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Arabian night in Star City


On warm days, I love to go on walks with my wife and children. During one such walk, along the riverfront park in Star City, I met Basim Alhazmi and Muhammad Alnhadi.

Basim told me that he was a PhD student in the WVU Department of Mathematics and Muhammad said he was pursuing a bachelor’s in aerospace engineering. After the hectic days spent studying and a tight exam schedule, they felt great, enjoying the breeze by the river, playing Arabian music and making tea in the traditional way.

This, they said, gave them the feeling of home away from home. Every year, the Saudi Arabian government and companies like Aramco sponsor students to study at WVU and other universities in the U.S.

Basim grew up in a small town called Alzabyah in Jazan, Saudi Arabia. This town is located just to the south of Sabya. The name Alzabyah means a “female deer” in Arabic. In the past, people there primarily pursued farming, especially grains and mango. Now, with the vast urban movement, people are engaged in other jobs, such as teaching, engineering and medicine.

Muhammad grew up in Alkhobar, Saudi Arabia. Alkhobar is in eastern Saudi Arabia and served an important part in Saudi Arabia’s oil industry.

The education system is improving at a rapid pace in Saudi; 15 years ago, there were only seven public universities. Now, there are more than 30, plus several private colleges and institutions. Most jobs and research opportunities can now be found in the fields of cyber security, petroleum, mining technology and tourism.

Basim became fascinated by WVU when he came here for a summer training course in 2014. He decided to pursue a master’s and then a PhD in mathematics here.

Basim and Muhammad find people of Morgantown very kind and friendly. Their favorite places are Cheat Lake, Coopers Rock and Valley Falls State Park.

There are many important festivals in Saudi, including Eid Alfitr and Eid Aladha. The former is celebrated right after the month of Ramadan and the latter is celebrated during the Hajj season in the month of Thulhijjah.

Another important festival is the Saudi National Day. It is celebrated Sept. 23 each year. This day marks the day when the two major kingdoms of Nejd and Hijaz united to one kingdom, forming Saudi Arabia. This is celebrated with fireworks all around the kingdom.

Other festivals are Riyadh Spring season, Jeddah Summer season, Souq Okaz and Aljanaderiyah. The most common foods are Kabsa (lamb, goat or chicken with rice cooked in a pressure pot) and Haneeth (lamb or goat in an oven buried in the ground).

Basim recommends enjoying the beaches of Jeddah, art and culture of Riyadh and caved mountains and rocks of Madain Saleh.

The mountains in Saudi Arabia differ in general from the mountains in West Virginia. The mountains in Saudi Arabia tend to be rocky. They look more like the mountains in Arizona, Nevada or Utah. But West Virginia and Saudi Arabia share a common thing: nice people.

People from Saudi Arabia come as international students, but become mountaineers. Even after going back to their sponsoring employer, they send their families and friends to pursue studies at WVU.

Basim and Muhammad said WVU is rated very high among the students and employers in Saudi Arabia.

ASHUTOSH DAS is an IT transformation leader and strategy professional. He earned his MBA from West Virginia University in 2016. He loves meeting and interacting with new people and understanding their perspectives. He writes a regular article on the diversity of Morgantown for The Dominion Post.