INSHALLAH:



A PRIVATE SCHOOL FOR PRIVILEGED KUWAITI
YOUTH ATTEMPTS TO STRADDLE A CULTURAL DIVIDE (continued)



Chapter 15: CONCLUSIONS

 

 

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XV: CONCLUSIONS




A. Recapitulation

Having now toured Kuwait, its history, its society, and examined in depth one of institutions, Al-Dharra Madressor, this analysis can turn to some of the questions posed at the very beginning and draw some conclusions:

What are [Asil] Kuwaiti values and how did they develop?

To what degree does ADM foster a secondary [Western] cultural proficiency?

To what degree can a school foster a secondary cultural proficiency?





B. The Values of Kuwait’s Culture and From Whence Did They Come?

The historical analysis provided in chapters one through six can provide some insights into this question. The values of Kuwait’s culture stem first of all from that of Arab culture as a whole. That makes the Kuwaitis a communal, tribal culture. The individual functions as part of a group, and, as Patai (1973) and Hofstede (1991) find, his primary identity originates as part of a group. This orientation tends to discourage individualism and risk-taking though group membership also enables achievement. The placement of an individual in circles of decreasing allegiance, with the family at the center (Al-Thakeb, 1985) forms his identity.

As to the origins of the Kuwaiti Asil variant of these values, this study traced the Kuwaiti through a migration through the desert, life on the pearl boats, and the sudden, unexpected discovery of oil. The deserts trek, and their experiences as sailors and merchants in a difficult economic and physical environment bred in the Asil an ability to withstand obstacles and the outlook previously described as a kind of fatalistic optimism. These experiences also led to a heavy reliance on family and a society based upon the ranking of families, which even predated migration.

Wealth potentially could have changed this entire system. However, as explained in some detail, the Kuwaitis took decided steps to limit the social impact of oil wealth. Modern Kuwait thus emerged as similar to traditional Kuwait in many respects, particularly those which mattered most to the dominant group, the Asil, "heritage Kuwaitis," with a hierarchical arrangement of society, strong family ties, largely traditional values, and continued adherence to a particular form of Islam. This "traditional" Kuwait exists surrounded by thousands of foreign workers.

The particular factors of Kuwait’s history, relative poverty followed by sudden wealth, led to a somewhat distinctive life, within the more general totality of Arab culture. For example, to understand the Asil requires an understanding not only of the presence of foreigners, but also of the dependency relations developed between the two groups (Longva, 1997). Further, events such as the Iran-Iraq War and the Gulf War, led to the belief that, just as quickly as it appeared, this sudden wealth could disappear.

As the literature cited seems to indicate, one can easily exaggerate the level of Westernization present in Arab Asil society by looking at surface manifestations such as Western style clothes and speaking English (Farah, 1982). At base, this remains, by Western standards, a conservative society. Within the family, the father retains the most authority and prestige; family relations find their mirror in society, in which relations occur in the context of hierarchical inequality, a system that includes the foreigners as the lower ranks. The dominant Asil social institutions, the family, the cousin marriage, the diwaniyyah, the sheikly bureau, and the sheikocracy, all operate along similar, tribal lines. Wastah appears as an essential element in this society in that it allows temporary transference of influence and for competition within set boundaries. While to Western observers, this bounded circle of social relationships might seem constricting, the Asil not only enjoy this tightly ordered society but build upon these relationships as a means of success.

The set of values of the Asil dramatically contrast with those of the West, but one can find parallel belief structures among other Arab groups and foreigners present in Kuwait. As posed in chapter five, one can conceive Kuwait as a series of competing tribal groups, whether Bedouin, Palestinian, Asil, or the "incomplete tribes" of the other immigrants, and while many hold contrasting values to that of the Asil, most of them seem to adhere to a similar tribal outlook. These other groups, generally Moslem and conservative, share at least some of the Asil’s belief structure.

