For the past two weeks I have been in Ireland as "English Speaking Adult Support" for a group of young Saudi students of mixed gender, aged between 12 and 22, who were attending English Language Summer School in Dublin. For some of them this was their first time traveling outside of Saudi Arabia. One young man proudly showed off his very first passport to me!
|It's a hard job being group leader!|
|Foreign students enjoying the view at Powercourts gardens.|
|Group trip to Kilmainham Goal. This is the execution yard!|
The school also ran a number of mixed sporting activities on the campus over the course of the program and while the Saudi boys were keen, and happy, to participate, the Saudi girls simply did not want a bar of it. That was sad because the other students, male and female, were using this time to mix, relax, engage and simply have some fun - and our girls wouldn't even try. What didn't help the situation was the fact the ladies in charge of this group couldn't be bothered with the sport either. I mentioned how good it would be if the girls were encouraged to just try the sport - that good old Kiwi 'have a go' attitude.
I clapped my hands when, one night, two of the girls turned up to spectate on a game of rounders. (The fact they had no choice because their brother was playing and they weren't to go home without him is beside the point). And I was over the moon when, the following day, one of the girls said she would like to do the swimming - and turned up with her burkini and towel at the pool even though some of our group had spent the morning warning her against the activity. The fact that I said I would be swimming too made everybody much happier about the whole idea, and we had a lovely hour paddling about.
|Dalkey Castle was the best museum visit of the trip. Very interactive with actors playing various roles.|
Come the second week four of the boys took to the Karaoke with no problems at all, one of them even doing two solo performances. He, it is safe to say, is thriving in this environment. The girls, who I'm guessing have had the concepts of honor and decorum hammered into them from a very young age, simply watched, laughed, criticized and told me how embarrassed they were about the boys performance. They were the only group, out of all the nationalities present, where the girls did not take to the stage for the group performance.
Though there were a few issues with the students (nothing major - things like sleeping in, missing the occasional bus, not wanting to go to class, not wanting to visit another museum, wanting to go to the movies almost every day, a rather late night for two of the blokes and not enjoying the rules of their home stay parents), there were a number of good things the group brought with them. They had a great deal of respect for the two female tour leaders and the one English Speaking Adult Support. They discussed everything they saw and heard with each other and the women leading the tour - no question or comment was too small or inconsequential, no act went unreported, and discussions were loud and lively. When out as a group they looked out for each other and you could see the fabric of Saudi society in the way the older boys would watch out for the girls and younger students, and the girls would boss the older boys - well, they'd boss them to a point before the boys put them in their place.
And they ate, everywhere. It was almost impossible to pass a cafe, ice-cream shop or restaurant without one, or all of them, disappearing inside to buy food! Yes, I had an interesting two weeks with a group of Saudi students in Ireland, and I'm fairly certain that, as they become more comfortable here and as the boys especially begin to push the boundaries, things are going to get even more interesting!