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Mute b Al Qarni, Draft 2, Page 1 Muteb Al Qarni May 12, 2011 Gainesville, Florida Esam Alhadi, Interviewer and Translator for University of Florida George A. Smathers Libraries Edited by Jardee Transcription Alhadi: I am Esam Alhadi. We are having this interview on May 12, 2011, with M r. Muteb Al Qarni in my office at Pugh Hall, University of Florida. Welcome Mr. Muteb. Please go ahead and give us an idea about yourself, your education and your early upbringing. Muteb: I am Muteb Al Qarni. I was born in 1985 in a very small village called Al Rayan or sometimes called Afas and it is located in Al Qunfutha; one of the provinces in Southern Saudi Arabia. I had my elementary education in a very small school called Al Faaija School. I had my middle and high school education in the same a rea. After finishing my high school education, I considered applying for a number of universities in the Riyadh area, but had no luck. I then applied and got accepted to King Khalid University. I studied the English language. My study went very smoothl y and I was at the top of my class. After graduation, I was selected as a TA [teaching assistant] in the university. I taught as a TA for one year and half. After that, I got a scholarship from my university to do my graduate studies. Alhadi: Did you t each English language courses when you were working for the university? teach English language for the Arabic language students. They take introductory English language courses, and also for the computer department students.
Mute b Al Qarni, Draft 2, Page 2 Muteb: It was originally a branch of the Imam Mohamed Bin Saudi University in Riyadh. Later on, it be came an independent university. It is, truly, a very good and distinguished university and has a group of the best faculty members. Alhadi: What are the fields of study at the university? Muteb: Saudi universities are all alike. You will find fields of linguistics, Arabic language, chemistry and physics, and math. You will find a wide range of topics in the sciences, applied and theoretical studies. They all exist. Alhadi: Is it a one campus university or does it have different campuses? Muteb: In th e beginning, the colleges were scattered in different places. Lately, it became a one campus university where all colleges and libraries are located. Alhadi: Which college did you work for? Muteb: It was the College of Languages and Translation. It use d to be called the English Language Institute, and later became the College of Languages and Translation. Alhadi: You mean it is now a college by itself? Muteb: True. Alhadi: What are the languages that are offered there? Muteb: Unfortunately, the onl y foreign language we have is the English language. Alhadi: So, English is the only language taught there? Muteb: Yes. But they are now trying to introduce French and may be other languages. Alhadi: Are there foreign teachers in this college? Muteb: W e have very good teachers of phonetics from Sudan, and others from Egypt. We had one teacher from South Africa and another one from Ireland. Alhadi: Can you tell us about your coming to America? Why and when was it?
Mute b Al Qarni, Draft 2, Page 3 Muteb: I was forced to come here. I was the only one from my village that got the opportunity to go to the West. People are very skeptical about life and thoughts in the West. There might be another three or four from my tribe who had the chance to visit a western country. My mother was very hesitant to let me come to the USA, in particular after hearing all the negative propaganda about it. The university insisted that I should go. Otherwise, I was going to lose my teaching position and they would put me into an administrative one. Al hadi: It sounds like you were also hesitant to make the decision to come here. Muteb: I wanted to try it, but I was also hesitant to take this step. I had in mind that I will have a new life experience with new people and a totally new and different cul ture from the Saudi culture that I got used to. Until I came here, this style of western clothes was totally new to me. Alhadi: That means you were always wearing the Saudi uniform. Muteb: Always, and never changed it. The first time I changed my Saud i uniform was when I was in the airport on my way here. It was a very embarrassing moment when I came out dressed in such a uniform. Alhadi: Are you saying that the w estern uniform is not common in the area where you came from? never liked sports, and for that reason I never wore a sports uniform. It may attract people all of a sudden, he appears in a different one.