The Palestinians bear special mention within this entire social structure. As traditionally the best-educated, hardest-working Arab group within Kuwait, they often fall into the mid-position in companies between the Asil and their workers and between the Asil and the Westerners. This can lead the Palestinians into making difficult decisions that must play off the need to conciliate rival groups, including the Kuwaitis, with that of insuring the survival of the Palestinians in a world fraught with political uncertainty. This ambiguous position traditionally extended into education as well with the Palestinians serving as Kuwait’s public school teachers, a position now continued in private schools such as Al-Dharra Madressor with its predominantly Palestinian teaching staff.

The Americans and other Westerners come to Kuwait with a very different belief structure, and this analysis attempted to incorporate measurement of these Western ideas into such instruments as the AWSIT and AGS. Inequality to most Westerners means unfairness. Further, Westerners tend to view individualism and independence as admirable traits and submission to the group as inherently weak and negative. Further, Westerners generally come from more liberal cultures and subcultures than that of the Kuwaitis. Thus, Westerners expect, for example, that children should obtain increasing amounts of independence, all people deserve equal treatment, and that women deserve full equality.

This sets the stage at institutions such as Al-Dharra Madressor for cultural contrast and conflict, particularly as the school attempts to make children familiar with and successful in both cultures, that of Asil Arab Kuwait and the West.



C. What Happens When Those Values Meet Those of the West?

The results of this clash of cultures depend a lot on the situation. Naturally, those values can coincide. For example, a formal bureaucracy and an extended family both exhibit the characteristics of order and assignment of place. In a sheikly bureaucracy these co-exist to the exclusion of efficiency. In a sheikocracy, the family corporation, the two can work together to create a profitable business operation.

The particular setting of ADM makes for an interesting study of these circumstances, given not only its need to prepare students to achieve success in both cultural situations, but also its policy of hiring many individuals fluent in both languages and relatively able to present their culture to the students at ADM.

However, as explained in chapter seven, the uniqueness of ADM also must limit the generalizability of any conclusions of this study. Most schools, for example, include more than one socially powerful group, and, indeed, the schools most interested in the issue of cultural influence generally include more than one culture. Thus, the situation of ADM, in which the Kuwaiti Asil students essentially try to absorb a secondary cultural proficiency from a group of Western (mostly American) teachers, differs profoundly from most other school situations.





D. Research Conclusion

The formal research portion of this study answers two different questions: one specific, and the other, more general. The more specific question asks:

To what degree does ADM foster a secondary [ Western] cultural proficiency?

A majority, perhaps 60% of students, seems to emerge from ADM with at least a Western cultural proficiency. The other forty percent, while not meeting the definition of cultural proficiency, seem to have an important secondary American cultural adherence.

The evidence suggests that Al-Dharra remains an Asil Kuwaiti school, very well grounded in Arab language, culture and beliefs, in which students achieve varying levels of secondary "Americanization."

Some, indeed, can almost pass for American. Indeed their American-ness might even lead to situations in which they must choose between competing norms. One can imagine them becoming friends with Americans, interacting with them, and persons even saying: "She’s Kuwaiti? How can you tell?" Still, in all likelihood, when pressed, they will choose conservative, fully Kuwaiti, behavior.

These individuals correspond to those identified as "High Bicultural" on the KATWII, as relatively close to the Arab-American divide on the AGS, and probably the leaders of the MUN group. One may find some correspondence between this particular group and the individuals who do not readily fit into the definition of the typical ADM student, shown in the previous chapter, since these "outcasts" already undergo a socialization process to find acceptance in the school. In some cases, also, initial Americanization itself may function to divide them from the "average" ADM student and may possibly result from decreasing affinity with Arab cultural norms.

In other cases, though, these "high biculturals" simply represent gifted individuals. After all, Al-Dharra Madressor students must undergo an entrance examination merely to enter the school, continue to perform well in two languages, and adjust well to two different school environments. Thus, it follows that the most successful individuals in this challenging school may simply represent the best of Kuwait’s society. These individuals, the types identified as the leaders in the MUN group and student leaders, may well venture into new Western situations, new schools, and find new American friends. They would, in turn, share with others less at home with the West in the pattern explored in chapter fourteen.

