Students in Tanya Watt’s second grade class at McKinley Elementary listened politely for a few minutes while Fahad Al Anazi explained what life was like in Saudi Arabian primary schools.
“Every morning they give the children milk,” he said.
Then he went to the board and wrote his name in Arabic and the classroom came alive.
“Whoa,” a student whispered.
“Wow,” another exclaimed.
The serpentine script, stretching right to left on the whiteboard, looked as foreign and otherworldy to the class as Klingon.
“You want to see your name?” Al Anazi asked the class.
He began pulling students up and asking them their names. He then wrote the translation in Arabic on the board and invited the students to try and duplicate it.
Al Anazi was visiting McKinley on Tuesday with his classmates Atallah Al Enizi and Khaleel Al Shareet. All three are from Saudi Arabia and are studying at Montana State University Billings.
Their visit to McKinley was arranged by Sarah Brown, who teaches the public speaking class in which the three Saudi students are enrolled. They’ve been speaking to different groups, learning how to direct their messages to people of different ages and backgrounds.
Tuesday’s assignment was to teach them how to give a presentation to children.
The three men took turns visiting the school’s three second-grade classrooms talking to the kids about what life is like for children in Saudi Arabia.
“There it’s a little boring at school,” Al Enizi explained.
The school day is shorter but there are no breaks for recess and other types of play, he said.
He talked about how important it was to show respect for adults in Saudi culture. Children help set the table for meals, wait to eat until everyone is at the table and then stay seated until everyone is done. They also wash their own dishes, a statement that was met with a few groans.
In showing respect, he said, it was common for children to kiss their mother’s hand and forehead.
“The most important thing is to show respect,” he told them.
Al Anazi explained that the religion of Saudi Arabia is Islam and said as Muslims they pray five times a day.
He then asked the class how many of them pray and a handful of students raised their hands.
For many of the second graders, the presentations were instructive. Until Tuesday, many of them hadn’t heard of Saudi Arabia or seen it on a map.
“I never knew there was anything like that,” said Hayden Gordon.
His classmates — who are just now learning the rules about writing — were amazed to learn that the Arabic language is written right to left instead of left to right as it in English.
“That’s quite weird,” said Kara Johnson.
However, they liked the idea of maybe someday traveling to other countries and seeing other cultures.
It’s something Al Enizi understands. His father is a politician in Saudi Arabia and before he came to Montana, Al Enizi lived in Vancouver, British Columbia.
“Traveling teaches you many things,” he said.