Mute b Al Qarni, Draft 2, Page 4 Alhadi: You said earlier that you were a bit hesitant to come here. How did you eventually come to the decision to come here ? Muteb: I was hesitant to go to a country that was totally different from my country. The elders in my community were even more skeptical. They felt that if a person leaves his country, he may change his religion and eventually becomes corrupt and mora lly loose. A common view in Saudi Arabia is that American women are morally loose, debauched, and prostitutes. You find her on the street and then take her anywhere you want. After I came here, I found it to be totally and shockingly different. Alhadi: Would you please tell us about your first days here? Where did you arrive and how was your experience in your first days? Muteb: I arrived in Washington. I never knew anybody here before my arrival. Upon my arrival, I started looking for somebody who speaks Arabic. When I saw somebody from the Saudi Attach carrying a Saudi flag, I went directly to him. They were there to help us. They hired somebody to pick up my luggage and take me to the car. They took me to the hotel. The Saudis made it very c omfortable for us. Difficulties started to come later, Indiana. I arrived there. I met an Indian man who happened to live in Dubai. He took me and found a days there. Luckil y, I found some American young men who worked for the University of King Khalid in Saudi Arabia. One of them was named Martin, who helped me and showed me around and took me to many places and explained everything for me. Some
Mute b Al Qarni, Draft 2, Page 5 complications appeared in t he beginning when the university told me that they would not allow me to start in the spring, and instead they suggested I should attend the English language institute. They told me that I would not be able to start in the fall. I forced them to accept m e in the spring after showing them all the documents that I had which all showed that I have admission for the spring semester. Alhadi: Why did you pick a school in Indiana? Muteb: Excellent [question]. I became depressed when I failed to get a good TOF EL grade. After seeing all my colleagues leaving the country, I was desperately trying every possible way to get out without delay it was getting late. I decided to try to get into any school, get the M.A. as an initial step, and then change schools to at tain the doctorate level. I went to Ball State University in Indiana because they, through the Saudi Attach Office, agreed to give me admission and welcomed me. I never had a second thought about being admitted there, because all that I was looking for at that moment was to get out. I also estimated that the Attach Office knew more about of the university than I did. Alhadi: What is your opinion about this university in Indiana? Muteb: It was an excellent school and has a great selection of profess ors and instructors. It made me realize how it is completely different from my study in Saudi Arabia. Alhadi: I was intending to make the comparison between your study in Saudi Arabia and Indiana my next question. Where do you see the differences and si milarities? Muteb: The similarities come from the fact that Saudi universities are trying to copy the American university system because they believe that American universities are distinguished and pioneering. The problem with the Saudi university educa tion system is
Mute b Al Qarni, Draft 2, Page 6 syllabus being literally repeated through another course. I personally have studied material for a course, such as phonetics for instance, that was repe ated by another course with a different name. The purpose of this may have been to make the information stick even within the same topic area such as phonetics or phonology. I truly liked the teaching methodology here. One of my best teachers here used to give us homework exercises every day. I believe I have benefited from this teaching strategy. After I came got used to this system. The more phonetic problems you get exposed to, the more expert you become in the field. Alhadi: Very good. You evolved from being hesitant to get into this experience, to currently being happy and satisfied with it. Do you thi nk you can encourage other fellows from your village to come to the United States to study? Muteb: I do. At the beginning I had the option to either go to Britain or to come to America. Some friends advised me that in Britain they prepare the student to be a researcher, but in America they prepare you as a researcher in addition to giving you a variety of courses. Therefore, I sincerely advise my fellows from my village to try. I tell them that it is always good to try and fail rather than fail to try. I advise them not to hesitate to try to get out of the country. They may suffer during the first two weeks. In two or three months, they will surely be happy here in the USA and will get to see new things. They can go back when they feel homesick. Alha di: When did you arrive here in the USA? Muteb: January 1, 2009.
Mute b Al Qarni, Draft 2, Page 7 Alhadi: That means you have been here for two and half years. Alhadi: Did you ever go back to Saudi Arabia? Muteb: I went back on January 1, 2010, one year after my arrival here during the Christmas break. Alhadi: Were you able to easily get adjusted to life in Saudi Arabia after being away for one year? Did you notice any differences between l ife here and there? Muteb: This is a very good question. If you spend time here and go back to Saudi Arabia, you will notice a huge difference. You would hope that the society there will become like the one you saw here. You would wish for the same day to day regulatory principles here, I would have returned back just two weeks after my arrival. I felt that while politeness is dominant here, over there it is onl y chaotic, random and disorderly. Men express their right to. It is a complete disorder. I felt embarrassed to tell them they should do this and that, fearing that th ey will think I am coming from America to teach them how manage their lives, I preferred to stay silent. Alhadi: Why did you move from Indiana to Florida and not continue there? Muteb: Rather than staying in one school system, I thought it will be good to get to know other schools and new thoughts. I picked the University of Florida because I heard about its good reputation. Many of my colleagues recommended that I should come here. I truly felt stunned to find all these levels of scholarship. I foun d that the academic system here goes in harmony and is very up to date with the most recent theories. This is very good.
Mute b Al Qarni, Draft 2, Page 8 some Arab students with you? Muteb: Ther e were a limited number of Arab students. I was more with the Saudi students than the other Arabs. When I first arrived, there were ten to fifteen Saudi students. In one year, the number climbed to 70, then to 100 in the same university. Now, there are 180 and the number will soon reach 250. Saudi Arabia is now sending more students to American universities. Alhadi: Did you find yourself getting along more with the Saudi students than the other Arabs? Muteb: I was more with the Saudis. I have no prob lem in speaking to them in Arabic. Alhadi: Did you live with Saudi students? Muteb: No. I chose not to live with Saudis in order to give myself the opportunity to learn the English language and accent. Late in my stay there, I returned back to my Sa udi and Arab fellows. I found that it is natural to feel at ease with the Arabs more than with the Americans. Americans were not really helpful. Every one of them is concerned only about himself. They care more about getting their own things done at th e expense of caring about others. This might be a culture difference. Alhadi: What about other Arab students? and I used to talk to them. I remember dealing with many Sudanese in Saudi Arabia. However, I dealt more with the Saudis. Alhadi: How was your relationship with the Americans and people of other nationalities? Muteb: I had mutual respect with the Americans, but also had clashes with them sometimes. One case is that one day I saw a guy beating his girlfriend and pulling her hair. Due to
Mute b Al Qarni, Draft 2, Page 9 my Arab background and culture, I tried to stop him and to understand what the problem was. He shouted at me and ordered me to shut up. I said to myself that I am here to some black Americans. I found that black Americans are more helpful to us than the whites. While the whites were mostly arrogant, the blacks were friendly and allowed me to sit with them and share their food with them. That black American was the first American to share his food with me. I developed a very strong relation with him. He used to take me wherever I wanted and to help me to get around. He tr eated me like a Alhadi: Did you find the same thing when you moved to Florida? Muteb: In Florida, I came to know two white students. They were very polite and helpful. Th ey tried to make me fit into their group. However, factors such as differences in age and thinking styles kept us apart. I used to give them advice when I saw them smoking, joking around, and drinking. I also advised them to think about having a specifi c target concerned, how did you find it here?, and is it different from the one that you left behind in Indiana? Muteb: Dealing and living with the Arabs in Indiana was because I wanted help from them.
