Faris Alrushud Riyadh
Abd al-Rahman al-Fifi, a 33-year-old Saudi man, started his educational journey by learning Japanese at King Saud University for three and a half years and obtained a higher diploma from there.
After that, he went to Japan and received a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Saitama University. He continued his studies in the same university, acquiring a master’s degree in the same branch of engineering.
Al-Fifi says Japan’s engineering prowess and reputation for technological innovation were something he had admired since his childhood days.
This prompted him apply to join King Saud University in Riyadh in 2008 to learn more about Japan's culture, to study the Japanese language for three years and to obtain an advanced diploma in the Japanese language in 2011.
As soon as Al-Fifi completed the course at King Saud University, he decided to go to Japan to continue his language studies.
Once in Japan, he joined the Urawa International Institute for Teaching Japanese in the city of Saitama. There he stayed for a year and a half, rubbing shoulders with students from all over world who came to learn Japanese.
After completing his studies at the Urawa International Institute, Al-Fifi chose Saitama University of Industry for the next phase of his education.
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 engineering branches as electrical, mechanical and industrial in addition to architecture.
Incidentally, Japan does not have a very large contingent of students from Arab countries for various that are not hard to guess.
For many Arab students, the cultural gap acts as 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.
That being said, Saudis constitute the biggest cohort among students from Arab countries enrolled in Japanese universities. An estimated 100 students of both gender from the Kingdom graduate every year from Japanese universities.
At Saitama University, Al-Fifi majored in mechanical engineering for a course that lasted four years.
During his period he volunteered his time and services as part of a distinguished group of students to support the activities of the Embassy of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in Tokyo.
They provided 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 Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
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 says he did not feel any difficulties on account of his previous Japanese language studies, fluency in the language and familiarity with Japanese culture.
What also made a difference, he said, was his decision to take his wife along, something that acted as a source of stability and self-confidence.
Al-Fifi and wife had two children while living in Japan. The couple got both of them admitted to local schools so that they could learn Japanese as well as their mother language Arabic.
Armed with bachelor’s and master’s degrees, in addition to the language diplomas, Al-Fifi is now pursuing a Ph.D. in chemical engineering in Japan.