Yesterday, I sat down with one of our recent graduates, Ahmed. Before he returns to his home in Saudi Arabia next week, I wanted to know what advice he might have for new students coming to Portland. What surprised him? What did he learn about being a student here? Was all the struggle worth it?
PELA: What are some things you’d like to tell students who are coming to our school for the first time?
Ahmed: The first thing – the most important thing – they have to know: what is their goal? Like, what… are the skills? Reading, or writing… What is most important for them?
For example, when I arrived here, I focused on speaking as my end goal. And I still focus on it. And now… I speak better. My skill has improved.
Also, this school is really amazing if you are focusing on speaking. The students – they all come from different countries, different cultures – and it’s only English that you can speak with them.
That’s the most important thing.
PELA: What were some of the cultural things, about the American classroom and culture, that were a big shock to you when you first arrived?
Ahmed: One thing was how the people [always need to] be on time… because in Saudi Arabia, and the Middle East in general, we don’t focus… we don’t keep on time. Here it’s something – it’s more important. Time – they call [being on] time a goal. Every second is gold. If they say, “9AM,” they mean 9AM. They won’t be late.
Also, the people [here] are open-minded, more than Saudi Arabia or the Middle East. That’s the second thing that shocked.
PELA: For example?
Ahmed: For example, when the ladies want to talk to anybody, they (men or women) don’t feel shy. It’s the opposite in Saudi Arabia: if you don’t have business with that lady, you don’t… you cannot talk to her. Also, when she talks to you, she will be quiet. Here, her voice is louder.
Also, another thing [about the U.S.] is how the mix… of countries… How the mix of people – they come from different countries, they [make up] American culture. You see different people – all of them American, but from different cultures…
And I loved my first family… My homestay – I loved them. They were from Vietnam. It was unbelievable, because I lived with her alone. She was divorced, and had a son. It was a shock, because I lived with this younger lady and her son – she was 30… 31… “How could I live with a lady, alone, in the same home?” That shocked me. But it was fine. She was really nice, and it was just normal in America.
PELA: What were some of the most memorable experiences you had in Portland? What was the most rewarding to you, and you’d recommend other students do?
Ahmed: I was glad to go to the gardens… the international gardens. It was unbelievable. The Japanese Gardens and the Rose Gardens [in Washington Park].
I was glad to go there because I could see different flowers… and see different people: old people and young people were there, all looking around. It was really cool. I was super happy, and lucky to go there at that time [with all the flowers in bloom].
PELA: Anything else you want to add to all that? Closing words? Advice?
Ahmed: Just… that I’m glad to be here! When I arrived to Portland, my English wasn’t… that much. [America]’s a mixed country, there’s a mix of students – I learned a lot. Not just English! I learned about the different cultures…
I met people from Isreal – that was important for me. I didn’t know anything about the culture in Isreal. Also I met people from Asia, from Europe, from South America…
I’m glad to be here – that’s the most important thing – and super lucky to meet these people, to make friends [from around the world]. We call it in Arabic, we say: “If you know people from a different country, or a different city, that means you have a home in this city, in this country.” That’s exactly the way I have it now: I have a home all over the world. If I go to… South America, Europe, Asia – I have friends, I have a home there. I’m glad to be here. That’s really amazing.