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Language, identity and parenting in acculturation: A case study of Saudi Arabian mothers sojourning in New Zealand

The international education sector is rapidly growing in New Zealand, with increasing numbers of students arriving from Saudi Arabia under the scholarship scheme, with the firm intention of returning home at the end of their study. These sojourning students are typically accompanied by their spouses and children, causing a noticeable influx of Saudi families in educational institutions as well as society at large. Sojourning students have been the focus of research in the United States, United Kingdom and Australia with the primary focus being on the experiences of the student and not on their accompanying family. As Saudi people are relative newcomers to New Zealand, local research about Saudi students is scarce and research on their dependants is non-existent, to the knowledge of the researcher. The main objective of the present study was to gain a better understanding of the experiences of Saudi wives who have to navigate their way through an unfamiliar society in a foreign language, with a particular focus on how these women parent and educate their children in New Zealand while trying to maintain their own cultural values. This explorative case study was conducted from August 2016 and March 2018 in Hamilton, a provincial town in New Zealand. Narrative data were collected from nine Saudi women through a series of in-depth interviews, focus groups and informal observation made at social gatherings. The narratives of the participating women, their discussions with one another on parenting values and the personal observations of the researcher helped provide a picture of the everyday sojourning experiences of Saudi mothers. The findings from the interviews are broadly organised into a retrospective look at life pre-sojourn, challenges and changes they made during their sojourn, and preparation for their future return to Saudi Arabia. Within each of these sections are a number of themes that arose from the analysis. Focus group data are presented by topic and informal observations are incorporated throughout the study. The findings indicate that these mothers renegotiate and redefine their own identities in relation to their changed circumstances and environment. They show that they are receptive to the influence of some aspects of local culture provided they do not contradict their Islamic identity. Maintaining their children’s Islamic identity was of concern to them: they found it challenging to instil desired values when mainstream society operates by a different set of values. They found that their role as mothers changed and they had to adapt their parenting practices. The mothers were apprehensive about their children’s return to Saudi Arabia, particularly their Arabic schooling. Most of their children did not have age-appropriate Arabic literacy and would foreseeably struggle to close the gap between them and their peers. However, mothers prepared possible solutions to ameliorating their challenges. Fitting back into the extended Saudi family was also of concern: the women were aware of the changes they and their children had undergone during their sojourn and that their repatriation would require further changes. As a result of these Saudi mothers’ greater sense of self-efficacy, they did not predict being faced with any insurmountable challenges. A grounded analysis of the findings suggested that Experiential Learning Theory could assist a situated explanation of the process of acculturation (Berry, 1997, 2001, 2005, 2011) that these Saudi mothers underwent, and the most recent model (Kolb, 2015) was refined to develop a construct of cross-cultural experiential learning. This study contributes a qualitative understanding of cross-cultural experiential learning of sojourning Saudi mothers. Recommendations are made about possible support that could be offered to sojourning families by the home and host societies, to aid in their transition and ensure their sojourn would be a rich and rewarding experience.
Type of thesis
Yaghi, E. (2019). Language, identity and parenting in acculturation: A case study of Saudi Arabian mothers sojourning in New Zealand (Thesis, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)). The University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10289/12648
The University of Waikato
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