Through a scholarship from the Saudi king, students are earning their master’s degrees
Since the 2011 spring semester, the amount of Saudi Arabian students on Webster University’s home campus has increased — from 44 students in the past to almost 80 Saudi students studying here today.
Saudi students have become a regular presence on campus after Webster reached an agreement with the Saudi Arabian Cultural Mission, the intermediary between U.S. educational institutions and the Saudi government.
Most Saudi students studying in the U.S. are under the King Abdullah Scholarship Program, which grants students a full scholarship from the Saudi government.
The Saudi Arabian Cultural Mission (SACM) must place a school on its approved list before Saudi students in the scholarship program can attend there. After negotiations with the SACM began in 2008, Webster University was approved and in the spring of 2011, Saudi students began attending the university’s campus.
“It’s a very good experience,” said Fahad Aljabr, a Saudi Arabian graduate student who came to Webster in the 2011 spring semester. “The purpose to study here is not just for education, but to learn about another culture, and to teach our culture.”
In 2009, there was no Saudi representation on campus. Wenceslaus P’Oryem, the associate director of international services, said Saudi students now make up 30 to 40 percent of Webster’s international student body.
P’Oryem also said the majority of these Saudi students are graduate students, because the SACM has only placed Webster on its list of recommended schools for graduate students.
Calvin Smith, the director of international recruitment at Webster, first began negotiations with the SACM at an education conference in Cairo, Egypt, in 2008. Smith said the discussion started informally, with the exchange of a few business cards.
“Spring of 2011 was the first that we really became aware that everything was really going forward, and really gelling,” Smith said.
The SACM has strict requirements for its approved list, such as regional accreditation, degree programs offered and percentage of international students on campus.
“I’m very proud that Webster is recognized by another country as having such great strength,” Smith said. “They’ve sent us many students, so obviously they feel that their students are getting a good education and are having a good experience.”
Aljabr applied to more than 10 graduate schools but chose Webster because of its multicultural aspect, and because he liked the St. Louis area. Aljabr, a King Abdullah scholarship recipient, sees himself not only as a student of Webster but also as a representative of Saudi Arabia.
“It is a gift from the king of Saudi Arabia to his citizens,” Aljabr said. “They will pick the best to represent their country. To build a cultural bridge between us and others is the most important thing.”
Because of his major in international relations, Aljabr is required to work for the Saudi government’s Ministry of Foreign Policy once he has completed his studies.
Not every student under King Abdullah’s scholarship is required to work for the Saudi government after the completion of their degree, but Aljabr said his experience in diplomacy is needed within the Saudi government.
Smith hopes to continue working with the SACM to get more Saudi students to the Webster campus.
“(The Saudi students) were a pleasure to deal with throughout the whole application process,” Smith said. “I had a very good experience and we’re just so happy to have them here, because I think they add so many positive things to the Webster campus life and I think they bring a lot of cultural knowledge.”
Adel Almejhed, a Saudi human resource management major, is considering returning to Webster after earning his master’s to earn his Ph.D. He and his family moved to St. Louis in 2010 so he could attend Webster.
“At the beginning it was very hard coming in from (Saudi Arabia), especially for my kids,” Almejhed said. “It was a culture shock for them. But after two or three months, they adjusted. St. Louis is a beautiful city. I love all of it so much. I never expected it to be that kind of a city.”
Smith said he continues to see applications coming in from Saudi students. He already has several for spring 2012.
“It’s just very exciting,” Smith said. “I’ve been here for 13 years, and I’ve never seen anything like it. We’ve never had 70, 80 students from anywhere that has come in this close together.”