Eight years ago, before she was an alumna of Pitt Education, Safiyyah Scott was living in Saudi Arabia to teach English. A random act of kindness that happened there changed her life and inspired her to become a Fulbright Scholar.
Due to a mix-up with a housing stipend for her family, Scott suddenly found herself without a place to stay. Luckily, Scott connected with a woman named Nada, the sister of an English Language Institute student whom Scott had befriended at Pitt. When Nada learned about her housing situation, she insisted that Scott stay with her in her own home.
“A few days later she gave me a tour of the rest of the house, and I discovered that her kids’ rooms had no mattresses. It was then I realized that they were sleeping on the floor so we could have mattresses to sleep on. I was so humbled. You would never believe that they made these sacrifices because they were so gracious the whole time. But, clearly, they went to great lengths to help a stranger,” Scott shares.
Stunned by this woman’s hospitality, Scott felt inspired to learn more about Saudi Arabian culture and to pay it forward. She returned to Pitt to enroll in the Master of Education in Social and Comparative Analysis in Education program and graduated in 2015. Throughout the program, she used Saudi women as research subjects and even co-authored her first publication about Saudi students in the United States.
Post-graduation, she continued to expand her knowledge in international education by working as a Senior International Student Support and Immigration Specialist at Robert Morris University.
Now Scott’s work on international education in Saudi Arabia will continue. She is a 2019 Fulbright Scholar Award recipient and moved to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia this past September to begin her work.
For her Fulbright research, Scott says that she plans to “delve deeper into what Saudi female students know about study abroad in the United States and how prepared they are to go.” She will review the pre-departure orientation program held at her Saudi host institution, Effat University, and will help “fill in the blanks” in order to prepare students to transition to life in the U.S.
Her research is the first of its kind. By developing a better understanding of the motivations and challenges of female Saudi students who are considering study abroad, higher education professionals in the U.S. can better serve that population.
According to the Institute of International Education, the U.S. hosts over 44,000 international students from Saudi Arabia, making it the fourth-most common country of origin for international students in the U.S. Scott’s research findings can also be applied to other Gulf countries that share a similar culture.
Scott joins 800 other U.S. citizens who were selected as Fulbright Scholar Award recipients this past year. In what is a highly competitive process, recipients are selected on the basis of academic and professional achievement, as well as service and leadership.
Scott credits the Pitt Education faculty, especially her advisor Maureen Porter, for “seeing in me something I didn’t recognize in myself.” She and Porter remain in touch. Porter even wrote a recommendation letter as part of Scott’s Fulbright application.
Scott’s previously published work includes research about the effects of the King Abdulla Scholarship Program in Saudi Arabia, as well as Saudi Arabian students’ experiences with their American university’s library services.
During her time with Pitt Education, Scott learned a lot about acculturation — which describes how individuals assimilate to new cultures — and now she’s applying those lessons as she starts a new life abroad. She explains that “it is important to make friendships and connections with people from the host country and also your home country in order to minimize acculturative stress.” To help make the transition, she is connecting with both Western expats and native Saudi Arabians. She also plans to take a class to brush up on Arabic.
In the time since her trip to Saudi Arabia when she experienced the kindness of a stranger, things have come full circle for Scott.
“Recently, I met Nada, the woman who had let me stay in her house and sleep on her mattress eight years ago,” said Scott. “I told her, with tears in my eyes, that she was the inspiration that led me to my graduate research and this Fulbright. She jokingly replied, ‘All of this because you thought my kids didn’t have beds?’”
The Pitt Education Master of Education in Social and Comparative Analysis is now accepting applications.