If you have an English language center at your college, it’s likely that you’ve seen mass amounts of Saudi Arabian students congregating around the grounds of your college. So who are these Saudis and what should you know about them? Also, how did they manage to get a full-paid Saudi scholarship?
What is the Saudi Scholarship?
Back in 2005, the (then) King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia began a program called the King Abdullah Scholarship program (KASP) immediately becoming the largest scholarship program in all of Saudi Arabia’s history.
The program was initially open to anyone with a high school diploma. Scholarship recipients were given the freedom to study at almost any college that would accept them no matter the tuition.
What are the Benefits of the Program?
Several benefits are awarded to Saudi nationals who fit the criteria for studying in KASP which include:
(1) a monthly stipend for students, spouses, and children,
(2) full academic tuition,
(3) medical and dental coverage,
(4) annual round trip tickets for students and family, and
(5) academic supervision.
Another more prestigious benefit is the U.S. Patent Program that gives financial support to scholarship recipients to patent their ideas in the U.S. Moreover, with an alliance of over 40 companies willing to hire Saudi students, they have a greater ability to find a job at the culmination of their studies (source). They also have the opportunity to stay 1 – 3 years beyond their degree studies for Optional Practical Training (OPT), but they need to apply through USCIS.
How Much Money Does Saudi Spend on the Program?
Saudi Arabia spends 25% of the gross domestic product (GDP) on funding the advancement of education. The Saudi Arabian Ministries of Social Affairs, Education and Health governmental institutions have invested tremendous efforts and funds in the field of assisting and treating the disabled individuals in Saudi Arabia. Institutions and school curriculum have been constantly improved on and upgraded to par online with the mainstream programs that have been established throughout the kingdom (source).
Projections for the Program
Saudi scholarship students are seeing more cutbacks than ever before. Their monthly stipends are being eaten away by rises in providing their own medical care. Additionally, it is becoming more and more difficult to gain the scholarship in meeting newly instated minimum GPAs. The scholarship has also requested that new recipients must self-pay for their first 1 – 2 semesters and prove they can maintain good grades before they can be accepted fully into the program. Furthermore, students must gain admittance to the top 50 programs for their chosen major.
Given the low costs of crude oil these days and the cost of war with Yemen, it is likely that the scholarship will end up selecting only the most highly qualified students in the foreseeable future. Forbes posted an article in 2016 that the allocated $6 billion education budget that supported students in 2015 sunk 12% in the following year. Without any other major source of income, Saudi’s outreach through their scholarship program may dwindle in coming years.
Making Friendships with Saudis
For the most part, Saudis students are really interested in their foreign host culture. They want to be able to practice English with native speakers. They are even more eager to speak to people who are willing to cross cultural lines to learn a little about their culture.
Some of the best books on Saudi culture I’ve read are:
- Katherine House. On Saudi Arabia: Its People, Past, Religion, Fault lines and Future. – What I love about this book is how the author, House, made close and personal relationships with Saudis who helped contribute to her understanding of their culture. She would live with them and really understand their culture. House also managed to sit among men even in the strict gender segregated country.
- Jean P. Sasson. Princess: A True Story of Life Behind the Veil in Saudi Arabia. This is a hugely controversial book in Saudi Arabia. While there are accusations of inaccuracy, I like it for its tale and cultural elements. It’s an inside story of the royal family.
- Rajaa AlSanea. Girls of Riyadh. Another controversial book, this work of fiction surrounds the tale of four young adult females engaging in risky behavior in the Kingdom. It tells the tale of the real youth. Not all Saudis are extremely religious and fundamental to their beliefs.
If you’ve read my About page, you probably know that I picked up the Saudi Arabic accent in college. One of the reasons for this was because of how easy it was to make Saudi friends. However, the way I approached them was through learning Arabic. My starter books on learning Arabic are below:
- Al-Kitaab – This links to my old college textbook. There is an updated version, but I preferred the old one (for the better price). What I liked about this was the ease in understanding the grammar.
- Arabic Phrasebook – I’ll admit even as a language professor that having a phrasebook is key to beginning success. Once you’ve got a few phrases down pat, you make some friendships, and they can help you from there.
- Easy Arabic Grammar – This is good for a beginning grammar and includs phoneticized pronunciations of Arabic words.
- Media Arabic – Even as a beginner, I cherished this book because it taught me step by step to understand the language that is often used in the Media. This was an essential book to understanding the news quickly. If you have dreams of becoming an Arabic translator. This is a MUST have.
- Modern Arabic Short Stories with English translation – I love the side by side translations of these stories.
Famous Friend of the Saudis
There was one guy who took his friendship with the Saudis to the extreme. His name is Joshua Van Alstine, and goes by the pseudonym Abu Muteb. In other words, he named himself after the late King Abdullah who was intimately called Abu Muteb (meaning: Father of Muteb). He picked up the Saudi accent after forming close relationships with Saudis in the US. Since then he has become a public figure in the Middle East and has even appeared on Saudi dramatic series. Below is a YouTube video of Joshua explaining non-verbal Saudi Communication.
Now that we’ve gone over a little about the scholarship and why there is still quite a population of Saudis on American college campuses, I’d like to hear from you about your experience with Saudis on campus.
Is it your first time on campus? Are you getting ready for the dorms? Don’t forget to check out College Mamma’s Ultimate List of Dorm Essentials.