Arab students recount their experiences studying abroad

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“The unique culture and lifestyle of the UAE is definitely one I can see myself coming back to,” says Adam Rashed, a 22-year-old student at the University of Bristol in the UK. “I grew up here and I have a lot of family here.”

Adam is currently undertaking a Master’s degree in Law at Bristol, where he also completed a Bachelor’s in Ancient History. Before that, he attended Harrow School in London. Based in the UAE, Adam chose to study in the UK because of its “established institutions.”

Studying abroad is becoming more and more popular among Arab students. According to statistics for 2018 compiled by UCAS – the organization that processes applications for universities in the UK – 640 applications were made to UK universities from Saudi Arabia and 1,800 from the UAE. These figures have been on the rise for many years, as the UK as well as the US increasingly become more desirable destinations for study.

In the academic year 2013-2014, more than 85,000 Middle Eastern students made up 10 percent of the US’s international student body, according to a study by the Institute of International Education. More than 60 percent of these students were from Saudi Arabia.

In the same cycle, there were 27,520 Middle Eastern students studying in the UK of which 9,060 were from Saudi Arabia, accounting for six percent of the UK’s international student population, the Higher Education Statistics Agency reported.

Although there is often “less diversity in English universities,” says Adam, they afford “access to leading scholars in the field you want to study.” He also finds that he has “more independence” living abroad.

But Adam intends to return closer to home in the long run. “I will most likely start my career in London as it is an internationally recognized city in terms of a higher standard of work, especially in law,” he says, but he can “definitely see myself moving back to the Middle East when I’m older and more established.”

Razan Alsafwani, 23, went back to Saudi Arabia a year after working with the European Parliament in Brussels, a job she landed after graduating with a Master’s degree in International Relations at Suffolk University in Boston. Suffolk was also where she did her Bachelor’s, majoring in Political Science with a minor in International Business between 2013 and 2017.

“I always felt like I have the obligation to return to my country and give back to the community,” Razan says.

Out of 1,502 students in 18 Arab countries surveyed by Dubai-based Al Aan TV in 2013, almost half (46.5 percent) said that they would choose to study abroad if given the opportunity. The survey found that the US, the UK, and Canada were the three most popular destinations for Arab international students seeking further education, with the UAE placing fourth.

Programs such as the King Abdullah Scholarship Program, which provides funding for tuition, health insurance, and flights to and from the Middle East, are making it easier for Middle Eastern students to realize these aspirations.

Razan was a recipient of a scholarship that funded all of her university tuition and provided her with a monthly allowance from the Saudi Arabian government for the period of her studies.

“Universities in the United States are known for the quality of education and opportunity,” says Razan, who is full of praise for her alma mater. “I was exposed to a plethora of learning and professional opportunities. Suffolk University and Boston in general have allowed me to grow in more ways than I could have ever imagined.”

“Suffolk University encourages students to prosper and reach their full potential. Almost every single faculty member truly cared about my wellbeing and success,” she adds.

Razan remembers her experience as a Saudi student in the US fondly. “The cultural mission in Washington DC always had its doors open to Saudi students, welcoming their enquiries, as well as providing them with volunteering opportunities.”

“I am immensely grateful for the opportunities it gave me and all the doors it opened. It is both a responsibility and a pleasure to return and join the force and dynamic movement of Vision 2030 and shape Saudi Arabia’s tomorrow.”

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