MSU sees rise of Libyan international students
After about 30 years of chilly relations between the U.S. and Libyan governments, a thaw has taken over — a thaw even visible in Spartan country.
Although virtually no Libyan students were enrolled at MSU three years ago, almost 60 Libyan international students are enrolled this fall, said Anne Schneller, coordinator of sponsored student recruitment for the Office of International Students and Scholars, or OISS.
Sponsored by scholarships from the Libyan government, Libyan students have been able to come to the U.S. for the first time since the 1960s and ‘70s, most of them interested in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, Schneller said.
“MSU is one of the very few universities in the U.S. that has a full-time recruiter for sponsored students,” Schneller said, referring to herself. “After a period of limited diplomatic relations between our two countries, there is now a warming of diplomatic and cultural relationships, and this scholarship program is a sign of that.”
Doctoral student Ibrahim Greiby was one of the first students to arrive at MSU from Libya in 2007 after an almost 30-year void of Libyan students. Coming to the U.S. for the first time with his wife and son, Greiby, who serves as president of the newly founded Libyan Students Association, said MSU and the East Lansing community have been welcoming. Now with three children, Greiby said he’s thankful for the experience they will have learning English.
“They will learn two languages,” he said. “We speak both languages at home. It’s a really good education here for them. In Libya, we don’t concentrate on English as a second language. We focus on Arabic language only, so it has been a challenge.”
Schneller echoed Greiby’s concerns.
“During the past 30 years or so, English was not taught in Libyan schools, nor was it used anywhere in the country,” she said. “Many of the students we admit still need to improve their English in order to succeed in a master’s or doctoral program. They often spend some time at the MSU English Language Center to increase their proficiency in English.”
For Hossam Ashtawy, adjusting to American life wasn’t a huge culture shock. Hollywood movies gave him a perception of the American way of life before he arrived.
But Ashtawy, a graduate student, said he was amazed to see American students wearing slippers and sweatpants to class.
“In Libya you can’t argue with the teacher like in America,” he said. “If you have a question, you have to ask very diplomatically and respectfully. In the U.S., it’s OK to wear sports clothes to class. In our classes in Libya that’s not allowed.”
Most students, like Ashtawy, plan to return to Libya once their four- or five-year contracts from the government expire.
Ashtawy said he would recommend U.S. universities for study upon his return home.
“I would encourage them to come here to experience the culture, the diversity and good quality of education,” he said.
Throughout the past few years, more MSU Libyan students have reached out to other disciplines such as education and social science programs, something Schnelle hopes will continue as time goes on.
“As more Libyan students conduct their graduate research with MSU professors, a long-term collaboration may be established which will last after the student returns home,” she said. “I hope that the presence of Libyan students and their families in our community will help all of us learn more about Libya, and result in a more open relationship between our two countries.”