Omani exchange student prepares to conclude journey in Austin



Omani exchange student Khadijah Al-Harthi talks with the Shield about her experience studying abroad.

The Shield: Why were you inspired to study abroad?
Khadijah: I’ve always liked traveling and American pop culture is international, so when we see American high schools on TV, everybody wants to go. I’m definitely a traveler. I’ve been to a lot of different places, and just having the chance to be on a government-funded program and go to an American high school is great. I’m really glad I got McCallum because you don’t really pick where you’re going. They normally don’t pick very big cities like L.A. or New York. They send you to more rural places like Texas.
Shield: What’s been the biggest challenge of living here?
K: It’s probably being away from my family. I speak to them once a week, but it’s just different than having a mom, and my little sister looks different. I worry that I’m missing things that I should be there for. I stay with a host family while I’m here who does it just to exchange cultures and things like that.
Shield: What traditions have you kept up while you’re here?
K: Muslims pray five times a day, and that’s more of a difficult one to keep because I’m not used to having such long school days. Back home, my school would end at about 1:45. It’s kind of hard to work that in around my schedule here, but I’ve been trying to do that. We also just recently had a festival in October, Eid Al-Adha, that I participated in.

Shield: How does an American high school compare to how people think of them in your country?
K: People think that there are very exclusive cliques here, like they would expect to see a pack of blonde girls walking down the hallway the way you see in movies. My friends will ask me things like ‘What group are you in? Do you only get to sit with the same people every day?’ But McCallum is not like that.
Shield: How do you keep in touch with your friends and family?
K: Facebook. Facebook is my friend. I keep in touch with them and Facetime with people back home once a week.

Shield: What’s something most people don’t know about Oman?
K: Where it is! They don’t know that it exists. They don’t know about the language, too. Most people don’t realize it’s an Arabic-speaking country. A lot of people think we speak Persian, which is kind of weird because people speak Persian in the [northern part of] the Middle East, and Oman is right at the bottom around all the other Arabic-speaking countries. It’s most just people who ask me where it is, and I will tell them it’s near Dubai.
Shield: Which language did you learn first?
K: English was my first language. My mom is from the U.K. Then I learned Arabic through school and all my friends. I’m fluent in Arabic and English, and I also speak Swahili but not as well. I picked up my American accent from listening.
Shield: What’s something about McCallum that surprised you?
K: The Dr. Who Club. I will just walk in there and listen because they talk about the weirdest things.
Shield: What do you think about the people at McCallum?
K: I was a little bit worried, especially because my dad is a little protective of me. Because I do wear a headscarf, or hijab, which is not as normal here, my dad was telling me not to listen to what people say. I haven’t come across any of that, though, and that’s something I like. People at McCallum are very respectful. The stereotype that people have, especially back home, is that Americans can be racist, but I haven’t come across that.

Shield: What do you miss most about Oman?
K: The beach!

Shield: Now that you are preparing to go home this summer, how are you feeling about the experience overall?
K: I think it’s been a really good experience. I’m kind of sad to leave McCallum because I have friends here now and I am involved with different things. But I’m really excited because I have lots of fun things plan to do before I leave and when I get  home to Oman, too.