Muzna Fayadan looks at the phenomenon of ‘FOR Syndrome’ – the Fear of Return that many Gulf students in the West face.
Your friend has just finished his bachelors’ degree, and has decided to go on to do his masters. Another friend has just finished her masters, and is starting a 3-month photography course. Does any of this sound familiar to you? Within the ranks of Khaleeji (Gulf) students studying abroad, there has been a growing pattern of chronic extension of studies. Does this reflect a population of exceptionally knowledge-thirsty Khaleejis, or is there something else at hand?
The answer to this, in my opinion, is what I like to call FOR Syndrome (Fear of Return Syndrome). What this refers to is Khaleejis, and in my experience particularly Saudis, who have become especially acclimatised to the lifestyle of Western countries. What are the reasons for this phenomenon, if it is indeed an accurate account?
There are many things that might warrant hesitation when one is considering moving back to the Gulf after spending considerable time in a foreign country. Girls, for instance, must countenance a wide difference in the performance of everyday tasks between, say, Kuwait and the United States (some of these differences many Khaleeji girls may indeed view with distaste, preferring the ways of their respective home countries). This holds true for a variety of activities such as shopping, social functions and recreational activities, to name a few.
As abovementioned, while some Khaleeji citizens may largely prefer life back home, others may view the thought of readjusting with apprehensiveness; in other words, they might experience FOR Syndrome.
I interviewed one such individual in the pursuit of further information on this phenomenon. Mariam*, from Saudi Arabia, has spent four and a half years in the UK; after completing her BA, she chose to extend her stay and take up a design course. While she indeed has an interest in design, I asked whether there was any other reason behind her choice to remain in the UK for further studies. “I just didn’t feel ready yet to go back to Saudi,” she told me. When I asked about the specifics of this sentiment, Mariam responded: “Well one thing, I’m sure you’ll guess, is the frustration I feel about the driving thing. It’s so easy having a car here and being able to get up and do whatever I want when I want to, even just getting groceries, and not having to wait around and waste hours and hours of the day just on transport. Here, I can drive my car, take a taxi or take the tube.” I asked whether there was any potential change that might facilitate her move back to KSA. “If I felt that I could just do things I want to do, even simple things, and have the same range of opportunities and possibilities that I have here, both work and leisure-related, that would definitely help.” When asked about what “recreational” activities she was referring to, she mentioned going to the park, the cinema and just walking around the streets of London. Sounds like a clear case of FOR Syndrome.
While this is the opinion of just one Khaleeji student, in my experience there are many more just like her. What are the implications of this phenomenon? Is it detrimental and unadvisable for Khaleeji students to venture outside for study in the first place? Surely not, as the opportunities and experiences that foreign countries have to offer should not be shunned just because Khaleejis risk getting too used to different lifestyles. Furthermore, one need not forget the knowledge and experiences gained in the West as soon as he/she steps foot on Khaleeji soil; indeed, one should use this information to contribute to life back home. Our current generation, with the incredible opportunities available to it, should bring the ‘best of the West’ back with us and potentially merge it with our own cultures and traditions, albeit most probably confronting resistance at first. Moreover, there are gradual societal changes taking place in Khaleeji countries which may alleviate the affliction of FOR Syndrome in many students.
The countries of the Gulf have so much to offer, but some people simply become involuntarily habituated to the customs of other cultures, which are not accessible in the Khaleej, after prolonged exposure to them. While the majority ends up going back sooner or later and adjusting to their original lifestyles, there is still a considerable number of students that have yet to forego the things they have become so accustomed to in non-Khaleeji countries. One thing is for sure: the chronic extension of studies associated with FOR Syndrome means that we are going to have an extremely knowledgeable and tremendously intellectual generation on our hands.
*The interviewee prefers to remain unnamed.
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