Journey to the Middle East

Posted by Joseph Phillips on Monday, March 5, 2018 at 8:40 AM PST

I just returned from a trip to Kuwait and Saudi Arabia to visit SU alumni in the two countries.  We have about 60 alums in Kuwait and 160 in Saudi Arabia.  As for future alums from there, we currently have 57 Saudis studying with us and (only) two students from Kuwait.  An important component of our trip was to learn how to improve on that!

I accompanied Jim Hembree from University Advancement, who does all the organizing and worrying on these trips, and is really good at both! :)

My trip actually started with a trip to Washington, D.C. for a meeting at Georgetown University.  It was the Second International Jesuit Networking Conference, aimed at promoting more networking across the different arenas of Jesuit activity.  I was invited because of my role as President of the International Association of Jesuit Business Schools.  IAJBS is one of the few examples of Jesuit institutions from around the world coming together to collaborate in a sustained way.  While I am familiar with the work of Jesuit institutions in higher education, it was fascinating to learn about the work of Jesuit organizations in other areas such as refugee services, the environment, and K-12 education.  It was also a privilege to meet many of the leaders, often Jesuits from around the world, in these other apostolates.

When I left the Georgetown campus to head to Dulles Airport it was in a rare driving snowstorm in DC!  How ironic to start a trip to the desert in a snowstorm!  Luckily, my Uber driver had a Ford Explorer!

The first stop was Kuwait City, where I caught up with Jim, who had arrived a day earlier for planning purposes.  This was my first time in the Middle East!  I was actually very sick with some kind of cold or flu that had started a week earlier, but somehow worsened near the end of the journey to Kuwait, but I rallied to stay on the schedule Jim had crafted.

I think we ended up seeing 17 of our 60 Kuwaiti alumni in individual or group meetings.  Most of our alums are graduates of Albers or our engineering programs.  They are an impressive group playing important roles in Kuwaiti society.  In fact, I would argue that Seattle U is having more impact on Kuwait than any country in the world.  While 60 sounds like a small number, our alums are really making a difference there.  For example, one is Speaker of the Parliament, arguably the second most important political position in the country behind the Kuwaiti King.

Our Kuwaiti alums were very happy with their SU education and enthusiastic about having other Kuwaitis follow them to SU.  They want to help us recruit Kuwait students and we need to find a way to harness that good will and energy!

Next, we took a short flight to Dammam in Saudi Arabia, the closest airport to Al Khobar, where we would be staying.  Al Khobar is on the Saudi coast near Bahrain.  It was the university’s first visit to the Eastern Province.  We have fewer alums there, so we ended up meeting with four alumni, three of whom were bankers!  Al Khobar proved to be the most tranquil spot on our trip, without the traffic and noise of bigger cities like Kuwait City and Riyadh!

Then it was on to Riyadh!  Here we connected with 24 alumni and two SU parents in individual and group meetings.  As in Kuwait, our Saudi alums are very grateful for their SU education and very interested in helping us recruit more Saudis to SU.  While in Riyadh we also visited the US Embassy to learn more about recruiting Saudi students and we also visited a local university — Prince Sultan University, which has 5,000 students and is the top rated private university in Saudi.  We talked about ways that PSU and SU might collaborate.  An alum also took us to the Janidriya Festival, which is a huge celebration of Saudi culture that was taking place during our visit.  There were very large crowds there but we managed not to get lost!

On the final day, we made a visit to the Ministry of Education to learn more about the best ways to recruit Saudi students.  We heard that the Saudi government scholarship program wants to focus Saudi students on attending the Top 200 universities in the QS University rankings.  Almost all of those universities are research and graduate student focused institutions, so that does not make a lot of sense for undergraduate students.  Nevertheless, the ministry indicated they can make exceptions to the policy when a student makes a strong case.  The ministry is very focused on rankings, and SU and Albers have plenty of rankings, so we should be able to give Saudi students some material to work with in putting together a persuasive application!

We capped the visit to Saudi with a trip into the Saudi desert to visit a camping site for dinner, hosted by one of our alums.  Bet you didn’t know that Saudis love to camp!

After the dinner, I headed to the airport for my red-eye flight back to Seattle.  Jim left the next morning for Dubai and Abu Dhabi.  Sorry, but I had to pass on that part of the trip because I do have to be in the office from time to time.  Between this trip and two other trips in February, I was in the office for a whopping five days in February!