NACOGDOCHES, Texas — The American students weren’t quite sure how to do a traditional Tunisian dance, which requires a flare of the hip and a flick of the wrist, but at least they were willing to try. At a presentation hosted by 11 visitors from the North African nation on the Mediterranean coast, Stephen F. Austin State University was at last able to enjoy something that’s been largely missing for a year – international experiences.

The Tunisian students arrived in July, staying in the residence halls until they returned home in late August. They took a variety of courses, including psychology, architecture, and computer science, and met American students throughout their stay. The visit culminated in a packed presentation at the Baker Pattillo Student Center. Dressed in traditional Tunisian clothing, the students went through an interactive telling of a history and culture that date back to the Phoenicians, includes influences from the Ottoman and French empires, and where languages from Arabic to English are spoken.   

“It’s wonderful having them on campus,” said Heather Catton, director of the Office of International Programs. “They give new perspectives in classes and allow students who may have never met someone from a faraway place the opportunity to interact on a personal level. The Tunisian students really gave a jump start to the international program and helped establish some normalcy.”

Catton and her office, along with support from many departments across campus, hosted the students through a competitive grant with the Thomas Jefferson Scholarship Program, awarded to SFA to design and host a six-week stay with academic, professional development, cultural and community engagement activities. It’s usually a year-long program, but due to the pandemic a special short-term substitute was arranged. The scholarship is made possible by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the United States Department of State and implemented by IREX, a nonprofit committed to global development and education.

There are approximately 115 international students enrolled at SFA this fall. 

SFA's Tunisian students visited SFA Gardens; Millard’s Crossing Historic Village; the Kemah Boardwalk; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; NASA; and the East Texas Oil Museum in Kilgore.