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Women’s colleges work for these scholars

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Hanan Khan, a senior from Mount Holyoke College, fell in love with the school at first sight.

Its bucolic campus reminded the native of Saudi Arabia of the enchanted forest of Alice in Wonderland. Khan finds refuge on campus inside a prayer room and a teahouse in a Japanese meditation garden.

In addition to enjoying the natural beauty of campus, the studio art major participates in several activities at Massachusetts College. When most American students return home for Thanksgiving Day, Khan joins students from 60 other countries for a turkey dinner and wagon rides organized by the international student club.

When the going gets tough academically, Khan turns to his professors, fellow students and campus resources for help. His Mount Holyoke “family” includes friends from all over the world. “It’s the first time in my life that I’m not in competition with anyone,” she says. “I’m just…becoming a better version of myself.”

Find space to be yourself

There are approximately 40 private, nonprofit colleges for women in the United States.

And although less than 2% of female students enroll in these colleges each year, according to the Washington Post, many alumni have achieved success in their fields. They include the late poet Zora Neale Hurston (Barnard College) and former Secretaries of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and the late Madeleine Albright (both of Wellesley College).

Looking back on her time at Wellesley, Sara Minkara, the US State Department’s special adviser on international disability rights, recalls her teachers and classmates helping her navigate being legally blind.

Hanan Khan (right) catches up with Savannah Perez in the dining halls of Mount Holyoke College. (Courtesy of Mount Holyoke College)

Minkara’s topology professor made sure Minkara had everything she needed and offered to help her outside of regular class hours. Today, Minkara is one of many students who took notes for her and read assignments to her as a close friend.

Wellesley allowed Minkara to be herself, she says. The early grades at school, for example, helped her, a self-identified introvert, learn to accept her disability. And the school has adapted to its cultural and religious context. Minkara, who is Lebanese American, joined the Wellesley Arab Women Association. She also joined Al-Muslimat, a Muslim women‘s club. During Ramadan, club members prayed, fasted and broke the fast together. Minkara ate halal food in one of the dining rooms. She also recalls that a chaplain on campus was available to all students, including Muslim students.

“Being in a space where you are allowed to see your identities as a point of strength, your identities as a point of value, a space where diversity is embraced on all levels, and a space where you are truly allowed to explore your potential…I think that’s what Wellesley has provided in many ways,” says Minkara, who graduated in 2011.

stay safe

In 2005, Maha Kareem from Iraq joined a one-year Fulbright program as a foreign language teaching assistant. She taught two Arabic courses and took several courses, including American Literature and French, at Sweet Briar College in Virginia.

Kareem, who is now earning a Ph.D. in English Education at the University of Missouri-Columbia, says she chose to study in the United States because of its reputation for quality education and racial diversity. She embarked on new adventures including rock climbing, caving and joining the swim club because she felt comfortable being around so many confident women at Sweet Briar.

Although she had questions about safety and American values ​​based on what she had read in the media, Kareem says she found the campus to be safe. During orientation, she learned what to do in an emergency, areas to avoid and other ways to be safe.

But these lessons were never necessary. “In these small women’s colleges, you feel safe,” she says. “I have never felt so safe in my life.”

International students interested in studying in the United States often seek advice from the U.S. Department of State’s network of EducationUSA counseling centers in more than 175 countries and territories.