Saudi pursues a degree in physics at MSU

By SARAH SNEBOLD / Montana State News

If you frequent the Montana State University library or take an Arabic course, chances are you know Bandar Alotibi. The senior in chemical engineering can be found with an entourage in tow, laughing and studying in the back corner of the library.

The challenge of pursuing a college degree at a university abroad would be daunting to most, but Alotibi smiles and speaks nonchalantly about the transition from Saudi Arabia to the United States. Alotibi joined Montana State University in 2013 and spent his first year at the English institute in Culbertson Hall.

He had the option to study in Canada, Australia, New Zealand or the United States. He came to the U.S. because he, “wanted to study abroad, have a new challenge and a new environment. The U.S. has the future I want with open-minded people and a good engineering school.“ Alotibi grew up in a small town, so he wanted to be in a similar size here. He also heard from his father’s friends that MSU was a good engineering school.

Alotibi has an optimistic outlook on American life. He likes how the people here don’t judge based on skin color, and doesn’t find people who analyze individuals based on an opinion. He said, “if I say I am Muslim or gay, people don’t care.”

Back home in Saudi Arabia, the government and society is not as tolerant. Alotibi misses the people back home but not really the culture. He explained how the Government needs to make a lot of improvements, such as in communication skills. They implement checkpoints, “if police stop you they ask ‘where are you going to go?’ but it is not their business.” Another example he gave was with the documentation process, which Alotibi explains is longer than needed for no specific purpose.

Alotibi’s optimism and ease regarding American culture may be accredited to his prior experience travelling abroad when he was 16. He went to New Zealand as a gift from his Dad to practice English, be by himself and face the challenge of being independent in a new country. Alotibi’s Dad and family has entrusted him to be successful and smart, more so than seen with his seven other siblings.

Alotibi’s family sees the work ethic and determination he holds. He entered chemical engineering because his grade was very high in chemistry, and currently there are a lot of chemical projections, leading to better chances of a job. However, Alotibi has faced his challenges pursuing this degree.

In high school, Alotibi’s chemistry teacher told him that, “you are getting good grades, but not because you’re smart. It’s because you’re a hard worker. This shut me down.” He ultimately brushed his professor’s words aside and continued on this path for college. However, the doubts did not stop here.

When taking thermodynamics at MSU he studied so much for his first exam that he didn’t sleep. He ended up failing the test. He went into his professor’s office where, “he told me I am probably going to fail and have to stay an extra year. Since the entire grade depends on the midterms, I went to the library and studied a lot. When the second exam came I got a 98/100.” Alotibi ended the course with a B-minus although his professor failed to support him through the semester.

Alotibi stayed with chemical engineering despite these challenges. He said, “When I remember myself, I think of myself as a smart guy, this is between me and myself. If another person can pass these classes then why not me, what’s the difference? So, I just encourage myself with this. I will never give up on anything until it’s done.”

Although Alotibi is very busy, he cuts out time to help his friends with their classes. One friend that he is frequently seen studying with is Abdullah Alanazi. When together, both are smiling and laughing, making studying look more enjoyable than it is to most. Alanazi said, “He helps me a lot with English programs and helping me communicate with others in English. He also helps me a lot with my chemical engineering classes. He is one of my best friends.”

Alanazi is not the only person who Alotibi helps. He also goes out of his way to help the students in his Arabic class. Yasmine Jarecke said, “He helps us a lot in Arabic and doesn’t laugh or judge us when we suck. He is very patient and a lot of people aren’t as knowledgeable about Arabic as he is.” Alotibi offers help to all students in this class and goes out of his way to ensure that they know this.

Alotibi’s work within the Arabic department with non-native speakers does not go unnoticed. Professor and head of the Arabic Department at MSU, Anas Alsayed Suliman said, “Bandar is an asset to have in class. He keeps the energy up and the students engaged. It helps for them to communicate with native speakers.” Alotibi’s work ethic and determination is difficult to contest or deny. Many would have failed to overcome the doubts he faced from his professors, but now he helps others to succeed as well, with English, Arabic or chemical engineering.

– edited by Chelsea Anderson

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