The cost of studying abroad: Saudis willing to pay the price

Hannah Fowl/The News Algahtani Abdulaziz, sophomore from Saudi Arabia (left), and Alghamdi Abduirhman (right) left Saudi Arabia to experience university life in the U.S.
Hannah Fowl/The News Algahtani Abdulaziz, sophomore from Saudi Arabia (left), and Alghamdi Abduirhman (right) left Saudi Arabia to experience university life in the U.S.

Hannah Fowl/The News
Algahtani Abdulaziz, sophomore from Saudi Arabia (left), and Alghamdi Abduirhman (right) left Saudi Arabia to experience university life in the U.S.

More than 7,000 miles away from Murray in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, a young man left his home in the pursuit of a higher education and to make his family proud.

Alghamdi Abduirhman, sophomore from Saudi Arabia, began his education in Malaysia. He then transferred to the University of Dayton and later enrolled at Murray State to complete his civil engineering degree.

Steven Guns, education abroad adviser for the Institute of International Studies, said 330 students study abroad from the U.S. annually.  Bill McKibben, director for International Enrollment and Recruitment, said more than twice as many international students come to Murray State.

About 934 international students and more than 300 additional international students studying English as Second Language (ESL)  are enrolled for spring 2015, McKibben said.

The University urges students to travel abroad to experience different cultures, but students like Abduirhman bring their culture to Murray State when they are studying abroad in the U.S.

About 36 percent of international students at Murray State are from Saudi Arabia, and 84 percent of those are male. Any student attending Murray State that doesn’t have U.S. citizenship is considered an international student.

To apply to Murray State, international students are required to submit their high school transcripts, a high school diploma or graduation certificate, proof of financial support, proof of language proficiency and a copy of their passport with their application.

Based off scores from the International English Language Testing Service (IELTS), students earn language proficiency scores indicating their level of English proficiency and if they require extra help.

Abduirhman said the IELTS is one of the most challenging requirements international students face when applying to schools in the U.S.

Prospective students are required to take the IELTS to test their knowledge of the English language through reading, writing, listening and speech.

The test costs $285  – or in Abduirhman’s case – 1068.72 Saudi riyals, each time it is taken. The Saudi riyal is the official currency of Saudi Arabia. Abduirhman said students usually have to take the test multiple times to get a score high enough to apply to schools in the U.S.

Universities across the Commonwealth have different expectations when it comes to IELTS scores. Murray State requires international students to score at least a 5.5, whereas the University of Kentucky requires students to have a 6.0 and Western Kentucky University only requires students to have a 4.5. The test is scored on a nine-point scale.

To prove they have financial support, international students can either submit a scholarship letter or a bank statement issued within six months of their application showing a balance of at least $26,024, the cost of tuition for one year, to the University. If the bank statement is not in the students’ name, they have to complete the statement of financial support.

International students at Murray State pay the same tuition as out of state students, which is cheaper than international tuition for University of Kentucky by 28 percent and Western Kentucky University by 27 percent.

Also, any full-time international student receives a Global Outreach Tuition Waiver, unique to Murray State. Undergraduate students receive a $5,000 discount per year and graduate students receive a $6,000 discount per year.

“I picked Murray State because of the low cost of tuition, “ Abduirhman said. “And the low cost of living.”

Most international students also receive financial aid from their home country. Abduirhman said Saudi Arabia pays for students to go to American universities because it is an investment in their future. He said they want the students to bring a wealth of knowledge back to their country to help improve it, because the quality of education in the U.S. is much higher.

“We are the next generation of leaders,” he said.

Murray State isn’t the only university welcoming international students with open arms. Abduirhman said he was contacted by Pennsylvania State University and Northern Kentucky University, but he picked Murray State because he wanted to get the most out of his education.

“Murray State has a strong atmosphere for studying and a better engineering program,” he said.

He said representatives from Murray State came to Saudi Arabia to recruit students while he was there, but he became familiar with Murray State when his brother-in-law suggested it to him. He also said the staff at Murray State’s Institute for International Studies were friendly and made the process easier to navigate.

“Murray State communicates with international students very well,” he said. “They don’t make you wait long to get a reply.”

He said other universities he applied to insisted he mail them all of his original documents, even though they were still in Saudi Arabia, but Murray State allowed him to submit scans of the documents which made the process more manageable.

“Sometimes it felt like other universities were asking for my neck,” he said. “They were asking for something I couldn’t provide.”

Once international students arrive in the United States, he said Murray State still reaches out to help them plan their route to the University.

Abduirhman said the Saudi Student Organization at Murray State University sends members to the airport to pick up new students and drive them to the University if they need it.

He said the organization also contacts Saudi students and acquaints them with Murray and the University.

“When you are in a new county it’s nice to see a familiar face,” he said. “You have something in common and it gives you something to talk about.”

Story by Mari-Alice Jasper, Assistant News Editor