In Tuesday’s article, we talked about how Saudi college students are flocking to the U.S. in numbers unimaginable barely a decade ago. In the horror and wreckage of the September 11th attacks, it seemed like U.S. relationships with the Kingdom would be one of the casualties. And while relations still are fraught, it is important to remember that they have never been easy. It has been a relationship on convenience and mutual need, not friendship.

But relationships can change. Sometimes, things have to get to their worst before they can get better. We talked about how Saudi Arabia was beginning to wake up from its century of oil-induced slumber and deal-making, and seeing how it had to join the world in more constructive ways. Your school’s international department can aid in that process.

Saudi Youth

Saudi youth are eager to interact with the world, and their government is eager to let them.

The Saudi Unemployment Bomb

If you are standing at the gas pump, you might not believe that Saudi Arabia would have much of a problem with unemployment: with gas prices continuing to soar, the Kingdom keeps getting richer. But the problem is that there aren’t enough jobs. See, the oil industries are reluctant to hire Saudi workers for a few reasons. One is that they have to pay more. Another is that, due to religious restrictions, it is difficult for men and women to mingle. But maybe the most important is that the Saudi education system hasn’t emphasized technical skills, making them less valuable in the country’s primary industry.

If you couple this with an incredibly young population that introduces over 100,000 new graduates into the workforce each year, Saudi Arabia faces a crisis. It is true that there have been some stopgap maneuvers, like trying to get more Sauds into the oil industries, but these are mostly in temporary jobs that don’t provide long-term stability or a living wage. So, the House of Saud is eager to create a more educated population that can compete in its major industry, if for nothing else than out of self-preservation. According to a Booz Allen Hamilton survey, 87% of Saudi citizens between 15 and 24 think that unemployment is a major concern. In a restless area of the world, such discontent is troubling, so they are trying to ramp up their technical knowledge.

More than oil

But here’s the thing- they will need more than oil to compete in the future. Oil is great for the Saudi economy, but it is wildly vulnerable to market shocks, could be running out, and, anyway, is finite and increasingly unpopular. Smart countries, like Qatar and Bahrain, have moved away from a mono economy in order to position themselves for the future. After years of cloistered isolation, Saudi Arabia is trying to join them.

Your international department can gear itself toward that. When recruiting inside the Kingdom, emphasize that your high school can prepare students for a college experience that isn’t only geared toward a technical education in the oil fields. Saudi Arabia has a chance- and the resources- to open itself up to be a technological and scientific hub, in everything from information and mobile to the cutting edges of nanotechnology.

Saudi youth are more connected to the world than ever. They don’t want to be told their destiny is either the largesse of the royal dole or else a life in the oil fields. You can help them meet a different destiny than that. Your school can prepare them for an American education that will help them obtain jobs in burgeoning new fields that are opening up inside Saudi Arabia.

A Friendlier Future

Here’s the thing: the Kingdom is going to change one way or the other. The sheer tidal force of demographics ensures that. Though it has made brutal missteps in the past, it seems the royal family is beginning to recognize it and is undergoing a (relative) youth movement. This is a great opportunity.

As we’ve said, the relationship that Saudi Arabia has with much of the world is based in mutual need and deep distrust. But it doesn’t always have to be that way. Oil can be a curse, distorting everything. But it looks like Saudi Arabia is ready to move toward a future where oil doesn’t dominate everything, and  to be a force in the world due to the creativity, drive, passion, and intelligence of its youth.

Your school can help mediate that transition. This is a chance to restart an odd and difficult relationship, and get it onto the path of actual friendship, where smiles aren’t strained. By opening up your hallways to Saudi students, you can open up a brighter tomorrow.


The international student experience is both challenging and exciting. Whether you are a student considering studying in America, their parent, the host family, the Head of School, an international coordinator, or even a potential classmate, there are as many opportunities for confusion as there are to learn. The ISPA is here to help bridge that gap, to ensure that this opportunity and adventure is met with the highest level of success.