It was meant to be the opportunity of a lifetime.

On July 7, 21-year-old Kuwaiti student Khuloud Saad kissed her parents goodbye and set off for the United States on an exchange visit from her home city of Ahmadi. The four-week trip would be her first U.S. visit.

Seven weeks later, Saad is stranded in this country, filled with anxiety about what is to become of her and fear for her mother, father, two brothers and two sisters in Kuwait.

Swathed in the traditional dress of her homeland, Saad waits for word at the Kuwaiti Cultural Education Center in Northwest Washington. She last spoke to members of her family on the day before the Iraqi invasion, she said. In turn, each came to the phone and told her how much they missed her. Her father, she recalled, said he was trying to find her a job back home. A recent graduate of Kuwait University, she had earned an honors degree in political science and public administration, which led to the prestigious place in the exchange program that brought her to American University here.

She went to bed happy, she said, but was awakened by the cries of her friends as a television anchorman broke the news of the Iraqi invasion.

Like many of the 4,000 Kuwaitis studying, and now stranded, in the United States, Saad has been dependent until now on her parents for both financial and emotional support.

"I am only 21, but this experience makes me feel 31. I have had to grow up very quickly," she said.

Kuwaiti Americans have offered stranded Kuwaiti nationals free rooms in their homes, and some students have been lent apartments for the summer. Saad has joined the Washington-based "Citizens for a Free Kuwait" group, which organized to provide mutual support.

Anger at being blocked from returning home is matched by sadness and fear that they have lost both their homes and their homelands, the stranded Kuwaitis said.

Balqees Mohamed, a 21-year-old student at Boston University's College of Communications for the past two and a half years, now lives with five others in a small apartment in Washington lent by a Kuwaiti American. She said she would "rather die" than see Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's forces continue to occupy Kuwait.

"I will wait until October, then I will kill him even if I have to die doing it," she boasted.

"I feel that I have lost my identity," Mohamed said. "Homeless people have a homeland, but they don't have a home. I have a home but I don't have a homeland." She said the situation of the homeless "is easier than mine, because they are homeless people of the United States, but I don't know what I am."

Some of the students are here with their families, but they said having their parents around often makes things worse.

Lubna Saif Abdulla, 26, left the Jabryha suburb of Kuwait City to come to the United States with her family 10 years ago when her father, Saif Abdulla, was appointed cultural counselor at the Kuwait Embassy. He returned to Kuwait last year with his wife, two daughters and son, leaving daughter Lubna behind to continue her studies at American University. The invasion found them all in the United States again, reunited for a vacation. Now they are together in Washington.

"My mother said to me the other day that the most painful thing for she and my father was that they had given so much to build a future for their children and now it was gone," Lubna Saif Abdulla said, snapping her fingers, "just like that."

"It is the most painful thing in the world for a daughter to look up to her father expecting him to have all the answers only to discover that the only thing he has are questions," she said, tears welling in her eyes.

Kuwaiti citizens who are students here, whether privately sponsored or through a government program, have been told that their tuition fees, health insurance and most of their living expenses for the fall semester will be met by the Kuwait Embassy, according to William J. Carroll, staff director for government relations with the Association of International Educators in Washington.

But many students born in Kuwait, where the non-citizen population has long outnumbered the citizens, receive no protection from the embassy. The nation considers children born of non-Kuwaiti parents -- Jordanians or Egyptians, for example -- to be citizens of their parents' countries. But their parents' countries do not consider them citizens either.

"They basically have no one to turn to," said Deborah Pierce, associate dean of the International Program at the University of Toledo, which has 86 Kuwaiti-born students who are not Kuwaiti citizens.

She cited the case of a 23-year-old Kuwaiti-born Palestinian honors student who has been accepted into graduate school there, but has no money.

Plans are afoot to overcome such situations by deferring tuition fees at the university and by starting a compassion fund for the students. Similar initiatives are being adopted in other colleges across the United States.

"It is vital that something is done," Pierce said. "We are hoping that the community will recognize this as a compassionate effort to help individual human beings who have had nothing to do with these hostilities."