A Saudi Bronx tale
After graduating from high school in Saudi Arabia in the mid 1970s and during the massive economic boom, Saudi Arabia launched a scholarship program that sent many high school graduates to top universities around the world and mainly to American schools. I and eight other young Saudis were chosen to attend either the US Naval Academy or any of the American maritime schools. Due to the limited time for processing of documents to attend the US Naval Academy, we were told that we would be attending the State University of New York Maritime College, in the Bronx. The question is not where the Bronx is but how often does one hear about a young Saudi boy leaving his home in Saudi Arabia to attend school in the Bronx?
During the summer of 1975, I landed at the JFK Airport and took a cab to my new school in the Bronx. The first thing I learned about the Bronx was that it was the only borough (part of a city) that is addressed with “the.” It is part of New York City, in the US state of New York, which is composed of five boroughs. They are Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island and the Bronx.
The four years of school in the Bronx passed very fast and I thoroughly enjoyed every day I spent in the school and on the streets of the Bronx. I learned a great many thing not only from the school’s books or the classrooms, but also from all my classmates and schoolmates. The three summer cruises that were required aboard the training ship, the Empire State, was both very educational and fun. By the time I graduated from school, I had already crossed the Atlantic Ocean six times and had been to six European countries. At that time there was no Internet or mobile phones so the America embassies in the European countries we visited were our official mailing addresses because our ship was flying the American flag.
I graduated in 1979. I went back to the school in 1989 for a class reunion. To this day, I keep in touch with all my schoolmates through our alumni association. But last week, I was in for a pleasant surprise. I was visiting my son and daughter in Washington. Both are studying on scholarships from the Saudi government. During my visit, I contacted a former classmate, Tony Palmiotti who works at the school to let him know that I would drive to New York to see him at the school for a chat to refresh memories about the old-time navigation such as great circle sailing. Other classmates knew about my plans and suggested that I make my visit on May 5 to attend the 2015 Admiral’s Scholarship Dinner.
A day later, I was invited to be present by former classmate, Capt. Steven Werse from the international Organization of Masters, Mates and Pilots. My visit brought many memories of my four years in the Bronx. I saw many classmates that I had not seen since May 19, 1979. During the event, I chatted with Lee Ann about Baltimore, talked with Peter about Houston, laughed with Pete about the amount of calories in a slice of a cheese cake, discussed the fun in raising kids with Mark, talked about London with Carl, discussed health services with Daneshvar, met Howard after many email exchanges and finally talked about the Saudi English daily, Arab News with Randi Ciszewski. During the Admirals Dinner, we were delighted to see on large screens our schoolmate astronaut Scott Kelly saying hello from the International Space Station and wishing good luck to the class of 2015. That’s almost 40 years since my graduation year in 1979. Speaking of 40 years, next week I will write about Arab News turning 40.
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