I went to school in Texas and Saudi Arabia. The differences between the 2 systems actually set me up better for the future.

I went to school in Texas and Saudi Arabia. The differences between the 2 systems actually set me up better for the future.
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The author moved from Saudi Arabia to Houston, Texas.

  • My brother had a rare cancer that force my family to move from Saudi Arabia to Houston. 
  • I was fluent in English before we moved because I went to an international private school in Saudi. 
  • I don’t think one school system is better than the other, I like and dislike things from both. 

My Texan middle school was vibrant, a large fine arts hub tucked in West University, Houston. It had Glass ceilings, rooms cluttered with cellos and trumpets, art plastered over rows of lockers, and a baseball and football field to match. The weekly bake sales were just as much of a staple as our daily recitation of the Texas pledge.

But life at an American school was only a part-time gig for me. Growing up, my older brother had osteosarcoma. The cancer diagnosis led my family to uproot our lives in my home country of Saudi Arabia and move to Houston for him to seek treatment.

From the desert to Cowboy County, I ended up trying everything from public to private to online school.

“Where do you like it better?” I was asked the same questions in various accents and languages throughout every grade. The answer is not straightforward, as there are things I liked and disliked from my experiences.

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My English was good when I moved to the US

My parents always did their best to enroll me in international schools in Saudi, as they were the only ones who taught in English. My Arabic reading and writing skills were too weak over the years to handle the high level of Arabic grammar and literature taught in Saudi public schools.

In Texas, a good education meant moving into the “good” neighborhoods to be zoned for the “good” schools. In Saudi, it meant succumbing to private school tuition, as only international private schools taught in English.

My schedule was packed in Saudi Arabia

My backpack was jam-packed with thick books from the sheer number of subjects we had to juggle in Saudi schools. At a mere 10 years of age, I was taking Arabic, French, English, Islamic, Algebra, natural sciences and history.

Mornings consisted of a mandatory assembly at the front of the school to do a short series of stretches to prep ourselves for the day and hear announcements from the headmistress.

Although school only ran from 7 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., I was putting pencil to paper for a significantly longer period of time than in Texas. Pencils, paper, and hard steel desks. A simple room for a simple task — getting the grades. I always felt a stronger desire to adhere to order and perfection when in Saudi and perhaps the design of our classrooms was an unconscious form of encouragement to focus. I found the difference in schooling to be reflective of the culture and general mindset of life. No frills.

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While my visually barren classrooms were a nightmare for me, my Saudi classmates didn’t give it one thought. A class schedule and wall clock were enough. I missed the posters stapled on tops of posters with dangling flyers that colored the walls of my American schools. For me, the messy and vibrant visuals made me happier.

I was allowed to experiment with creativity in the US

In the US, you are not only left to linger in thought but encouraged to do so. We were asked to experiment and play. In Saudi, you ask yourself long-term life questions early. Do I want to be a doctor? Do I want to be an engineer? I love to dream, but there is something comforting about approaching your future in a definitive way and choosing your goals early on.

Because of the laser focus on academics in Saudi, I was unable to find the time to explore my creativity through the arts until a much older age when musical instruments, painting, and writing became more accessible. As uncoordinated as I was, it was also common to let out energy at school through sports. As a majority of schools are gender segregated in Saudi, I often felt more comfortable being bad a soccer or working up a sweat among a community of girls than I did in my mixed American schools.

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Oftentimes, people would praise my academic abilities and attribute them to one schooling system over the other. I’m good at math because of my Saudi schools, but I’m good at English because of my Texan schools, or so I was told. I don’t think one or the other is particularly the right way.

In reality, it was the mix of routine from the Saudi structure and the more fluid and creative methods of American schooling that allowed me to excel.

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