while eliminating the stereotypes and false biases that pollute society," Alfi said. "As we both are part of this small village, we are required to understand and respect each other's traditions and cultures. It is only through mutual cooperation and friendship that we can learn to co-exist peacefully."

Sponsors of the Saudi Student Group's open house are the Hilton Garden Inn, Saudi Arabian Cultural Mission, Office of Vice President for International Affairs, School of Health, Physical Education, and Recreation, Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures, Department of Second Language Studies, Leo R. Dowling International Center, Mathers Museum of World Cultures, the Maurer School of Law, Indiana University Memorial Union Board and the IU Student Association.