Far from home, international student enjoys Christmas

Published 11:00 pm Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Ahmad Alanazi grew up 7,500 miles from Troy, but he said, around the holidays, he feels right at home.

Alanazi is an international student majoring in computer science at Troy University from Saudi Arabia. He has lived in Troy since March 2011.

When making a decision on where to attend college, Alanazi said choosing Troy was a no-brainer. “Coming to the United States is a kind of chance for us,” Alanazi said. “The Saudi Arabian government provides scholarships to students to study in America. I knew I wanted to be in a small town, and I had a friend who was in the graduate school here. Everything lined up so that I came to Troy.”

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Moving to the United States from Saudi Arabia was a bit of a shock, but it was one for which Alanazi was prepared. “I was expecting a culture shock when I came here,” Alanazi said. “It was not too bad. I am from a small town in Saudi Arabia, and it seems like all small towns are pretty much the same. The weather here is different, and even simple things like the market are different, but it is not too much of a change. There is no kosher food in Troy, though, so that was a change.”

This will be the first Christmas that Alanazi has spent in Troy. “Last Christmas we took a road trip after the semester ended,” Alanazi said. “We started in Washington D.C. and ended at Niagara Falls. We saw the lights and the snow, but we did not feel the spirit. I wanted to be here until Christmas this year. It gives me a chance to have some quality, quiet time in Troy.”

When Alanazi first learned about Christmas in Saudi Arabia, he viewed it as a religious celebration. Now that he has lived in America he said he thinks of it in a more secular way. “Back at home, everyone thinks of Christmas as being a religious celebration,” Alanazi said. “Maybe it was originally that way, but even atheists celebrate Christmas in America. Everyone exchanges gifts and helps one another. I think that it is awesome. Giving a gift is a type of friendship request. When you receive a gift, that is a confirmation of your friendship with that person. My neighbor gave me my first present in America for Christmas last year.”

Alanazi said giving gifts to your friends is an important thing. “When I received that first gift, it made me feel like I belonged in America,” Alanazi said. “Even giving your friend just a card shows that you care. That’s awesome, and that’s a good thing. On the other hand, when you receive a gift, it also makes you a little homesick. It reminds you of your friends and family back at home.”

While Saudi Arabia does not celebrate Christmas, Alanazi said his country does have a holiday for exchanging gifts. “After the Hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca), we exchange meat,” Alanazi said. “One part goes to your home, one part goes to your relatives and one part goes to the poor. You see a lot of people carrying around meat. And it is a good thing. We encourage people to give to Muslims and non-Muslims during this time.”

While people in Troy have always been friendly to Alanazi, he said people are especially so during the holidays. “When I go out at this time of year, the people are always smiling,” Alanazi said. “People want to get to know me, and I have made a good number of friends. There are many links between Islam and Christianity. Jesus’ name in Arabic is a very common name for boys. We love and appreciate Jesus and Abraham and Moses; we just do not celebrate their births.”

As for this year, Alanazi has gotten in to the Christmas spirit. “This will be my first real Christmas in Alabama, so I have been enjoying it,” Alanazi said. “I put the lights up outside. It is a cheering event. On Christmas we are going to Auburn to see one of our friends. We are going to eat and watch the Lakers and Heat play basketball. I think it will be a fun experience.”