JEDDAH: A Saudi geography expert has his career all mapped out after becoming the first student from the Kingdom to gain a doctorate in Japan.
Dr. Abdulhafeez Samarkandi, who was born and raised in the city of Taif, spent seven years living and studying in the East Asian country during the 1980s.
He says the stimulating cultural experience set him on his way to pursuing his lifelong passion for geography.
Samarkandi attained a bachelor’s degree in geography from Jeddah’s King Abdul Aziz University in 1980, the same year that he traveled to Japan where he later went on to complete his master’s and doctorate studies at Tsukuba University.
After graduating in 1987, he went full circle and joined the geography department at King Abdul Aziz University the following year.
“It all began in 1980 when I graduated from the faculty of arts and humanities’ geography department,” Samarkandi told Arab News.
“I applied for a scholarship in Japan and had the honor of being one of the first students to be selected. But the greatest honor for me was becoming the first student to receive a doctorate from Japan.
“Geography had been my passion from a young age, and I had wanted to complete my education to an advanced stage. My specialization was in human geography and the geography of cities.
“I chose Japan to study because it is the nature of the geographical person to move to different countries and to see contrasting natural, environmental and social aspects,” he added.
Samarkandi said most geography doctorate graduates were from Europe or the US, so he decided to challenge himself by studying in Japan. What he had not bargained for was the culture shock awaiting him.
“I encountered a social shock from people with a different culture, customs and completely different ideology, along with great technological development.”
“After my return (to Saudi Arabia), it was even more shocking. Having lived in Japan for seven years I was used to the Japanese lifestyle, so I had a hard time coping again with our social and intellectual lifestyle,” he added.
Apart from his education, Samarkandi learned many other lessons during his time in Japan. “For example, discipline, respect for time, relationships and others, reverence for work. Actually, I found Islamic behaviors, and although they (the Japanese) are not Muslims, their social behavior is similar to ours in Saudi Arabia.”
Learning to speak Japanese helped him bridge the gap between education and social life. “I had to adapt to a culture that at the time I had no background or information about. It was a difficult start, so I studied the language for nearly a year, which helped me a lot in adapting to the culture and people.
“The education was not so different as it is now, the difference was actually in the tools and technology that they were using.”
Samarkandi recalled one particularly fond memory of the friendships he made in Japan.
“During the preparation of a seminar for my doctoral thesis I had to make adjustments within four days, even though the time was not enough,” he said.
“I was surprised when my Japanese colleagues placed a message on my desk saying that they were meeting in a room to discuss how to overcome this stage and help me make the adjustments during the four days. They stood with me as if they were my brothers, not colleagues.
“This is a simple example of social relations and the role of friendship among the Japanese,” added Samarkandi.