RIYADH: Abd Al-Rahman Al-Fifi, a 33-year-old Saudi man, started his educational journey by learning Japanese at King Saud University in Riyadh (KSU) for three and a half years, obtaining a higher diploma.
After that, he went to Japan and received a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Saitama University. He continued his studies there, going on to obtain his master’s degree.
Al-Fifi says Japan’s engineering prowess and reputation for technological innovation were things he had admired since his childhood days.
This prompted him to apply to join KSU in 2008 to learn more about Japanese culture and to study its language, gaining an advanced diploma in Japanese in 2011.
As soon as Al-Fifi completed the course at KSU, he decided to go to Japan to continue his linguistic education.
Once there, he joined the Urawa International Institute for Teaching Japanese in Saitama. There he stayed for a year and a half, rubbing shoulders with students from all over world who shared his passion for the country.
After completing his studies at the Urawa International Institute, Al-Fifi chose Saitama University of Industry for the next phase.
Saitama is the most populated city of Saitama Prefecture, and Saitama University is one of the oldest and most reputable Japanese universities as far as engineering education is concerned.
About 10 Saudi students graduate annually from Saitama University, with degrees in such branches as electrical, mechanical and industrial engeineering, as well as in architecture.
Japan does not have many students from Arab countries. For many Arab students, the cultural gap is a big deterrent to choosing Japan as their higher-education destination.
The language barrier is no small matter too, as many Arabs consider Japanese difficult to master compared with other widely spoken languages.
Saudis constitute the biggest cohort of Arab students enrolled in Japanese universities, with an estimated 100 students of both genders from the Kingdom graduating every year.
At Saitama University, Al-Fifi majored in mechanical engineering for four years.
During this period he volunteered time and services as part of a distinguished group of students supporting the Embassy of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in Tokyo, providing logistical support and simultaneous translation for the royal delegations that have visited Japan over the past few years.
These include the Japan visit in September 2016 by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (before he was appointed crown prince), the visit in March 2017 by King Salman, and the most recent visit, which took place last year, by the crown prince.
Foreign students in any country are known to face many difficulties at the beginning of their academic lives due to differences of culture, language, lifestyles and social practices.
Al-Fifi, though, said he did not experience too much trouble on account of his prior knowledge of the country and fluency in the language. What also made a difference, he said, was his decision to take his wife with him, something that acted as a source of stability and self-confidence.
The young Saudi couple had two children while living in Japan, and had them enrolled in local schools so that they could learn Japanese as well as their mother language Arabic.
With several engineering degrees and language diplomas already, Al-Fifi is now pursuing a doctorate in chemical engineering in Japan.