Of the 608 international students from 45 countries who attend USF, one-third of them come from just one kingdom: Saudi Arabia.
Why is that?
Noah Adem, Cultural Attaché for Middle Eastern Students at INTO USF, said he believes thousands of Saudi Arabian students gravitate to Florida and California, not only because there are great tourist attractions, but also because the climate is similar to their home countries – minimal cold weather and no snow.
While these factors play a role in determining where to receive a college education, these are not the true reasons why these students are at USF.
They have been sent by their government on a scholarship program to receive a quality education: all expenses paid.
Adem said there are three main reasons why the King Abdullah Scholarships Program exists and funds their citizens to study abroad.
Back in the 70s, he said, Saudi Arabia sent students abroad because it didn’t have the infrastructure to educate them. After receiving a degree, the students returned to the country and became the leaders in education, business and engineering.
Now that the prior generation is close to retirement, he said, the Saudi Arabian government is funding students, again.
“They need to prepare the new generation to be able to take over,” he said, “and lead the country forward.”
The government funds students’ tuition 100 percent, provides medical insurance, travel expenses and gives them a monthly allowance of $1,850 for living expenses. The government will continue funding if a student chooses to pursue a master’s or Ph.D.
Another reason the students are here, Adem said, is due to the high birth rate in Saudi Arabia.
“The population has grown faster than (the government) had expected,” he said. “And their universities were not ready to handle this huge demand of students.”
According to the CIA’s website, Saudi Arabia’s birth rate is 19.19 per 1,000 population, compared with 13.68 in the United States.
Saudi Arabia is building universities now to accommodate future generations, Adem said, but for the time being, they are sending high school graduates abroad.
Maan Ghoth, a Saudi Arabian freshman majoring in marketing, attended an ELS Language Center in St. Petersburg, an English language program with locations nation-wide, to learn and pass an English exam before being accepted at USF and pursuing his bachelor’s degree.
“My first point is to make my parents proud of me,” Ghoth said. “Just going back from the United States there with a good transcript in my hand, this is what I want. It’s good for me when I go back. The best universities in the world are in the U.S. … then going to Saudi Arabia to find a job will be easy, you will have a nice future.”
Before moving to the United States a year ago, he worked for a Harley Davidson dealership.
Once he graduates USF, Ghoth is unsure if he wants to continue his education but plans to open his own Harley Davidson repair shop in his country to allow people more access, since there are only a few bike shops in Saudi Arabia.
“I’m just focusing about what’s coming,” he said, “I just want to focus on my bachelor’s degree. When I finish, I will start thinking about the master’s and see what happens.”
A final reason students are given the opportunity to become educated is for cultural exchange.
Saudi Arabia does not only send students to the U.S., but also to Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, India, Canada, Japan, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and more, according to the King Abdullah Scholarships Program’s website.
“We’ve become a global world where you’ve got to interact with other people,” Adem said. “The goal behind it was to send them everywhere so they can build and garner relationships with people they interact with there for the future.”
The Saudi Arabian students are gaining an education, friends and the chance to travel and live in a foreign country.
“For them it’s an opportunity of a life time,” he said. “It’s well known that education outside the kingdom is a better education, whenever you go abroad its always better…you get a better opportunity in the job market.”
The international students at USF are studying abroad to improve themselves for the future of their country.