By Hanan Albarqi
Why did you decide to study in the USA?
After long consideration, I chose the USA because the American universities comprise a high percentage of the highly ranked universities in my major, mathematics. Additionally, the diversity in the U.S. was an important factor. As an international student, it is easier for me to study in a diverse country.
Why did you choose this particular college or university?
There are several factors that affected my decision. The most important one was the great reputation that the English Language Center (ELC) at the University of Texas at Austin has. In addition, I heard that Austin was voted the #1 place to live in the U.S. in 2019 based on the quality of life. I also liked that it has several great parks and river access.
What do you like best about your program or university?
ELC offers two programs: the English Language Program (ELP) and the Academic English Program (AEP). As a beginner in English, enrolling in the ELP program in my first semester improved my speaking skills and provided me with a strong foundation. The AEP program prepared me perfectly for my master’s program by improving my skills in writing research papers and summarizing articles; it also improved my critical thinking skills.
What do you miss most about home?
Fortunately, my parents came with me to the U.S. to support me during my academic journey, which made the experience a lot easier for me. I still miss everything in Saudi Arabia; I miss my family gatherings and spending time with my friends. The thing I miss the most is spending the holidays, especially Ramadan and Eid, with my family.
What was your biggest surprise about U.S. life and education?
People in the U.S. are really welcoming. Even though my English was not that good when I first came, they helped to motivate me and encouraged me to improve my English. I also didn’t face any racism, which was a concern of mine.
... your biggest disappointment?
After my first semester at the University of Texas, we had to move to online classes due to COVID-19, which was a big disappointment. My first semester was in-person, and I really enjoyed going to classes, meeting my classmates, and participating in the activities that were offered by the university.
How have you handled:
... language differences?
Speaking in a foreign language was not easy at first, but the language classes that I took at the University of Texas were helpful to improve my fluency. In addition to these classes, the people in the community motivated and helped me to overcome this difficulty.
The prices in the U.S. were higher than expected, especially for the rent. However, Saudi Arabia provides its students with a scholarship that covers tuition fees and provides them with a monthly allowance for living expenses, clothing, and books, as well as travel expenses and comprehensive medical coverage.
... adjusting to a different educational system?
The educational system in the U.S. is flexible, so it was not hard to adjust to it. The program I was enrolled in at the University of Texas was interesting. The professors at the English Language Center are professional and helped me to learn in fun and interesting ways. Currently, I am enrolled in the master’s program in mathematics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. It is also flexible and allows students a wide range of course choices.
What are your activities?
The ELC offered several fun activities. I enjoyed participating in most of them such as 'We Chat,' a weekly activity where we used to speak with English native speakers on different topics in order to improve our speaking skills. There were also interesting trips to historical places such as the Capitol and different museums. Another fun activity that I enjoyed doing while I was in Austin is feeding squirrels! Here is a picture of that:
How easy or difficult is making friends in the USA?
Making international friends was easier for me because the program that I was enrolled in is specific for foreigners. It might be easier to make American friends if the classes were in person.
What are your career goals? How is your U.S. education relevant to your personal goals and to the needs of your country?
I am a teaching assistant at King Khalid University in Saudi Arabia, and my education in the U.S. will help me to build a more well-rounded curriculum for my students.
What is your advice to other students from your country who are considering a U.S. education?
At first, I was not sure that studying in the U.S. was the right decision. However, after my experience, I knew for certain that I made the right choice. People in the U.S. are really friendly, and the education system is great, so I strongly encourage students to study in the U.S.