“It was incredibly valuable to have a sense of what my undergraduate experience would be like, as it helped me to feel more prepared,” said Ghala Buarish. “My not-so favorite experience was spending holidays away from my family but thankfully I have made close friends here.”
Champaign, Ill. — There were two things that surprised this year’s KAUST students when they first came to Illinois—the weather and the size of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) campus.
Abdulelah Abdulelah Hamdi summarized their impressions the best when he said, “seeing how over 60,000 students could fit in a small college town was surprising.”
Hamdi and his fellow classmates were part of this year’s King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) Gifted Student Program cohort with Global Education and Training (GET). They shared their experiences, hobbies, and dreams when they answered several profile questions before the end of their foundation year.
This year, GET hosted 12 students from Saudi Arabia for the foundation year program, which ended on June 21 following a graduation ceremony and reception.
Each student in brought their own unique traits that made this year one to remember.
Meet the 2022-2023 cohort:
Sama Hamad A Aldahmashi is from Jubail, Saudi Arabia and will be attending Virginia Tech in the fall.
She said during her tenure at UIUC she really enjoyed meeting and getting to know so many interesting people. However, her not-so-favorite thing was how everything closed so early.
Additionally, she said she was impressed by how accessible and accommodating it was for people with disabilities.
Overall, she said her biggest dream in life was to be content with every single aspect of her life.
Hashim Mazin S Motabagani is from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia and will be attending Penn State University in the fall.
When asked what his favorite experience living in Illinois and attending UIUC was he said it was going to the quad. However, he said dealing with the changing weather wasn’t exactly a “favorite experience.”
He said he was also surprised by how lovely Urbana-Champaign was when he first arrived.
Hashim said two of his favorite hobbies that he does in his free time were graphic design and playing soccer.
And as he graduates and prepares for undergrad at Penn State, he said his five-year plan is to become a graduate student and his biggest dream in life is to make a “huge change to the healthcare system.”
Abdulelah Abdulelah Hamdi is from Makkah, Saudi Arabia and will be attending Boston University in the fall.
He said his favorite experience that he’ll take with him about UIUC was the community feel.
“The community at UIUC is by far the most valuable asset the campus has,” Abdulelah said. “I felt here like I was connected with the community on the campus and the students even though I came from a totally different background.”
He also said the size of the UIUC campus surprised him when he first arrived.
“Seeing how over 60,000 students could fit in a small college town was surprising,” he said.
While in Urbana-Champaign, Abdulelah said he had the opportunity to volunteer at the local mosque to teach kids Arabic in addition to Islamic studies and as a result he said he is most proud of helping his community.
When asked what his five-year plan was, he said he wants to advance the science in his field of study, which is computer vision.
He said he wants to do this by further developing his skills and knowledge via internships, research projects, and networking events.
But he said his biggest dream in life is to help make Saudi Arabia the next capital of the electric automotive industry.
“Detroit is a city that I always wanted to visit since it is the capital of the automotive industry. I daydream of a future where Saudi Arabia becomes the new Detroit and becomes a capital renowned for its electric automotive industry,” he said. “Inching towards that dream, I want to advance computer vision research in order to make autonomous driving more reliable, and electric cars more efficient.”
In his free time, Abdulelah said he likes to drive, whether it’s going on road trips, racing, or just simply cruising down the highway.
“If it has 4-wheels and an engine, I’m all for it,” he said.
Mawaddah Omar M Ali is from Makkah, Saudi Arabia and will be attending the University of California Los Angeles in the fall.
During her time at UIUC though, she said the weather was something that surprised her. She said two of her favorite experiences were watching the first thunderstorm during the fall semester and seeing her first snow day.
Mawaddah said she’s most proud of her will to keep going even when things get challenging, and she said her five-year plan is to finish a successful undergraduate journey.
When asked what her biggest dream in life is, Mawaddah said it’s to “always be inspired no matter what I am doing and to have the ability to inspire others too.”
In her free time, Mawaddah said some of her favorite hobbies to do are sleep, watch TV or movies, and read.
And she said in terms of a favorite color that she’s OK with any color as long as it’s not yellow and if it’s styled in a good way.
“My friends say that my favorite color is gray, because I wear it a lot,” she said.
Ghala Ismail T Buarish is from Al-Ahsa, Saudi Arabia and will be attending New York University in the fall.
She said her favorite experience during her foundation year was being able to experience college life and getting to know her instructors.
“It was incredibly valuable to have a sense of what my undergraduate experience would be like, as it helped me to feel more prepared,” Ghala said. “My not-so favorite experience was spending holidays away from my family but thankfully I have made close friends here.”
She said she is most proud of her discipline and her goal-oriented approach to academics because those traits have allowed her to stay focused and achieve academic progress. She also said the most surprising thing for her when she first came to UIUC was the size of the campus.
