Scholarship students: Big dreams, slow change

Thousands of Saudi students under the King Abdullah Foreign Scholarship Program have had the opportunity to study at prestigious universities abroad.

March 10, 2013
Scholarship students: Big dreams, slow change
Scholarship students: Big dreams, slow change

Laura Bashraheel

Saudi Gazette

Thousands of Saudi students under the King Abdullah Foreign Scholarship Program have had the opportunity to study at prestigious universities abroad — to gain education and expertise in specialized courses not offered in the Kingdom and then heartily contribute to their country’s development.

Recently, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah approved the extension of the scholarship program for another five years.

The Saudi government invests SR9 billion in King Abdullah Scholarship Program each year, providing full funding for 125,000 students — both in undergraduate and postgraduate programs abroad.

The scholarship’s main goals are to prepare Saudis to replace expatriate workers in jobs, thus reducing unemployment. Also, Saudi Arabia is going through a social and economic change and these graduates who hopefully on their return would contribute to create a more open society.

With education and cultural exposure, these graduates will come back with their experiences, dreams and aspirations, all the more hoping and pushing for change.

Mansour Abdulghaffar, a 24-year-old Associate Consultant at Elixir Business Consultancy focusing on Marketing and Strategy, graduated from the United Kingdom with bachelor in business IT and a master’s degree in technology entrepreneurship after spending five years there.

Abdulghaffar started applying for jobs early on from May/June, before finishing his studies in September. Upon his return, he spent few months searching.

“It took me a while to find the perfect job. I wanted to be part of something big, and contribute to societal change, and I’m achieving that at Elixir,” he said.

He consults mostly for the Ministry of Labor and the Human Resources Development Fund (HRDF), helping them to reduce unemployment, create job opportunities and develop human capital to achieve sustainable employment of Saudi nationals.

“One of the problems with scholarship graduates is that they come back after years of not knowing the Saudi job market and they get lost in the beginning. In my opinion, that’s why some of them spend so much time looking for a job and not because they are picky or under-qualified,” he said.

He also said that some students miss the application deadline, which is usually around July/August. “I believe it's a matter of poor job matching here rather than unqualified applicants, as many might think,” he added.

Abdulghaffar also believes that scholarships are vital to the country’s development. “Saudi Arabia has a diverse workforce, since scholarships students are exposed to different cultures around the world. A student spends four years abroad and is exposed to different mindsets and cultures. Of course this exposure will contribute to the country’s social change, and for the better,” he added.

From his experience of working with the Ministry of Labor and HRDF, Abdulghaffar said that the government is working very hard, as opposed to what many think (including himself prior to his job), defying bureaucracy to address the issues and challenges we face today.

Muyasser Al-Bar, a 23-year-old law graduate, came back after living four years in London hoping to be a leading lawyer.

After returning from London, Al-Bar found a job in a law firm but it wasn’t up to his expectations as the good vacancies are mostly for the experienced.

“They are dealing with Saudi law that I have an overview of. I’m still looking for a better opportunity,” he said.

After living abroad for four years, Al-Bar believes that this experience plus doing social studies has enlightened his perspective to a great extent, along with his social deeds, manners and rights.

Being immersed in one country tends to give us a limited view of our world. Traveling outside the country will show you how America affects and fits into all of humanity. From the vantage point of someone else’s culture you can truly see your own. By being exposed to so many diverse traditions you will understand the significance of keeping your own traditions alive.

Scholarship graduates are not only expected to contribute to the country’s economy and job market but also have an effect socially and culturally.

“Studying abroad in such a crucial age brightens our minds to accept different people and thoughts, know the right from wrong and most importantly act upon them,” Al-Bar added.

“Disappointment in society has been there before I traveled; however, that enlarged upon my arrival. Due to my profession, I have to deal with one of the most backward judicial systems in the world, which is improving at a very slow pace.”

Rasha Saifuddin, a 29-year-old, who studied New Media and Society at the University of Leicester, lived there for four years and is still looking for a suitable job.

Living abroad has reflected positively on Saifuddin. After her return, she is hoping to pursue an academic career and develop herself in her field.

Scholarship graduates will contribute to social change after coming back from advanced countries and will try to apply what they have learned to their society. “I believe social researchers’ numbers will increase and people will demand more development and change, each in their field,” she said.

Saudi women abroad experience being independent and the ability of doing things on their own. However, after returning from abroad, the difficulty to cope with bureaucracy becomes a burden.

One of the things Saifuddin is finding difficulty dealing with is bureaucracy in government offices and the trouble of dealing with them without a male guardian compared to the UK where she did everything easily by herself and through the Internet.

“The difficulty of women paying bills for example unless you are with a male guardian is immense. Few days ago Mobily refused that I should go in and pay for my Internet subscription unless a male guardian was with me,” she said.

In order for Saudi Arabia to develop both in economically and socially it is necessary that students at schools and universities learn skills to discuss and solve problems. In other words, learn the skills to become critical thinkers.

Sarah Aburoayan, 28, holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology and master’s in work psychology and business. She lived in Birmingham for five years and started working straight after her return to Saudi Arabia.

Her experience of living abroad has made her more patient and given her the ability to criticize things she reads or hears more. “Living there has taught me what critical thinking is,” she said.

After her return, Aburoayan wants to make the best of the things that she learned by applying psychological principles in the work place. “I couldn’t do any of that because most organizations here need a more established human resources department and once they have that they will be ready for a more advanced approach,” she explained saying that change will take place but only in the long run. Many students fear their return since reform in the country is taking place at a slow pace. Aburoayan was disappointed after she returned. “I still find it difficult to complete my day-to-day activities conveniently without the need of a driver. It can be really hectic if you don’t have one. Not having a car was never an issue there, public transportation was everywhere and very easy to use,” she added.

“When you are away for some time you tend to realize how uncivilized some people are whenever you are out on the streets. They drive as if they are in a jungle and still find it really hard to stand in a line or to wait for their turn,” Aburoayan said.

She sometimes wishes that she never studied abroad because she finds it really hard to get used to the chaos here after getting used to a more civilized way of living.

March 10, 2013
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