Four years ago, I was studying at a college in Texas, absolutely exhausted.
I remember walking out of my American History class after it had ended for the day, ending up at the campus Chili’s Grill. I was acing all of my courses, but I was just so tired. Everything was taking an emotional toll. I ordered my usual, a 4 Cheese pizza. Nothing else was halal there, and since I kept halal, the fact that I couldn’t eat anything except that pizza made my life miserable.
I called my mom and broke down. I couldn’t do this anymore.
I knew that in moving to America, culture shock would be natural – inevitable! -but that it would eventually pass. I’d enrolled in a Computer Science program, taking classes that I absolutely loved. It wasn’t until I was at school, in good ol’ Texas, that I came to a pretty big realization.
I’m a child of the Middle East, through and through.
I was born and raised in Saudi Arabia. I should have been ecstatic about going to school in America, but I was so unhappy that I needed a way back to the Middle East.
One that came with an undergraduate degree, of course.
So, I started doing my homework: looking at tuition rates, course curriculums, and accreditations. I narrowed my choices down to 2 countries: Qatar and U.A.E.
Qatar was soon out of the question because the tuition was too high. The U.A.E. had two promising options: the Rochester Institute of Technology Dubai (RIT Dubai) and another, one that a few friends attended. When I looked into the second school, I found that U.S. credits usually weren’t transferable, which was a big issue for me. Why should I lose all the hard work I’d put in while I was in America?
I didn’t know anyone at RIT Dubai, but the more I looked into the school, the more it fascinated me. More than just the look and feel, the university also hit all the things I was looking for: incredible courses, affordable tuition, and solid accreditation. I was getting good vibes – so with that, I made up my mind.
First, of course, I had to tackle the big P word: parents.
It took a lot of back and forth before I could convince my parents around why I’d decided to abandon college in America (what about the American dream?) and opted to follow my heart to a university in Dubai.
My parents were really confused. If I was acing everything, what was the problem?
It was simple. I didn’t just feel homesick – I felt foreign. It didn’t feel like home. How could I adequately explain to them that biryani wasn’t spicy unless it was home-made, that the shawarma I’d tried was a joke and the manakeesh? I don’t think I ever found good manakeesh in Texas. This may seem dramatic, but food is life for me, regardless of the situation.
Obviously, I didn’t focus on food to convince them.
I spoke to the academic advantages of RIT Dubai: how I wouldn’t be a number amongst hundreds of students because the class size was that much smaller. That’d mean I’d get a more personal class experience. On top of that, it was a branch of an American university, so my credits wouldn’t be wasted.
It made a lot of sense to my mom academically, but, at the end of the day, the safety sold her. Dubai is a safe city and RIT Dubai is a safe school. My mom had always been a bit reluctant about my decision to go to America, to begin with, even though she encouraged me to go – a decision I quickly regretted once I reached the opposite side of the Atlantic.
I had not been prepared for the racism that I felt in Texas, a reality that soon led me to realize that America was not the utopia I thought it’d be. It was a stark contrast to my life in the Middle East. Welcomed is a good adjective to describe life in the Middle East. I felt welcomed here.
Once I convinced my mom, it was time to tackle my dad. This was the more difficult person to convince, but I had my strategy down pat.
I used the professional benefits of attending RIT Dubai to convince him.
I explained that I’d switch majors and enroll in the Computing Security program, and – thanks to the university’s opportunities – I’d have professional work experience before graduation.
Moreover, they even had a study abroad option for all majors, to study at the main campus in Rochester, NY or in Croatia for up to two semesters at the same tuition (an option most of my friends would later take up enthusiastically). My dad was a bit iffy at first, but once he checked out the details I’d introduced, he jumped on board.
It was final. I submitted my transfer application and celebrated when the acceptance arrived. My life had officially made a 180-degree shift.
I couldn’t have predicted just how amazing my experience would be for the next few years at the school. It was the perfect hybrid: a space to grow personally and professionally, in every sense of the word. The university gave me countless opportunities to push and develop my self, refusing to accept personal limitations and excuses for an answer.
Sometimes, we had to struggle for opportunities – other times, we were given them on a silver platter. It took some time for me to pinpoint exactly what I loved about the experience, but here goes.
My favorite part of the academic journey was hands down serving as a member of Student Government. As a part of the team, we were given a budget to improve campus life like we’d promised during the campaign. The way we did that was completely up to us – a concept foreign to my friends at other schools, both in the Middle East and abroad.
I dove so far into the welcoming arms of the university that I can’t fully lay out the full list of opportunities I took advantage of.
As someone who’d barely had an extracurricular life in high school, the on-campus engagement was a dream come true. More than anything, the experience profoundly impacted the way in which I approached my own limitations and reality, and – looking back, I wouldn’t change a single thing.
I had a strong support system throughout my time at RIT and made friends that are truly like family. I was able to drive my passion and ambition through the opportunities I was given. When I finally walked across the stage for graduation this past spring, my future was already laid out for me – and it wouldn’t have happened had I not made that fateful shift those years ago. Texas might just be a faint memory now, but my decision to take control of my education still rings true in my ears.
I’ve always heard people say that college is what really changes you. They weren’t wrong. All the pieces of my college life fit together as everything came full circle at my graduation: I got to represent the RIT Dubai campus as the UAE delegate at the RIT New York graduation and got to represent myself at the RIT Dubai graduation.
I got the best of both worlds: a ceremony in the U.S. and one in the UAE.
Four years ago, I made the best decision of my life.
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