Imagine a scholarship where travel, tuition, rent, fees and insurance were all paid for by the government, allowing a student to learn in another country.
That dream scholarship is a reality for the Omani students at Kent State. Since 2012, the university has had a cohort with Oman where students have all of those expenses paid for by their government.
Salma Benhaida, director of International Recruitment, Admissions and Sponsored Student Services, discussed the vast increase in Omani students over the past few years.
In 2012, Kent State had only one student from Oman. There are now 93. Kent State received its first large cohort in 2013, with 12 Omani students who came fully funded by their government.
Many students come here knowing a select few people. These are typically students who attended high school within Oman, or those who share the same major.
Benhaida created the Omani Student Organization for those students to call home and connect with others through their shared culture.
“I thought, since we’re growing, maybe we could organize a group which would help our new students coming in — that there’s a place for them to ask questions,” Benhaida said. “Also, so they could have people to celebrate their national and religious holidays.”
The Omani Student Organization was established in 2013, and the membership total is now 93 undergraduate students.
Khadija Al Habsy, a senior mathematics major, described how close-knit the group of Omani students are.
“We try and do a lot of things together, though there are a portion of Omani students we don’t see around. As a family, we all try to take care of each other,” Al Habsy said.
A typical Omani student’s experience at Kent State is different from the majority of other students. Their decision to attend the university depends on more than simply acceptance and figuring out financial aid. These students have majors that are picked for them, by their government, based on test scores and previous performance in high school.
Ahmed Al Abri, a senior mechanics major, shared how his major was chosen for him by an official in Oman.
“Before I chose this major, the ministry of higher education checked our grades and give us our majors, which are related to our GPAs,” Al Abri said.
Based on his grades, the officials in Oman originally chose economics for Al Abri, but once he came to Kent, he changed his major because he had a love for engineering.
“Up to high school level, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do in the future, and when this scholarship opportunity came about, they wanted (for us to) list what majors we would want and I just wrote education,” Al Habsy said.
Abdullah Al Bahouli, a freshman finance major, described a process that exists in Oman where officials match the student to their major and country.
“We have a book that has all the available universities and countries we can study in it,” Al Bahouli said. “But if you get this GPA, you can go for this country, etc. Get the GPA you have to get to go to the country. If you get the GPA, you get the applications and then you have a major form and essay to complete.”
Ahmed Al Gharibi, a freshman computer science major, shared how his decision to come to Kent State was out of his control.
“I actually didn’t want to come here,” Gharibi said. “Because my major just had like three choices here in America. There was Dayton, Iowa and Kent. I know some friends here, and they told me their experience at Kent State, which is why I chose here.”
Abdallah Al Mahri, a freshman business management major, had a similar story.
“I wasn’t ever interested in studying abroad, but my sister studies here,” Al Mahri said. “She told me about Kent and the studies here. That encouraged me to study here.”
The scholarship program the students apply for is very competitive, Al Bahouli said. Only 500 students from Oman are given the scholarship every year. Students must be in the top of their class in order to qualify.
“I was confident I would get the scholarship because my major, finance, didn’t ask for a high degree. The asked for about an 80, so I think it was easy to get this one,” Al Bahouli said.
Students like Al Mahri had to change their major in order to receive the scholarship. Al Mahri’s original interest was criminology, but the program’s requirements deemed him under qualified.
Once Omani students are here, they must complete English as a Second Language (ESL) courses. The pressure is increased for these students because they must complete all their ESL requirements before they can take their major classes, Al Bahouli explained. They only have one year to do so or Oman will pull their scholarship.
Each ESL course lasts seven weeks, with the eighth week as a break for the students. Students go over lessons in grammar, reading, writing and listening.
“The ESL classes are pretty easy, but I have some difficulty in the grammar,” Al Bahouli said. “Because it’s basic, and we don’t get that in home country.”
The ESL completion time used to be a total of two years, but it was recently changed by the Omani government to one year for students to complete their courses.
Al Mahri described how he enjoys the learning environment at Kent State because it’s so different from Oman.
“There are different people from around the world, and we’re sharing our cultures,” Al Mahri said. “We have teachers from Thailand, Canada (who) told us about their cultures.”
Al Gharibi shared how he had trouble learning at first because of the language barrier, but he worked hard in order to achieve the grades he wanted.
Adjustments were necessary for these students to succeed and thrive in their learning environment. Some students, like Al Gharibi, have an easier adjustment than others.
“Since before we come here we knew about the weather and environment, and I have some friends who have the same major, so I asked them questions before I came here,” Al Gharibi said.
Benhaida encourages these connections to be made before the next cohort of students makes their way to Kent State.
She said she works frequently with government scholarships, whether with foreign governments or the U.S. government. Oman was an initiative started in order to diversify the student population at Kent State.
Benhaida explained that International Admissions visited the Omani Embassy in Washington D.C. where they “met with people from the cultural division and expressed our interest in perhaps hosting students from Oman, and the support was very important.”
The Omani student population continues to grow every year with the support and funding from their government.
“So far, the students are having a great experience, Kent State is having a great experience and their funding provider and sponsor is happy with Kent State as a partner, so I can only see it moving forward and continuing in the future,” Benhaida said.
Eryn Gebacz is the international students and issues reporter, contact her at [email protected]