Saudi Arabia’s terrain is dominated by large sand dunes and sweltering heat.
During the dry season, temperatures reach elevating levels that would make any summer in the U.S. seem mediocre.
Cities have emerged out of desolate areas with people going about their busy lives.
An oasis emerges and provides the country with a much needed and desirable resource: oil.
According to a CNN report, thousands of Saudi students who planned to utilize the $6 billion King Abdullah Scholarship Fund will not be able to due to the oil price crash.
The scholarship covers full tuition, medical insurance, a monthly living stipend and an annual round-trip airfare.
“They just recently stopped offering scholarships to people but the ones that have a scholarship, they can stay,” said second-year ETSU student Afaf Alramadha.
According to ETSU’s International Programs Department, in fall 2015 there were 537 international students enrolled, with a little over 150 students from Saudi Arabia.
“Saudi Arabians are the largest contingent of international students on campus,” said Maria Costa, director of international programs.
However, it is still unknown yet how this will impact ETSU’s Saudi student enrollment in the near future.
In the past, students were able to study abroad through Saudi Arabian Cultural Mission scholarships with advisers based in Washington D.C.
Another second-year ETSU student Ibrahim Althumirii said that students generally use email, text and a phone application to check in with advisers.
According to mohe.gov.sa, for general acceptance into the scholarship program, an applicant must be a Saudi citizen, cannot be a government employee, must study full-time and reside in the country designated, applicant’s age must fulfill special conditions and a female applicant must have a legally acceptable male companion to accompany her with travel until the completion of her study.
ETSU student Afaf Alramadha grew up in a rural area of Al-Hasa and later moved with her family to Al-Dammam, Saudi Arabia.
“It’s very different between the two cities, like in Al-Hasa the people there are more close minded, I have to cover my face, I can’t wear makeup there, they are very strict,” Alramadha said. “Al-Dammam is different, I can wear makeup, I can wear fancy abayas, it’s more beautiful.”
Alramadha lived in Al-Dammam for four years before she came to ETSU to study management in public health.
“I have my two brothers and cousins here [Johnson City],” Alramadha said.
Alramadha said you get a list of universities to choose from depending on her major but she wanted to attend ETSU because of her older and younger brothers.
After a university is chosen, the student has 4-5 years to finish their degree before their visa expires.
“We can have a job here but they don’t pay us so just like for our resume to work in Saudi Arabia and that’s it,” she said. “We have to go every time, our visas do not allow us to work here, so we only have one year to work and then we have to go back to Saudi Arabia.”
To also be qualified at the university, students have to study English and receive a certificate.
Alramadha said she has studied English at an early age in school in Saudi Arabia until she came to study at ETSU.
“I have a very open mind, I like being independent and doing things on my own so it’s been a lot of fun,” she said.
Alramadha said she is very close with her family and she wants to pursue her master’s degree next.
However, there are new restrictions to the scholarship program in which she will have to go back to Saudi Arabia in order to do so.
For another ETSU student, Ibrahim Althumirii has had a different experience when coming to ETSU.
Althumirii grew up in Ar Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia.
He has traveled and lived in a few other countries because of his father’s work as an engineer who has worked with companies in Germany and the United Kingdom.
When Althumirii came to the U.S. to study first in Vermont, he faced the initial language barrier but became fully fluent in English after 7 months.
“When I went there [Vermont], I didn’t know anyone from Saudi Arabia,” he said. “It’s really hard to explain. I couldn’t talk, I was kind of shocked at the beginning, our advisers told us not to panic.”
Althumirii explained that a student cannot change their major but they can transfer to another university.
“They [his advisers] have to accept why you are transferring, renew your visa so they know where you plan to transfer,” Althumirii said.
After transferring from Vermont to Birmingham, Alabama for short periods of time, Althumirii decided to come to Johnson City to finish his engineering degree.
When attending ETSU, Althumirii had problems with the scholarship program due to age limitations.
“They told me to go back to Saudi Arabia to apply for jobs, get a job first and then come back to study because I am older than most of the students,” he said.
“I refuse to go back because I was taking 20 credit hours and working hard,” he said. “I’m going to graduate next year so I told them I really wanted to stay.”
Althumirii has a sister studying in Washington D.C. and more family in Florida.
After graduation, he said he would like to work in the U.S. for six months and then work in France for biomedical engineering.
“I want to do something with myself, I have set goals for myself,” he said.