Kolod Aljohani is an International Student from Saudi Arabia. She and her husband Tariq Alrefai came to EWU three years ago after he researched midsized colleges with reputable engineering programs. He liked that EWU’s main campus was in a small town as this would keep distractions to a minimum during the week, but with Spokane close enough for weekend fun.
When her husband graduated with his Mechanical Engineering BS degree 7 months ago, he returned home to start his career, and Aljohani was forced to make a difficult choice: should she go home and finish her degree in Saudi, and perhaps never finish? Or should she stay on alone at EWU and keep her eyes on the prize?
She had invested too much in her US education to give up—two years of classes toward a Technical Communication major, plus a double minor in Visual Communication Design and German. She decided to stay.
Her family, however, was nervous about her staying in the US, and some family members even tried to convince her it was wrong to stay. “Some Saudi’s have old-fashioned ideas about women,” she says, but there is also open-mindedness, she points out, “otherwise, they wouldn’t send us here.”
To make things even harder, new funding restrictions have created more hardships for Aljohani and others who are midway through their American degrees. Under the new Saudi Minister of Education, and shrinking oil revenue, rules for scholarships for Saudi’s decade-old 6 billion dollar per year study abroad program have changed. “Many Saudi students had to return home,” she says. The new rules said she had to be 70% of the way towards her degree to qualify for a tuition scholarship, so she enrolled in 24 credits, almost double the normal full-time credit load, in addition to working part time.
“I needed to adapt to the situation,” she says, “not give up.” Aljohani is confident she made the right choice, though she emphasizes that a huge part of her strength comes from her parents, husband and siblings.
While her tuition is funded, living expenses are no longer be covered. She could have asked her family for assistance, but she wanted to prove that she could support herself. She has worked hard to establish a new sense of independence, something she says she never had back home. “While my family is not wealthy, I never had to work to support myself. Everything was provided for me. But here I pay for rent, and for food. I just paid a power bill for the first time!”
Being an International Student has given her a love of travel and languages. This summer will find her studying abroad in Germany. It will be her first time in Europe.
Since her second quarter at EWU, she has worked as a EWU Global Ambassador for the Office of Global Initiatives. She helps new International Students interpret, find their way around campus, and visit Spokane, as well as other cities like Portland and Seattle. Seattle is her favorite city; she’s visited about twenty times. She takes friends and students and they stay with an American host family in West Seattle. “I love Alki Beach, and Seattle has a lot of Middle Eastern restaurants.”
Aljohani has also become a real road warrior; besides Seattle, she’s driven to Los Angeles three times, and even cruised down to Las Vegas on a mad dash weekend trip. “I’m afraid of heights,” she explains. “I hate flying, but I love driving! It never gets old.”
Her fear of heights is yet another challenge she’s committed to conquering—three days a week you can find her climbing at the EWU EPIC Climbing Wall. “EWU made me believe I don’t have limits for my dreams,” she says. “I’m thankful that my husband made the right choice and brought me to this school. GO EAGLES!”