A distance of 10,000 miles separates Saudi Arabia and the United States, the birthplaces of teenagers Muhammad 'Abd al-'Aziz al-'Isa and Thomas I. Fulton. It would be no surprise to anyone if the two boys had little in common, other than the fact that both are students. They are, after all, representatives of different environments, different educational systems, and certainly different traditions. In fact, it might very well be expected that almost everything about the boys would be different.
Yet a visitor who asked both Muhammad and Tom the same questions probably would come to the conclusion that boys are the same anywhere in the world—a world that is not really so big when teenagers have outlooks so similar.
When Muhammad speaks, it is apparent that here is a serious-minded boy, mature beyond his 16 years. And it's not affectation when he says soberly:
"I hope to be able to serve my country to the limit of my education and ability."
That's what he wants to do when he grows up. More specifically he says, "I hope I can be in the foreign service of our Government. I want to travel and know about other countries."
Boys in the Middle East tend to grow up earlier than they generally do in the West, so Muhammad has been thinking and dreaming about his future for a long time.
"I read quite a bit. For the last three or four years, I have been reading about different parts of the world. In the diplomatic service, I could spend some time in these places."
A secondary interest is chemistry, which he began studying last year. He wants to learn more about this, too.
But being an airplane pilot is not one of Muhammad's dreams.
"Flying an airplane is a beautiful thing," he says, "and a pilot can serve his country, too. But, I'm not interested."
How about space travel? Does he think that man will be able to reach the moon? This brings a broad smile:
"Yes, I believe so—but I don't want to be the first!"
Naturally, Muhammad intends to go to college. That's why he's working in a printing shop during his summer vacation—to help earn the money, because:
"College is a must. Most of my friends want to go to college, but not all will do so. But, the secondary schools now have very good courses in crafts, and shops where boys can learn by doing. Many boys hope to become skilled craftsmen."
Muhammad doesn't go in much for competitive sports at school, but he keeps himself in trim physically with regular setting-up exercises, weight-lifting and the like. As hobbies he likes reading, stamp collecting, and corresponding with friends and acquaintances in other Arab countries. Mostly he writes to friends who have moved away and former teachers, but, with a smile, admits that several young ladies are also on his pen-pal list.
Muhammad has some very definite ideas about whether or not he will marry early or wait until his financial picture looks bright.
"I don't want to get married until I have finished college, have a job, and feel that I'm on my way," he says. But he has no delusions about getting a "big" job right out of college.
"Isn't starting at the bottom taken for granted?" Muhammad asks.
Tom Fulton is two years younger than Muhammad 'Abd al-'Aziz al-'Isa, and, unlike Muhammad, has spent most of his life outside of his own country. But the fact that Tom has spent all but three of his 14 years away from the United States, much of it traveling, doesn't bother him, especially when he considers a possible career.
"I think it will be the Navy," he says. "I like to travel."
Outside of his yearning for more travel, Tom is like most 14-year-old American boys: his ideas of a career haven't quite jelled yet.
"I'm pretty good at math and science," he admits, "and I guess that's why I've thought of engineering, as well as the Navy." His scientific leanings haven't given him a desire to become an astronaut, however. "No thanks!" is his reaction to that possibility.
Right now. Tom's getting reacquainted with his own-country, which he left just after his third birthday. The Aramco school system for employees' children goes only through the ninth grade, so this fall, Tom entered Menlo School at Menlo Park, in his home state of California. He was born in Oakland, but this turned out to be just a place where he was from. His father, Frank K. Fulton, decided to accept an assignment in Saudi Arabia. Now, he's Aramco's coordinator of budgeting and planning.
In the intervening years—like most Aramco families—the Fultons, have utilized the every-other-year "long leave" for travel, and Tom has gone along ever since he became old enough: through much of Europe—Italy, Switzerland, France, Germany, Spain; and into the Far East—India, Thailand, Japan, Hawaii.
"I like to see strange new sights, learn the customs of different countries, and try different kinds of food. In the Navy, I'd have the chance to do more of this."
If the Navy turns out to be his choice, Tom hopes that he'll be able to get into the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis. Otherwise, it will be college: the University of California, where his brother, Richard, now a junior, is majoring in engineering.
"Competition," says Tom, "is so stiff these days that you can't get very far without college."
In addition to his school work, Tom's special likes are baseball, football, basketball, swimming, and teenage social life. In between, he's a stamp collector.
Like Muhammad, Tom has definite views on marriage.
"I'd like to get married when I get out of college and get a job. Not before."
Of course, if he chooses the Navy as a career, Tom knows that he must be willing to spend years as a junior officer before moving up in rank.
"How else do you do it?" he asks.