In the next five years, Ghala said she is planning to study computer engineering.
“I am filled with excitement for the next four years and I am hoping to make the most of my time,” she said.
And her biggest dream in life is to continue to pursue her passion and bring about change in the robotics field when she returns to Saudi Arabia.
“Later on, I am open to exploring different paths and possibilities as I continue to grow and learn.”
Finally, she said her favorite color is white because it contains all the colors of the spectrum.
“As a color that encompasses the full range of visible light, choosing white as my favorite color means that all colors are my favorite,” she said.
Saud Abdullah S Almasound is from Makkah, Saudi Arabia and will be attending Texas A&M in the fall.
His favorite experience of attending UIUC has been hanging out with friends, while his least favorite part has been the cold weather. He’s most proud of making it through the year. When he first came to UIUC, he said he was surprised by the university’s structure because it was so different from what he expected.
In the next five years, he plans to finish his degree and be a healthier person.
In his free time, he said he likes to watch TV and anime as well as all sorts of physical activities. Blue is his favorite color because “it’s so beautiful.” Overall, his biggest dream in life is to make his parents proud.
Yasmeen Mohammed H Alshafie is from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia and will be attending the University of Washington in the fall.
Her favorite experience about her foundation year was moving to a different place in terms of geography and location and meeting new people and making friends with people.
She said she is most proud of being able to succeed in her first college level course (IB 150) and in her five-year plan she said she wants to succeed in pursuing her bachelor’s degree and thrive in her first job.
Her biggest dream in life is to become an environmentalist and strive to save and preserve the environment.
In her free time, Yasmeen said she likes to walk, run, swim, watch shows and movies, and explore new and different places.
Although she said she doesn’t have a particular favorite song, Yasmeen said she does like country and pop music because it puts her in a good mood.
“I also like listening to Arabic music because it’s sometimes uplifting,” she said.
And her favorite color is green.
“I like it because it looks very cool and gives me good vibes,” she said.
Feras Ziyad H Almadani is from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia and will be attending Georgia Institute of Technology in the fall.
His favorite experience at UIUC was Saudi National Day because he met a lot of interesting people. He also really enjoyed singing with his peers on Christmas Eve.
While Feras has had many great experiences, he did not particularly enjoy 10 a.m. classes because he said they were tiring.
As Champaign is quite different from Saudi Arabia, Feras was most surprised by the weather and how nice the community is.
Some fun facts about Feras are that his hobbies include diving every weekend in Jeddah and baking and cooking in Champaign.
His favorite song is Sorry Not Sorry by Tyler the Creator, and his favorite color is blue for its calmness.
Overall, Feras has big plans to become a Master’s student at KAUST with Prof. Mani Sathy, and his biggest dream is to explore who he is and continue to be who he is.
Ibrahim Marwan I Alahmadi is from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia and will also be attending Texas A&M in the fall.
Being so far away from home, Ibrahim is most proud of keeping in touch with his family. When he first came to UIUC, he was surprised that the campus and the community were so big.
In the next five years, Ibrahim plans to finish his degree.
When Ibrahim has free time, he likes to go to the gym and listen to HipHop music. His favorite color is blue because it’s peaceful.
Overall, his biggest dream in life is to make his parents proud.
Saad Mohammad S Alarifi is from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia and will be attending the University of Wisconsin at Madison in the fall.
While at UIUC, he said one of his favorite experiences was apple-picking at Curtis Orchard but the pressure he went through with his college essays the first semester was not so pleasant.
He said he was most proud of working on the NOEM project, which is a futuristic smart city in Saudi Arabia, and he said in his five-year plan he wants to engage in cybersecurity or AI-related research throughout his undergraduate career.
Some of his favorite hobbies include playing video games with his friends, swimming, playing sports, baking, cooking, talking a walk, and calling his family.
He also said since he likes blue and green, his favorite color is turquoise.
Almothana Mossaid H Alghamdi is from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia and will be attending Purdue University in the fall.
He said his favorite experience at UIUC has been spending time with other Saudi undergraduates.
“The university’s community in general is amazing,” he said.
Almothana also noted that the small-town vibe was a surprise to him when he first arrived in Champaign-Urbana because he is used to living in a big city.
Overall, he said he is very proud of his applications to universities because he received lots of acceptances, something he said he didn’t expect.
In his five-year plan, Almothana said he wants to break his social anxiety barrier and create the as many professional relationships with fellow students and professors as possible.
And he said his biggest dream in life is to have his own company.
“The idea of entrepreneurship intrigues me,” he said. “I want to have a company of my own and I want to relate that to my passion in electrical engineering.”
In his free time, Almothana likes to play competitive video games and watch TV drama series.
Mohammed Mokhtar M Alsalman will be attending the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign in the fall.