Others individuals, while clearly Arab, could certainly fit into a college situation of a multi-cultural, even multi-national, American University, interact reasonably well with American, British, and Canadian students, and form important business relationships. "Marginally" bicultural, they could participate in English-language settings and hold forth in debates with American students. They would certainly understand many cultural norms of the Western situation, such as the boyfriend-girlfriend relationship, the importance of punctuality, and talking to professors as equals, while not following them. This ability would aid them in their later life in business relationships with Westerners.

This category would correspond with those in the "Ma" section of the KATWII or the "Low Bi." On the AGS, these individuals probably placed themselves a bit further on the Arab end of the Arab-American scale of division. This may also correspond with less willing and more guarded participants in Western culture. Thus, one can envision these students as those likely to follow the High Biculturals, less likely to lead them, to new universities, to making new Western friends, and to moving into relationships outside the circle of Kuwaitis. One can envision this group as more likely to enter into Western situations for their instrumental value and less due to inclination.

The remainder of the student group, about a third, while clearly cognizant of American norms and beliefs, remains less affected by them. Their sole interaction with the US, beyond necessary business contacts, will likely consist in four years of college during which, like other Arab students, they enter into a survival mode, making such concessions to their host country as required. Given their preferred strategy of spending the bulk of their free time with other Arabs, especially Kuwaitis, their professors might register surprise at their higher level of English and their familiarity with some American history and literature.

These individuals would register as "Ard" on the KATWII and place themselves further, even very far, from the center on the American-Arab divide. As mentioned in previous discussions, even these most "Arab Arabs" would, as indicated on the AWSIT and the KATWII, show a far greater understanding of American (Western) culture than the reverse. While not unaware of Western norms, one might conceive of this group as either very uncomfortable with the West or alternately simply lacking the requisite ability to function well in two contrasting cultural environments. One can envision these individuals, in most instances, as getting admitted to colleges holding many other Kuwaitis, as more often dealing with Arab business partners, and as forming few friendships outside the Arab world. Many may attend Kuwait University.

In distinct contrast, however, none of these individuals would suffer the Founder’s syndrome, "not a Kuwaiti, not a Westerner." All remain very conscious of the norms and behavior of their Asil Kuwaiti group and little inclined to push the boundaries, as an American might do. Indeed, even the High Biculturals could spend the vast majority of their time within Kuwait without another Kuwaiti disparaging them for not knowing their mother tongue or acting in an unacceptable manner. Further, given the higher importance of Asil Kuwait society and its tighter strictures, the school’s greater emphasis on maintaining, even enhancing, that identity seems entirely reasonable.

The AWSIT results probably display these results most clearly. Interviewed students showed a great familiarity with the more liberal allowances of American society, the girlfriend, the freedom, etc. but little inclination to "act American." Nor, in general, would these students allow others most dear to them, especially their sisters, the opportunity to do so.

Thus, one must conjecture that, outside of the occasional college antics, even the most bicultural student would generally behave within Kuwaiti norms even in America. Thus, an ADM student would certainly not behave like the stereotyped KAS student, shown in chapter seven, cavorting about and "acting American." However, he or she could find his or behavior classified as "American" only because America includes a vast variety of subcultures that vary in their conservatism.

This returns to an important point. All of the measures above indicate that, though students remain perhaps knowledgeable about American culture, they certainly retain the ability to conform to the norms of a more tightly-bound Kuwait society. The KATWII, for example, indicates a high Arab cultural orientation. On the AWSIT, while the students varied a bit from the more conservative Arab teachers, one can probably describe their variation as acceptable within Asil Kuwait society. Finally, the anecdotes given in the previous chapter show that even outside Kuwait, students seem concerned about reputation within Kuwait and bound by its social constraints.

