Spring 2014 Issue | By Michelle Schraudner, '14
Imagine a scholarship that paid for students to study in any country they wanted with all expenses paid. What if the government funded that scholarship program, granting funding to practically any student who wanted to participate?
In Saudi Arabia, that idea has become a reality.
Through the King Abdullah Foreign Scholarship Program sponsored by the Saudi government, students are encouraged, and fully funded, to live and study virtually anywhere they want. After graduation, they return with a degree and unique experience in hand to help build a promising future for their country.
Why does this matter to Idaho?
In the spring 2014 semester, 575 students at Idaho State University were from Saudi Arabia, thanks in large part to the King Abdullah Foreign Scholarship Program. The 2012-2013 academic year saw more than a 36 percent increase in total international student enrollment at ISU. Along with the students from Saudi Arabia, students from Nepal, China, Kuwait and many other countries are choosing ISU.
African Student Association President and first-year pharmacy student Kizito Kyeremateng came to ISU six years ago from Ghana. He had heard about ISU's health sciences programs from a cousin, and thought the University might be able to help him fulfill his dream of working in the health professions.
"ISU had what I wanted," he said. "It has lived up to everything I expected."
After Kyeremateng earned his bachelor's degree, he decided to stay in Pocatello for his pharmacy training because he liked the community's atmosphere and the program.
"We have been working aggressively to be the destination of choice," said Maria Fletcher, director of ISU's International Programs Office. "You want a great education? You want a safe campus? You come to ISU. You want an excellent faculty? You come to ISU. You want faculty members, staff members and students who are interested and who care about you? Come to ISU."
Kyeremateng says he recommends ISU to friends and family on Facebook. The community of Pocatello, he says, isn't too big, and he has been able to focus on his studies.
"The people here are pretty nice and receptive," he said.
Students from Saudi Arabia are also recommending ISU to friends and family.
"We started posting on the Internet how great it is to be here in Pocatello, how great the University is, how we feel comfortable here," said Saudi Student Association President and marketing student Nezar Alnejidi.
He cited Pocatello's low housing prices and affordable cost of living as another draw for Saudi students to come to Idaho, even relocating from other states.
Kyeremateng says the he appreciates the fact that more international students are coming to campus. Having students with many different life experiences makes the University even better, he says.
"When you come here and see people from where you are from, and from other countries and places, it makes you feel welcome," he said.
Such a large influx of international students in a relatively short period of time was inevitably going to alter Pocatello. Spice stores cater to the Middle Eastern student population and Fletcher said stores like Fred Meyer now have entire aisles devoted to food products for the international community.
In February, a proposal to build a mosque south of campus was presented at a city council meeting.
For Saudi Arabian students like Alnejidi, the response from the community has been overwhelmingly welcome and supportive.
"Even if we are guests here, we still feel Pocatello is our home. We miss it when we go back home for a month or something; we miss going back to Pocatello, even if it is very cold," he said, laughing.
Although a few isolated incidents have made Alnejidi and his wife uncomfortable, he is quick to focus on the support he and the other international students have received from ISU and the surrounding community.
"We still love it," he said. "This is how we feel about it. We feel it's our second home. The people here are also very kind and warm people."
For Fletcher, who once was an international student in the United States herself, the care that the University takes to make sure its international students feel at home in Pocatello is from a place of both human kindness and strategic planning.
"I wanted to increase the international student population, because in my mind, I'm thinking: internationalization, globalization, and all of our students are not traveling out of the country. So I wanted students to come in and interact with the students here so that you can have a different perspective taking place in the classes, different discussions, opening our students' minds here to the possibility of what exists outside of Pocatello," Fletcher said.
Along with that exposure to outside ways of thinking, the international students bring an increase in revenue to ISU and local businesses.
"They spend here, they live here, they have to buy clothes, they have to eat, they buy cars. So, it's good for the community as well," said Fletcher.
When Saudi Arabian students are awarded the King Abdullah Foreign Scholarship, they get to bring their families with them while they study at American universities. The whole family has the opportunity to learn English, learn the new culture and share parts of the Saudi Arabian culture with neighbors and classmates.
"Some people when they see us here, they think, 'Oh, you don't have schools in Saudi Arabia?' We have 25 universities, large universities," Alnejidi said. "We're here for the experience, not just for the education."