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ESL and undergraduate students outside the Gehl-Mulva Science Center: from left to right, Jehad Mohammed AlDamigh ’18, Ahmed Alghaith ’18, Abdullah Abdullatif AlSayed ’18 and Talal Alhogail

Arabist Aids Recruitment in Saudi

Working in tandem this spring to recruit students from Saudi Arabia will be Kit Klepinger ’99 (Center for International Education) and Robert Kramer (History). It may be the first time a faculty member has travelled abroad with the college’s international recruiter.

Kramer, a specialist in Middle Eastern history and cultures, speaks Arabic fluently, which helps foster a personal touch in conversations with prospective students and their families. But there are many questions that he cannot answer.

“[Kit] obviously has the expertise that I don’t, in recruiting students,” says Kramer. “Oftentimes students will have a lot of very specific questions about St. Norbert, some of which I can’t answer, such as the average ACT or SAT score of the incoming freshman class or the average amount of financial aid a student can receive.”

As the new international recruiter for St. Norbert, Klepinger knows the upcoming visit (focused on the International Education Conference on Higher Education in Riyadh) provides a new way of reaching out to a wider group of prospective Saudi students.

“I look forward to meeting with those interested in studying in the U.S. to share how our ESL Institute and undergraduate programs can help students reach their academic and career goals,” she says.

The St. Norbert advantage …
Although St. Norbert is a Catholic foundation, there are many reasons why Muslim students from Saudi are drawn to enroll at the college year after year. The tag team of Kramer and Klepinger will be well-placed to give prospective Saudi students a comprehensive sense of what St. Norbert has to offer.

“Saudi Arabia is a socially conservative place and people take their religious faith very seriously,” Kramer says. “And one thing that is not well known is that a lot of Saudi families like their children studying in the U.S. to be at religious schools.”

Given their strongly Muslim culture, Kramer says, Saudi families look for a situation where their values-driven lifestyle will be appreciated, and for an institution that will provide them with an opportunity to practice that lifestyle.

He explains that Saudi parents are not afraid of their children being “changed” so-to-speak by an exposure to other faiths. Instead, they fear their children may be negatively influenced by the consumer culture of the United States.

The fact that St. Norbert is a college based on values – Norbertine values – and is dedicated to an intrinsic mission helps allay this fear.

Kramer also emphasizes St. Norbert’s unique ability to embrace people of different faiths with radical hospitality, respect and understanding:

“For example, our Muslim students in this small environment have a choice of foods that are appropriate to their dietary code, like Halal food. They have a designated prayer space in the Mulva Library and for years, the college staff has been running a Catholic-Muslim dialogue group focused on relations between the two faiths. So I think that we’ve created a very hospitable, small and intimate environment where Saudi students are likely not to feel lost or lonely.”

In Kramer’s eyes, St. Norbert has also succeeded in creating an atmosphere where international students from Saudi and from the many other countries hosted at the college are not likely to feel isolated from their peers.

While larger universities can provide the same opportunities academically, they may not always be able to provide the best social environment for students studying away from their home. An environment where one can get lost in the crowd may prove overwhelming.

“I really believe [our campus] is a gentler environment, more hospitable than what [international students] could experience in bigger cities,” Kramer says.

Along with St. Norbert’s ability to provide a reassuring social and academic environment, one of its most appealing features internationally is its picturesque Midwestern setting. The allure of snow can be a powerful recruiting draw, too, to those who have never experienced the beauty of a white winter. From images of the glimmering Fox River in the summer to photos of changing colors of leaves in the fall to snow-covered trees in winter, visuals of the campus are crucial to international recruitment.

Kramer says the duo’s booth at the Riyadh conference will feature a large photographic banner, most likely displaying an aerial view of the campus or a riverside shot. They will also travel with a video in which current students from Saudi talk about their life on the St. Norbert campus. “Overall, lots of images will be presented to them so they can see what this place looks like.”

… translates into a global advantage
Because the world has become so globally connected, presenting St. Norbert students and staff with opportunities to interact with others from different faiths, cultures or lifestyles is extremely beneficial.

“The more foreign, the better!” Kramer says. “It’s just a wonderful, educational experience to learn and understand the customs, views and values of people in other parts of the world. So I think it’s a hugely important benefit to our students and college, and the Saudi students, too.

“Given there are such polarized feelings between Muslims and non-Muslims in the world today, it’s especially important to recruit Muslim students so there is greater interaction and greater understanding between cultures on our campus.”

March 3, 2015