International Spotlight: Come Learn about Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia. “It is just like any other country. It is not the moon.”

Graduate student Ahmad Alkhathami, president of the Saudi Club and administrative officer of the Muslim Student Association, has been working to change the American perception of Saudi Arabia since arriving in the United States about three years ago.

“The differences between us are very minor. Although many Saudi people still wear traditional clothing (such as the thobe) and we are trying to keep our traditions despite globalization, you will find if you visit that there are similarities and many useful things to learn from us.”

Alkhathami is from Taif, a mountain city in western Saudi Arabia. He is the second oldest child in his family, with four brothers and two sisters. He received his undergraduate degree in electronics and communication engineering in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, and worked at an electric company for three years before deciding to pursue graduate studies in the United States.

Ahmad Alkhathami, second from right, is president of the university's Saudi Club.

Four members of the university's Saudi Club, Abdullah Alahmad, Abdullah Almutairi, Ahmad Alkhathami (president of the club) and Mustafa Al-sadiq displayed their country's flag during during the Eid celebration held in September.

“I wanted to experience something new, so I started looking abroad to gain experience and knowledge after receiving the Saudi Cultural Mission Scholarship. I was first planning on going to Florida, but the Cultural Mission chose Minnesota for me to study English.” With that decision, he began his studies at the ELS Language Center’s St. Paul campus. After seven months of study there, he started the Master of Science in Manufacturing Systems (MSMS) program at St. Thomas. 

“At first I was surprised by Minnesota, but I decided to stay. I chose St. Thomas because of its amazing MSMS program. I also like that the education system here focuses more on quality than quantity. This was the correct choice for me. The program is a perfect fit with my professional goals and the campus environment fits my needs.”

In his free time, Alkhathami likes to watch documentaries and play as many sports as possible (currently learning how to play golf). “I am open to any new experience and ways to enhance my knowledge and skills, which will help with the success of my life and future.”

After studying in Minnesota at St. Thomas, Alkhathami has some words of advice for international students considering studying abroad. “It is a great experience, where you not only learn American culture, you get to learn about all the other cultures within the United States. You almost do not get homesick because of the diversity of people on campus. St. Thomas is not too big, which allows you to get to know more people and build relationships quickly. It is also great how the campus community supports international students through various departments, clubs, and events.”

Alkhathami is working on a big project before his graduation in May 2011. He is developing an exchange program for American students to travel to Saudi Arabia. The program would allow students to combine learning and practical experiences in Saudi Arabia to develop a new perspective on the country and its culture. After graduation, he is planning to go back to Saudi Arabia to work.

To learn more about Alkhathami and Saudi Arabia, the university community is invited to attend his CultureLink Tea presentation at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 20, in Room 152, Murray-Herrick Campus Center. In addition to tea, Saudi treats will be served.