Students begin studying Chinese in public schools in Saudi Arabia

The Chinese economy has witnessed rapid growth in recent years, transforming the country into a global leader in technology and manufacturing. (Reuters)
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Updated 20 January 2020

Students begin studying Chinese in public schools in Saudi Arabia

  • The inclusion of the Chinese language will enhance the cultural diversity of students in Saudi Arabia, and contribute to the achievement of the goals in education for Vision 2030

JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Education has begun teaching Chinese at eight public secondary schools, as the first stage of the ministry’s plan to include it in public education.
According to the ministry’s spokesperson, Ibtisam Al-Shehri, four schools in Riyadh, two in Jeddah, and two in the eastern province, including two girls’ schools, would participate.
Al-Shehri also noted that studying Chinese would be optional for students, not compulsory.
The Chinese Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Chen Weiqing thanked Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Twitter for including Chinese in the country’s educational system.
“I hope that the emerging generation in the Kingdom will master the Chinese language, love Chinese culture, and embrace an honorable future for the two friendly countries,” he said.
Chinese was first introduced to Saudi schools during the crown prince’s visit to Beijing in February 2019, as part of an agreement between the two countries to strengthen bilateral friendship and cooperation.
Several initiatives were launched with different organizations in the education and training sectors to introduce the language to the public.
One of the biggest initiatives was in collaboration with the Arab Open University and Nabegh Educational Center to teach more than 3,500 teachers and employees in the education sector in 12 cities around the country.
Abdulrazaq Othman Abdullah, 38, is a graduate from China, where he received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in administration and financial management. He and his wife taught Chinese to Saudi teachers in Madinah.
“The most important outcome from this project is to help the teachers overcome psychological barriers while studying a foreign language, and eliminate the assumptions associated with the Chinese language,” Abdullah told Arab News.

I hope that the emerging generation in the Kingdom will master the Chinese language, love Chinese culture, and embrace an honorable future for the two friendly countries.

Chen Weiqing, Chinese Ambassador to Saudi Arabia

“It is very important that teaching Chinese begins from secondary school, it will broaden the students’ horizons and introduce them to a new culture and a new world that they would not know of without the language.”
Knowledge of the Chinese language will create a new field of opportunities for Saudis, be it in tourism, technology, commerce, investment, science, medicine, diplomacy, or education and academia.
The introduction of Chinese into the curriculum is a step toward opening new academic horizons for students of various educational levels in the Kingdom. Saudi universities are gradually including Chinese in their educational plans and academic activities.

FASTFACT

An agreement to teach Chinese in Saudi schools was reached during the crown prince’s visit to Beijing in February 2019.

“I have to admit that I was worried at the beginning, especially that I was teaching adults with years of experience in education,” Abdullah said.
“However, by the end of the experience I was very satisfied with the outcome. We as a population have a sense of curiosity, we like to seize opportunities and we are welcoming of everything new and willing to learn.”
From his experience as a student in China, Abdullah said that there were obvious cultural similarities between the two countries and that both societies were welcoming of each other.
During the crown prince’s visit to Beijing, Chinese leaders agreed to help facilitate Chinese language learning through its the country’s Confucius Institute, which promotes language learning and cultural exchange around the world.
China is home to almost a fifth of the world’s population, and has been growing significantly in the past four decades at an average of nearly 10 percent a year, transforming the country into a global leader in technology and manufacturing.
The inclusion of the Chinese language will enhance the cultural diversity of students in the Kingdom, and contribute to the achievement of the goals in education for Vision 2030.


Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province feels very American, says US consul general

US Consul General Rachna Korhonen finds the diwaniya and majlis culture of the Eastern Province fascinating. (Supplied)
Updated 25 February 2020

Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province feels very American, says US consul general

  • Saudi hospitality wins the heart of diplomat who considers Kingdom one of her favorite destinations

DAMMAM: The US consul general in Dhahran, Rachna Korhonen, lists the Kingdom as one of her favorite places and is in love with the local culture and traditions.

Working in the Kingdom since 2017, she has been impressed by the tremendous changes taking place in Saudi Arabia under Vision 2030.
Arab News caught up with Korhonen to discuss all things American and Saudi.
“As US Ambassador Abizaid has said, the US-Saudi partnership is more vital than ever, particularly as we confront regional security challenges and work hand-in-hand to achieve shared economic and political objectives.”
This relationship is strong and multifaceted, she said, adding: “We work together every day to promote prosperity and economic development, protect the security of our two countries, and build the people-to-people ties that keep our relationship strong.”
She said that a posting to Saudi Arabia was her first choice for an assignment.
“I did not know at the time that I would be the first woman to serve as the US consul general in Dhahran. I really wanted to learn about energy! I was pretty nervous and somewhat scared, but also excited and enthusiastic. I spent three years in Riyadh and some time in Kuwait and Iraq so I had a pretty good understanding of the region.”
Korhonen speaks highly of the Saudi hospitality and the way people welcomed her.
“I came (to the Kingdom) just before Eid Al-Adha. It is a tradition that the consul general makes Eid calls to visit prominent families. I was lucky enough to meet people from the very first moment I arrived. I have always made an effort to get to meet people at different occasions. Saudis have welcomed me into their homes, shared meals and traditions with me. I really have the best job in the best place at the best time,” she told Arab News.

Saudis have welcomed me into their homes, shared meals and traditions with me.

Rachna Korhonen, US consul general

Korhonen said she finds the diwaniya and majlis culture of the Eastern Province fascinating.
“I enjoy meeting new people and learning about what is happening in the Eastern Province. Diwaniyas are a great place to do that. I also love gahwa (Arabic coffee) and dates,” she said.
Korhonen said the Eastern Province feels very American to her. She thinks this is partly due to the close relationship enjoyed by the countries since the 1930s, which began with Aramco and also because thousands of Saudis from the Eastern Province have studied in the US.
Commenting on the social transformation in the Kingdom under Vision 2030, she said: “I still remember very well the first game I attended in Saudi Arabia. It was a very hot and humid day in August, but I wanted to be in attendance to show support for the Eastern Province teams. There was a big crowd and the energy in the stadium was amazing. At that game, I was the only woman in the family section. Now, it completely feels normal to see entire Saudi families in the stands. I could be anywhere in the world at a sporting event. It’s such a huge change.”
She told Arab News that “there have been no recent changes” in the US visa process, adding: “We have visa appointments most weeks from Sunday to Thursday. We encourage everyone interested in going to the US this summer to start thinking about applying now, since we expect demand will grow as we approach the summer season.
“We continue to look for ways to reduce the amount of time a person spends in our waiting room, the wait for visa appointments (especially for students), and the time it takes for someone to get their passport back with the visa.”
She said her favorite initiative that brings Saudis and Americans together is the International Leadership Program.
“The consulate also works with local Saudi partners to bring American athletes, musicians, entrepreneurs, artists and other experts to the Eastern Province to exchange ideas and explore ways to collaborate. Our EducationUSA office helps Saudi students who are interested in studying in the US learn about US universities, the admission process and how to prepare for their educational experience,” the consul general said.