Commentary | Saudi Students Abroad: Experience Matters – Batarfi

Published: April 30, 2013

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Editor’s Note:

SUSRIS periodically shares perspectives from columnists in Saudi Arabia and around the Gulf. Here today for your consideration is a recent column by Dr. Khaled Batarfi who writes regularly for Saudi Gazette.


Saudi Students Abroad: Experience Matters
Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi

“Why Poland?” I asked Sara Al-Bassam, a Saudi medical student in Warsaw. At the request of Ambassador Walid Radwan, she and eight other students studying in medical and science universities were meeting with us — Al Jazeera’s Saad Al-Shehri, Asharq Alawsat’s Bader Al-Gahtani and me — in the Saudi Embassy in Warsaw.

My question was based on the fact that Polish is a local language regarded as the world’s fourth hardest, right after Arabic. However, unlike Arabic, it has no use outside of Poland.

Sara was eloquent. She explained: “I didn’t just choose this country for its natural beauty and wonderful cities, only. After all, Germany is right next door, and has similar merits, plus the more global language and image.

“After much research, I saw that European and German students found Polish universities, especially in medicine, science and technology, superb. They are right. Education here is that good. Did you know that Jagiellonian University was established in 1364, in Kraków City. It is the second oldest university in Central Europe and one of the oldest universities in the world.

“As for the language, Saudi students take the English track. We only speak Polish in our daily communication outside school. Besides, Poland is among the most conservative and family oriented European nations. After three years here, and aside from the cold weather and the usual difficulties for a single Arab, Muslim girl, I am satisfied with my choice,” she concludes.

Sara is among 800 students who chose Poland. Others are spread all over the globe studying in the world’s best universities making the most of the King Abdullah Scholarship Program.

“It is not just the good schooling that motivates the Program,” Ambassador Radwan commented. “We could have invited these universities into the Kingdom, like some of our neighbors did in their countries. It is a good idea, but it doesn’t provide our youth with the global prospective and cultural experience they get when living in other nations and interacting with different communities.

“The challenges they face, the victories they achieve, and even the mistakes they make and learn from are important to the building of their confidence and personality. They also learn how to be proud of their culture and loyal to their country, while being tolerant and open-minded enough to live harmoniously, cooperatively and peacefully in a diversified and increasingly networked world.”

Well said, Ambassador! When I returned from the United States with a Ph.D. in journalism and mass communication, I wasn’t the same person I had been when I first went abroad. It wasn’t just the quality education, but the whole experience that changed me, and hopefully made me a better person: A person who doesn’t carry a grudge against others, just because they look, speak, think or believe differently. A person who appreciates people for their own merits, regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation or lifestyle. A person who cooperates with those who share humanity’s basic values and helps in making our life on earth a better experience. A person who truly believes we are all — humans, animals, plants and things — the creation and children of the same compassionate God. The created are the children of Allah, as Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said.

Not just because I lived in the US, but because of these beliefs and values I was like hundreds of thousands of our students abroad who were thoroughly shocked and disgusted with all the hate speeches that led to violence and terrorism. Being there, communicating and experiencing the true values of people, we came to learn firsthand that goodness has no identity. We are all capable of being compassionate, helpful and good contributors to world peace and human progress.

What we felt after the Boston Marathon attacks was no less than what we felt after the bombings of the Oklahoma Federal building, Al-Khobar and Riyadh in the 1990s, and then the 9/11 attacks and what followed from all of that. Every cause for hatred among nations leads to conflict. That, in turn, leads to the dysfunction of world development and progress. Instead of curing diseases, and fighting poverty, crime, unemployment and other global ills, and building the earth and improving life for all, as fresh graduates should do, we find our aspirations, initiative and work hindered by such conflicts.

Hate preachers and conflict makers prey on the ignorant. Isolation produces ignorance. That’s why the manufacturers of death and destruction hate to see us discover the world for ourselves and by ourselves. It makes their work harder or impossible when people mix and find out how similar, under the skin, we all are.

Good luck to Sara and her fellow students. Good luck to all our young ambassadors out there. Our future waits for you.

— Dr. Khaled Batarfi is a Saudi writer based in Jeddah. He can be reached at: Follow him on Twitter: @Kbatarfi

[This column originally appeared in the April 30, 2013 Saudi Gazette.]