Portland State’s Omani Students Club celebrated the Sultanate of Oman’s National Day this last Saturday, marking the country’s 52nd holiday. The day honors both the country’s independence from Portugal and the birthday of Qaboos bin Said al Said, Oman’s sultan from 1970 to 2020.
As of 2022, PSU’s student body represents 63 different countries. The Omani Club constitutes one of over 40 international and multicultural student groups at PSU that provide spaces for the diverse host of cultures and international students at the university.
The Saturday celebration featured traditional dances, music and educational booths. This is one of many events that the club holds every year in celebration of Omani culture.
“We are trying our best to show the local people who we are, and we are here to share our culture with you,” said Hamam Al Dheeb Ba Omar, the president of the Omani Club.
Ba Omar expressed that the intent behind these events is to bring people together in solidarity around Omani culture. “Let’s gather with Omani people, international students, and also non-Omani students can attend these gatherings, and know more about Oman and Omani people,” he said.
The club’s goals reach beyond spreading cultural awareness to locals. Omani Club members contribute significant effort in welcoming Omani immigrants into the Portland Metropolitan area. Ba Omar explained that the Omani Club at PSU is connected with the Omani embassy in Washington D.C., which they work with to help lessen the stress of the relocation process.
“I have to make sure that they know the city, they are familiar with everything here, with the community, with the American people’s lifestyle,” Ba Omar said in regards to recent Omani immigrants. “Also one of my responsibilities is that I should help them to get through homesickness.”
Homesickness is common for any given international student, but Middle Eastern students here at PSU express another layer of difficulty integrating into the United States. Ba Omar explained that Omani students and other Middle Eastern students often find solidarity in this shared experience.
“Many of our students, at the beginning, noticed that some of PSU students don’t know that much about that area of the world,” he said. “They know maybe the negative parts of it, or what the media wants to show.”
This type of ignorance is not victimless—many Middle Eastern students at PSU have expressed frustration with the stereotyping and general misconceptions perpetuated by people in the U.S. In her article “Arab Student Experiences of Inclusivity and Exclusivity at Portland State University and Off-Campus Locations,” Syrian-American PSU student Leila Piazza conducted interviews with Arab students to better understand their experience in Portland and at PSU. Students mentioned an array of specific discriminatory experiences, from racist jokes and offensive assumptions to receiving voiced hostility when speaking Arabic in public.
“A common attitude among the subject is that Americans are largely ignorant of other cultures, including Arab culture, and cannot be expected to know better,” Piazza wrote. “They often blame the media and the education system for this situation.”
Institutionally, PSU follows federal guidelines which offer no category for Middle Eastern self-identification on official academic forms. With no choice but to identify as white or ‘other,’ Arab students find themselves inaccurately represented.
“The administration’s practice of categorizing Arabs as white interfered with the students’ ability to provide that data,” Piazza wrote. “As a result, it took nine years for the students to secure approval and funding for the MENASA cultural center.”
MENASA stands for the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia Student Center. MENASA serves and connects together many student groups here at PSU, including the Omani Club. Ba Omar pointed out that although the Middle Eastern groups within MENASA often collaborate to host events and participate in community outreach, it would be nice to see a larger extension of international groups all coming together to share multicultural perspectives.
“Overall, I believe that all of us should be doing more than what has been done to promote the real picture of the other groups, because we need to increase that knowledge all over our campus,” Ba Omar said.
The Omani Students Club posts information and updates for the community on their Instagram osc.pdx, and encourages students to reach out by email as well at [email protected]. To get involved with international student events, PSU students can find these organizations’ links and postings on PSU Connect.