After she graduates from DSI this spring and finishes her work visa, Haya Shaath will, along with other Saudi women who’ve chosen to study abroad, ask herself a question: Is it time to return home? Haya doesn’t yet know how she’ll answer the question, but she’s wondering about the transition back for the women who say “yes” and has dedicated her thesis project to supporting them in that process.
Haya just completed a research trip to Jeddah and Riyadh where she ran workshops with women who’d earned degrees abroad to better understand the complicated mix of emotions their return home brought up. They reported pleasure at being back with friends, family, and their favorite foods; frustration at ceding some of the privacy and freedom of movement they’d experienced elsewhere; and confusion about how to plug their new skills back into a country that may have changed in their absence. Through mapping and journaling exercises, the workshop participants sought to find order in their transition experience, identify intervention points, and brainstorm coping strategies.
Haya is working to translate those insights into Halal Girls, an online platform that will help returning Saudi women organize support networks on both sides of their returns. The platform will allow them to seek out everything from material support (help packing, say, or a ride to the airport) to partners on creative projects and business ventures. And Haya is still mulling the lessons of her workshops, looking for ways to maximize what Halal Girls can do – how it can spur the most productive collaboration between the women who use it.