We sometimes understand the world better when we go through contrasting life experiences. Similarly, things hold greater value for us when we don’t have them for granted. Being raised in my native Saudi Arabia where I have been studying at a boarding school since the age of 12 as well as the opportunity to travel to several other countries has helped me better understand the true value of education and especially freedom of ideas. This is why I am determined to use my college education to expand my thinking horizon and help my native country become a major contributor to the progress of human civilization in the 21st century. I want Saudi Arabia not to be a country that protects the past but a country that shapes the future. Saudi Arabia may be rich in natural resources but the country has been unfortunately neglecting its most precious asset which is its human resources.
Unlike the western world, church and state are not separate in Saudi Arabia but are one and not surprisingly, there is a major emphasis on preserving traditional ways of life. Change is not seen as an opportunity to progress but instead as a threat to the fabric of the society. Respect to authority and not ideas are given importance. Students are taught not to question questions but accept answers that are provided to them. Wisdom is not the outcome of experiences and knowledge but age. But as I traveled to other countries including the U.S. and had the opportunity to interact with local students, I found a world completely unlike mine. The people in some other countries including the U.S. and Western Europe do take pride in their past but do not hold on to it and few things excite them as much as progress and change. For the first time, I felt I was in a place where I could ask questions without any retaliation and understand things the way they are rather than the way I am told. I would sometimes feel I learnt more about life during months of international travel than what I had learnt during years in my native Saudi Arabia. These experiences are one of the major factors besides my decision to pursue college education in the U.S. and later help bring positive changes to the Saudi society so that it can achieve its true potential.
I understand not all ideas are created equal and not all ideas make positive contribution to the society but it is still important to create an environment in which ideas float freely. Unless people are allowed to experiment with their ideas, how the society would determine which ones are good and which are not. When people are allowed to think, they show an impressive capability to come up with new ways of doing things more efficiently as well as improve the social and cultural values in the society and it is not surprising basic rights are better in countries where freedom of speech exists. Nothing is perfect and that includes democracy but the journey to progress is never without thorns.
I have not chosen U.S. just because of its quality of in-class learning but also the opportunity to interact with students from diverse cultural backgrounds. I have no doubt I will learn more during these four years than what I might have learnt in my entire life. This education may be the most important foundation I will laid for my future life and my greatest desire is to become one of the major contributors to help make Saudi Arabia a country where freedom of speech becomes a reality. The idea still seems quite an impossible task at the moment but one never knows until one tries and I am sure I am not the only Saudi citizen who has this desire.