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Far From Home

Like many other recent high school graduates, Faisal Algedaani enjoys video games, anime and is a fan of Spiderman. Unlike many teens his age, he recently moved more than 6,700 miles from Saudi Arabia to Raleigh as part of a foundation year program hosted by NC State’s Intensive English Program (IEP) and Global Training Initiative (GTI). Now, Algedanni is adjusting to life as a teenager in the United States and being so far from home.

A group of students from Saudi Arabia are posing for a group picture in Umstead Park.

“Having spent 17 years in Saudi Arabia I developed a familiarity with my surroundings there. I didn’t realize how much comfort this familiarity gave me until I moved here,” he said. “The people here are really nice too.”

Algedaani is joined by 11 other students as part of a scholarship program for gifted students funded by the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST). These students will spend their undergraduate years at a university in the United States before applying to the highly competitive graduate programs at KAUST. NC State previously hosted the foundation year program from 2014-2016. The GTI and IEP provide classes and workshops to help the students transition to life in the U.S. as well as the academic standards and expectations in the university setting.

A group of students form Saudi Arabia pose in front of their booth (with a Saudi Arabia flag) in Talley Student Union.

“We’re excited to bring some of the top high school graduates from Saudi Arabia to campus for a year of pre-academic preparation and to introduce them to our students and programs at NC State,” said Michael Bustle, associate vice provost for global initiatives and education. “This helps our reputation overseas and also gives our students a chance to engage with students from a very different cultural background.”

Dina Alshehri is another foundation year student who has been enjoying life in Raleigh so far but is still getting used to the differences here.

“I feel that Raleigh is a beautiful city, but I was surprised to find that it’s not a big city like Riyadh, where there is much more to do,” she said. “I do love the weather here, but we have already seen how it changes a lot which can be confusing.”

A group of students form Saudi Arabia pose in front of the Belltower.

Alshehri added that one of the biggest changes for her has been learning how to navigate living on your own for the first time.

“I’m responsible for myself 100 percent, which involves managing my budget, making my own decisions, taking care of dinner plans, and much more,” she said.

“The amount of newness the students are experiencing is immense with all of their senses being stimulated simultaneously,” said Asya Ashour, GTI’s student success coordinator for the foundation year program. “They’re operating outside of their comfort zone, their life skills are being challenged, their values questioned and their identities examined. The importance of supporting students through this transition, which is made more stressful due to their intense workload, cannot be understated.”

As the students adapt to their new lives and new surroundings, they are also appreciative of the opportunities afforded to them because of the KAUST Gifted Student Program (KGSP). Algedaani is the first of his six siblings to get a scholarship to study in the U.S. 

A group of students form Saudi Arabia are taking a selfie.

“If I wanted to just be a chemical engineer, I would have stayed in Saudi Arabia,” he said. “I have ambitions to be an inventor, researcher, explorer, and I saw all of that in the opportunities given to me here by KGSP.”

He added that the opportunity to see rain more than once a year has been a highlight and is looking forward to the prospect of seeing snow this winter.