Finally the previous chapter served to show that certain group behaviors show a particular group-oriented response to Western situations and while not "typically American" could enable success in an American environment. For example, students help each other, lend resources to another, and offer emotional support. Further, in general students recover quickly from trying situations, show fewer of the emotional problems that challenge many American students, and respect elders. Finally, their ability to "read" differing Western and Arab cultural situations suggests a similar ability to interpret those situations abroad.

However, certain group behaviors, in contrast, seem possibly poised to lead students into difficulties. Students' acceptance of cheating, for example, could result in student expulsion. Also, lateness and an improper use of "wastah" in the wrong situations could lead to consequences almost as serious as those attached to cheating. While students showed some ability to distinguish when to use these strategies and when to avoid them, one cannot say for certain if that ability would suffice in the West.

Finally, however, one turns to more general problem of dependency. In the US and the West, students will encounter a culture that highly values independence, and yet their own culture breeds a dependence on others. This argues, again, for a pattern whereby those least able to survive alone will continue to follow and depend upon others more able to function in a second culture. Ironically, then, those "least American" will continue and endure by a continuing "un-American" reliance on others, whether maids, tutors, or stronger classmates.

Thus one can describe the ADM students as Kuwaitis who absorb certain aspects of Americanization, particularly those that either they like or hold instrumental value. Under this surface layer, one finds Kuwaitis. This should not come as a surprise since one can largely describe their parents in the same manner. One can argue also that this may even represent the ideal response to a foreign cultural influence: take only what you want and avoid what you do not.

Finally, though, one turns to the greater question:

To what degree can a school foster a secondary cultural proficiency?

Clearly, the answer here seems "somewhat."

This qualification lies, of course, in terms of questioning the generalizability of the results from this setting to other situations. The relationship and compatibility of the two cultures as well as community commitment all seem very important variables. If, indeed, the ADM community remains as committed to cultural acquisition as it claims and as some sections of the AGS indicate, then this suggests that most schools will not register a similar achievement in terms of instilling a secondary cultural proficiency. If actually having two cultures present in the student body would encourage biculturality, in contrast, this indicates that another school may surpass ADM in this respect.

Finally, though, as the research study indicates and the model developed in the first chapters suggest, Arab culture and that of America lie at considerable distances from one another. In some ways, this may actually encourage this secondary Western cultural proficiency since it allows the clear differentiation of acceptable Arab behaviors, if on the American side it only presents more of a vague tolerance of many behaviors. A different set or pair of cultures in a different setting may well create a different dynamic and different results.

In this case, also, though, the relative acceptance of other cultures allows a particular American accommodation that would not work with another two cultures. Acting "Kuwaiti" describes a relatively well-defined set of behaviors that more or less fits within the plethora of ways one can describe as "acting American." This truism would certainly not hold if this study considered two cultures with tight cultural definitions.




E. Conclusion

The oil continues to flow. The shops in Paris stay open, and thousands of workers each year get off the plane in Kuwait Airport hoping to make their fortune.

Al-Dharra holds a place in that world. It expresses, in part, the wealth, family connections and social status of those who can afford its high tuition. It also offers a safe environment, one in which one need not worry about students becoming too international or too American. Instead, you hear classes taught in native Kuwaiti dialect and meet parents who follow Kuwaiti mores and whose children may well inter-marry with your family.

It is a family world. Rarely does a parent walk into the school without recognizing another parent or a relative. Visits to the chalet form a natural continuation of the relationships of school and, eventually, these, in turn, result in marriages, diwanniyah invitations, and business partnerships, all related.

To this world, Americans and British come as the highest class of foreign servants. They teach their language, they show their values, and they take the money. At most, they change their students somewhat. Some students will have an understanding of American values, but as Asil Kuwaiti Arabs the students come to kindergarten, and as somewhat more worldly, more aware, more Western Asil Kuwait Arabs, they graduate.

Inshallah, life is good.





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