Mute b Al Qarni, Draft 2, Page 10 started to know each other and to exchan ge experiences and information and to help each other with the department work. The other Saudis at the language institute were mostly my life the American way and to get the most possible benefits I can get. Spending all my time with the Arabs will do me no good. It is better to find something different. Alhadi: I want to know about your study here in Florida. What are you studying? Muteb: I am doing my Ph.D. i n linguistics. Alhadi: Do you have a specific idea as to what your research will be on? Muteb: After I came here, I met with Dr. Matando and had a conversation with him about the local languages in the tone area. I always liked research areas where there are plenty of problems. Solving some of these problems will be the true breakthrough and will be a new addition to the scientific research. It will be useless if researchers ke pt repeating what already exists. I think the area of African languages is a research area that is full of problems and needs to be discovered. Research on these many simple tribes in Africa will reveal their heritage and many other remarkable features. Alhadi: What will be your specific research topic? Muteb: About the tone problem and the reasons that make the tone to be low or high. Alhadi: Is this more into the phonetics area? Muteb: This is phonology research. It is about the level and the unpr edictability of the tone. I want to find out why this is a problem, and also if this problem has historically been there.
Mute b Al Qarni, Draft 2, Page 11 Alhadi: Is it possible that these same phonetic theories could be applied to the field of Arabic language and other languages? Muteb : I think these problems are interrelated between different languages. This is what John McCarthy has been trying to prove. His evidence became stronger when he applied his theory on Arabic. Alhadi: That is good. Are there any Saudis who did studies i n this field of phonetics and the tone before you? go and deal with primitive Central African tribes, and because you have no knowledge of their heritage. T hey think you may be killed there. Alhadi: That means you will be the first among the Saudi researchers in this field. Muteb: Hopefully. I have been thinking about this. I bought some books in this field and borrowed others from Dr. Matando. I am esta blishing my research background in this field. Although sometimes I feel frustrated and get the feeling that this will never be completed, I am still determined to at least try. Alhadi: Did you finish your study in Indiana with research, or was it throug h courses? Muteb: I did research on my native colloquial language. Alhadi: Can you shed more light on that research? Muteb: It focused on the definitive article in the spoken language of bani Buhair in Saudi Arabia find which one goes with the dorsal or lethal letters. Alhadi: Why did you pick this topic specifically?
Mute b Al Qarni, Draft 2, Page 12 Muteb: This is my native spoken language. People who speak about it are making unsupported theo ries. I made a recording for two of my sisters and another two young men and analyzed the data. I found some differences in the data. I am planning to go deeper into this topic in the future. Alhadi: This is very good. It sounds like a very interestin g topic for further research and study. I want to know what are your future plans? I want to re Alhadi: Now I will be asking you about the nonacademic areas and hobbies that interest you and you love to do when you have free time. Muteb: I love computers and I love Facebook. Although I do started to walk and jog and do sports. I also like to read about other fields such as ideological thoughts. I hope to have an impact on the Saudi society and to make it become more open. The dominant religious thought i s keeping the society crippled. The way some people present their conclusions and interpretations of religious texts are making religion appear like a stumbling block. There are too many restrictive do that; and this is, or is not, what God says. We should find a way to keep us moving forward. National progress is motivated by science, not by religion. The Islamic history tells us about what happened during the time of Al Mamoun. It also tells us about Dar Al and about Baghdad. The nation rose by doing too much of translations. The Saudi
Mute b Al Qarni, Draft 2, Page 13 society was too fundamental and rigid, but now it is becoming more open. I will be one of those who will call for openness. Alhadi: How about sports? Do you have any personal interest in any field of sport? I am a complete failure in sports. Alhadi: I know that the Saudi society is divi ded between the main soccer teams of Al Hilal, Al Itihad and Al Nasr. Muteb: I used to be an Al Itihad fan. Not anymore. Following sports takes too much time. I contribute to the well being of this world, then you are no more than a burden on this enjoyment, and sports people usually make no significant contribution. Alhadi: Than k you, Brother Muteb, for all this wealth of good information. I wish you all the best, and I hope that you get back to Saudi Arabia and find all members of your family well. Muteb: May God bless you, and thank you for having me. [END OF INTERVIEW]