The U.S. Departments of State and Education have declared Nov. 13 - 17 International Education Week. So far at UW Tacoma the Office of Global Affairs has hosted events about study abroad, fellowships, and the Global Honors program.
Still to come on Thursday, 11/16:
Shooq Alhathelool thinks big. The UW Tacoma junior and international student plans to return to her native Saudi Arabia upon graduation. There, she plans to get a job in her major — accounting — with the goal of opening her own business. “The thing I really want to do, the final thing, is become the Minister of Finance,” she said.
Alhathelool is the youngest of seven siblings. Each one of her brothers and sisters has already earned a college degree. “If I have a problem, chances are I have a sibling who’s already been through it,” she said. “I can talk to them and they will help me.” Alhathelool speaks of her family glowingly but is keenly aware of their expectations. “My parents will say ‘oh, look at your siblings they’ve all graduated from universities and are doing well in life, now it’s your turn.’ ”
The 19 year-old Alhathelool was first exposed to American culture as a child. Two of her siblings went to college in the United States — one in Oregon, the other in Montana. “I first came to the US when I was eight and I fell in love with everything,” she said.
When it came time to attend college, the then-17-year-old knew she wanted to study abroad. She chose Washington State because she had been to the Seattle area a number of times with her sister and liked what she saw. “People asked me why I was going to the US to study accounting when I could do it at home,” she said. “I told them I’m doing it for the experience, not the major.”
Alhathelool made the move in 2015. Her mother and sister accompanied her on the seventeen-hour flight to Sea-Tac. They spent a month helping Alhathelool get settled before returning home. “I think I was excited and nervous,” she said. “I didn’t know anyone but I talked to my family all the time so that helped.”
Alhathelool came to UW Tacoma’s Milgard School of Business in the fall of 2016 after transferring from Tacoma Community College. In those early days on campus, and even now, she spent a lot of time studying at Anthem, the coffee shop across Pacific Ave from campus. One day UW Tacoma Professor Turan Kayaoglu approached and introduced himself. The pair got to talking and within a few minutes Kayaoglu brought Alhathelool over to meet fellow student Arwa Dubad (now ASUWT President) who just happened to be sitting a few tables away. “She took me around, introduced me to a bunch of people and even helped me get my first job,” said Alhathelool.
Those early months in the United States were a little rough but now Alhathelool is thriving. She participated in the Global Ambassadors Program through the Office of Global Affairs. The program helps new international students with their transition to life at UW Tacoma. She’s also holding informal Arabic lessons twice a week as part of a project funded by UW Tacoma’s Strategic Initiative Fund. These thirty-minute not-for-credit classes are open to all students. “Most of the students who come aren’t Muslim,” said Alhathelool. “It’s been really cool for me to see all of the different people and find out why they want to learn the language.”
Living abroad has been a transformative experience for Alhathelool. “There are a lot of misperceptions about the United States,” she said. “After living here for a while I can say most of it isn’t true. I’ve found the people to be friendly and down to earth.” Getting out of one’s comfort zone and putting one’s cultural and personal assumptions to the test are major reasons why Alhathelool believes everyone should visit or live in a different country. “I don’t think it’s healthy to just stay in the same place with the same people,” she said. “Seeing the world opens your mind and gets to you to see a different perspective.”
Driving is one of the many things Alhathelool has learned during her time in the United States. “There’s just so much freedom in being able to get behind the wheel and go,” she said. Recently, the Saudi Arabian government issued a decree that would let women drive for the first time. This change is part of what Alhathelool sees as a growing cultural shift. “Saudi is really changing,” she said. “I’m really excited to go back home and be part of that change.”
Alhathelool’s goal of being the Saudi Arabian Finance Minister is rooted in both her education and in her country’s evolving attitudes about women. There has never been a female finance minister. “I know it won’t be easy but I can do it,” she said. “I can take what I learned here and give it all to Saudi to help make it a better place for women like myself.”
John Burkhardt, UW Tacoma Communications, 253-692-4536 or firstname.lastname@example.org