Saudi geography expert maps out career after making it big in Japan

Dr. Abdulhafeez Samarkandi with a Japanese friend during his stay in Japan as student. (Photo/Supplied)
Updated 30 June 2019

Saudi geography expert maps out career after making it big in Japan

  • Samarkandi: Actually, I found Islamic behaviors, and although they (the Japanese) are not Muslims, their social behavior is similar to ours in Saudi Arabia”

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.

BIO

• Dr. Abdulhafeez Samarkandi obtained a bachelor’s degree in geography from Jeddah’s King Abdul Aziz University in 1980.

• Soon after graduation, he left for Japan and obtained a master’s degree and a Ph.D. from Japan’s Tsukuba University.

• After completing his higher studies in 1987, Samarkandi returned to the Kingdom and joined the geography department at King Abdul Aziz University.

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.


Ukrainian pianist hits the high notes for Taif visitors

Updated 28 min 50 sec ago

Ukrainian pianist hits the high notes for Taif visitors

TAIF: It is not unusual for musicians to aim for the stars, but organizers of the Crown Prince Camel Festival in Taif gave the Ukrainian concert pianist Olina Lukashu a head start.

Visitors to the opening entertainment events at King Faisal Garden were treated to the sight and sound of Lukashu performing 5 meters in the air, dressed in a long white gown that reached down to the ground.

“It was decided to put her at the entrance of the garden, all dressed in white to welcome the visitors,” festival spokesman Saleh Al-Anzi told Arab News.

“It is a new idea that was greatly enjoyed by visitors, who admired her rendition of various musical pieces.”

Among the 25 events taking place in conjunction with this year’s festival is a circus presented by five Latin American countries, Al-Anzi said. There is also a free childcare service, mobile food courts, international restaurants and a live broadcasting studio.  “Visitors will be able to ride camels inside the park, and enjoy the handicrafts on display by various artisans,” he said.

Dr. Sami bin Abdullah Al-Obaidi, chairman of the Council of Saudi Chambers, told Arab News the Taif Season was important in terms of generating employment opportunities for young Saudis, and creating tourist projects. “All the events are full of visitors,” he said.

He said 2,000 jobs were provided during the Taif Season, and those who took up the opportunities gained skills and knowledge about the requirements of an audience.

“Saudi culture has changed, and Saudis have become more aware of global challenges and requirements, and the expectations of tourists and other consumers,” he said. “Taif Season has set a high standard.”