On the East Coast of the United States recently, four young men, hundreds of miles apart, shared a common experience. One, Salih Ghanim, emerged from a neat brick building in lower Manhattan, shivered in the sharp, damp cold of late afternoon and strode through the vibrant bustle of the city toward his apartment. Another, 'Abd Allah Ali Zayir, left a handsome Colonial structure in Burlington, Vermont, and set out across the icy, snow-dusted campus, his shoes squeaking in the snow. A third, Khalid Ali Turki, strolled too that day—along the broad avenues of Washington, D.C. from which occasionally he could glimpse the stone tip of the Washington Monument towering above the city in the distance. And the fourth, Muhammad Nasir al-Duwayan, walked quietly through New London, Connecticut, not far from the sloping banks of the Thames River.
The experience they shared, however, had nothing to do with walking; it was an experience common to all men far from home—a momentary and involuntary longing for home, a longing perhaps for the feel of a blazing sun on sweat-dampened shoulders, for the sight of a cool date palm curving sharply against empty sands beyond the edge of an oasis, or perhaps for the taste of familiar food or the sound of the muezzin calling his people to prayer. Because those four young men are Saudi Arabs and home, on that cold winter's day, was 7,000 miles away.
Salih Ghanim, 'Abd Allah Ali Zayir, Khalid Ali Turki and Muhammad Nasir al-Duwayan are all students. They and nearly 80 other young Saudi Arabs scattered on campuses throughout the United States, are enrolled in colleges, universities, technical schools and other, varied institutions of learning recommended by the Arabian American Oil Company (Aramco) as a means of furthering their own careers and the welfare of their country under Aramco's "Out of Kingdom Training" for Saudi Arab employes.
Established in 1950, the Out of Kingdom program was intended to offer, to promising Saudi Arab employes of the company, an opportunity to add to their knowledge or to acquire the skills necessary to improve their performance or meet the requirements of higher positions with Aramco. Since then hundreds of selected students have left Saudi Arabia and have gone abroad to five countries, Lebanon, Syria, the United Arab Republic, Great Britain and the United States. During the 1963-64 academic year, for example, there were more than 100 such employes studying in all of these countries except Syria and of that number, nearly 80 were in the United States scattered from New England to the Texas Panhandle.
For most of the students the shift from their homeland to the United States is a difficult challenge. Some, married, must leave their families behind. Some have never traveled before. Some have a limited knowledge of English or of the unfamiliar and quite different customs and culture of the land in which they will live. There are changes in diet and in climate for most. And above all there is the challenge of study. Despite extensive schooling in Saudi Arabia many still come into the training schools, colleges and universities lacking the long valuable background possessed by their fellow students.
To ease this transition, Aramco sends most of its employe-students to Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, for two months of intensive study of English, history and the mores of the United States before they scatter to campuses across the nation. At that point, however, Aramco gradually withdraws its helping hand. Students, to be sure, are free to telephone to the company's New York offices at any time for assistance and officials of the company make occasional visits to campuses. But generally the students, after Bucknell, are left alone—free to find their own quarters, their own friends, free to make their own way, to triumph or fail according to their own desires and abilities.
Few, however, do fail, for those selected to go abroad are not chosen haphazardly. By the time a committee of Aramco executives gives its final approval to a man, he has been under close scrutiny for a minimum of five years and has given clear evidence in several ways of his ability, his drive, his dedication.
The Out of Kingdom students—be they in Group A, those who will seek one or more academic degrees, or in Group B, those who will spend two years or more in job-oriented technical training—cannot qualify until they have worked for Aramco for at least five years and until they have achieved a minimum grade of 86 in such subjects as Arabic, English, geometry, general science or biology, chemistry and physics at Aramco's Industrial Training Center or an acceptable equivalent. A man who meets those requirements and applies for study abroad must, furthermore, survive a thorough evaluation of his background including assessments of his attitude, character, performance and potential.
Out of this selection process emerge, at last, those who are sent abroad entirely at company expense, with tuition at a university or a technical center paid, living expenses provided, plus other benefits such as travel, and medical care.
They are a select group, of course; young men who see in their advanced education not merely an opportunity to improve their own positions, but also to help their families and to share their own knowledge and skills with their country. And perhaps they see too the opportunity to heed and put into effect the simple precept on education written by an Arab poet many years ago:
If I study I'll learn
If I see I'll remember
If I do, I'll know.
Charles E. Wilkins, former writer and supervisor of editorial services for Aramco's Public Relations Department in Dhahran, earned a degree in journalism at Wayne University in Detroit, Michigan and did editorial work in the United States for three years before coming to the Middle East in 1956.