The air in the bakery is punctuated by the scent of sweet buttery croissants, earthy espresso being brewed, and boisterous tourists, office workers, and friends cajoling. The sky shines blue above Pike Place Market, which is alive and pulsating with color, local produce, and people scavenging for a good find.
This is a quintessential summer day in Seattle, and so I thought a perfect place for an interview. Not entirely. “No thank you, it’s Ramadhan so I’m not eating anything,” Abadi politely explained to me after I had offered him something to drink or eat at the bakery. My heart dropped, and I had a “kick-myself” moment for inviting someone who was fasting to a bakery…a bakery people! But Abadi was calm and relaxed and if he wanted a pastry, I didn’t notice.
Abadi, 24, came from Saudi Arabia to study in the United States. He is attending the University of Washington and is working on his master’s degree in engineering. He loves living here in Seattle and even though he’s from the land of sun and sand, he fits right in with rain-loving Seattleites. He can’t wait for fall when the gray swollen clouds of rain haunt the city. Check out the highlights from my interview with Abadi below:
Jen: Why did you decide to come to the United States to study?
Abadi: For many purposes. First when I graduated from the college, I applied for a couple of jobs, but I couldn’t achieve them. One of the barriers I was facing was the language barrier. Everyone is looking for language fluency. So after a couple of months of working (at King Abdullah University), I decided to quit my job and come to the U.S.
“At my job, you would meet a lot of high figures, prominent figures, and you would see how educated they were. And then I would think, I could be like them; I can achieve my goals, and I can be one of those people who can change the world.”
Abadi: I opened a map and looked at the whole U.S. and pointed to Seattle. When I pointed to Seattle, I looked at the schools over there and came to UW. And when I looked at the program (engineering), I saw it’s one of the most competitive programs in the U.S., so that helped me proceed with my idea to go to Seattle.
Jen: So, what do you enjoy the most about studying here?
Abadi: Different things. So, for me coming from Saudi Arabia, when you come to the U.S. you experience a lot of different things that are different from Saudi or your own country. So people wake up early in the morning, which is completely different than our society.
Jen: I need to live there!
Abadi: You should. The nightlife is 24-7. Many people are not used to waking up at 6 in the morning to go to school. The society here is mixed from all different ages, boys and girls, ladies and gentleman, young and old. Back at home we are segregated most of the time, especially in public places. So watching TV is a big influence. I would watch Hollywood and want to go to Vegas or New York, because it has all the big skyscrapers. So the TV is a big influence for people to want to come over to the U.S.
Jen: So what do you like most about studying here in Seattle and the U.S.?
Abadi: Well you can create your own community, find your own friends, and be independent…that’s the biggest part.
"Being like the Americans, they leave their parents house because they want to achieve their goals. They start from scratch. That’s what I want."
Jen: What do you miss the most about home?
Abadi: Honestly, the luxury life. So back home, I used to have a driver. I used to have a nanny. I never cooked my food. I never arranged my room. I mean I would just wake up early in the morning and find that everything was organized.
Jen: So is living here is like camping to you?!
Abadi: Ha ha! So when I get back here, I have to do everything by myself. Clean my clothes, cleaning my car, getting ready for school.
Jen: What was the biggest surprise when you came to study here?
Abadi: Something that really surprised me about school was the program itself. So the program itself and the way of teaching is really competitive and I really like that. There is no diversity in the program, which really surprised me.
Jen: What was your biggest disappointment?
Abadi: Well the first couple months I was here and I was getting established, I tried to find a lot of American friends, but it wasn’t easy at all. It took me about a month or two months to start speaking with and hanging out with Americans. I was disappointed. For some reason I thought on the first day that I would find my girlfriend and we would go hang out every night, seriously. But now I’m not heartbroken, hahaha!
Jen: How do you handle the language differences?
Abadi: For being here, I have a purpose, to improve my English skills. So when you come here, you try to avoid people who speak the same language even though they are your friends, and you came from the same city, and you have a lot of things to share. But I mean I am here for a purpose, which is staying away from my own language as much as I can and speak English. Sometimes, people (Arabic speakers) would ask why I wouldn’t speak in Arabic and say “are you cocky or something.”
"But I’m just trying to practice my English. My only focus is to speak English and nothing more."
Jen: How have you handled the financial differences?
Abadi: The first couple months when I came I had my own expenses and that limited me because I always have to think about my budget. My country was offering a scholarship to students trying to get a higher degree (a master’s degree). So I applied for it, and I earned a scholarship from my own country. That’s made a big difference (financially).
Jen: What about the different educational system?
Abadi: For us (in Saudi Arabia), we were more theoretical than practical. Here, they go to the field to apply the concepts they’ve learned. We didn’t get to practice a lot of concepts in the field, but here the students get a chance to look with their own eyes at what they have studied. They will never ever forget what they have learned.
Jen: What kind of activities do you do here?
Abadi: Oh lots of things. So there is this organization, FIUTS, and they do lots of activities.
"Honestly, I like winter activities more than any other thing, because we don’t have those things back home. In the winter, we do things like snowshoeing, skiing, hiking. Sometimes, my friends and I will organize our own ski activities."
But, seriously, the reason I chose Seattle is because the city is really spectacular. You have the mountains, you have the ocean, you have the city life, you have the skyscrapers, even though it’s like a city-town. I really like that I have chosen Seattle.
Jen: Have you traveled to other parts of the United States?
Abadi: Yep. Most amazing trip was driving from sea to shining sea. So we drove 4,500 miles from Seattle to New York. The reason we chose to drive is because we wanted the chance to see everything in the middle.
Jen: What’s your advice to other international students?
Abadi: Try to get out of your comfort zone. Experience American lifestyles, watch TV, and just enjoy your life.
"Take advantage of every single minute, because these chances don’t always come, so you should take advantage of it."
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