The term “Ivy League” is one which is very familiar across the United States and university world. It’s a term that 22-year-old Kawther Al-Khudairy of Riyadh can refer to often now too. Kawther just graduated with honors from Brown University in Rhode Island, one of eight Ivy League institutions in the United States.
By all accounts Kawther is an all-around achiever in everything she does. Not content just to throw herself into a degree in sociology, she also used her time in the United States to help others. Reflecting on her recent graduation and time spent at Brown University, Kawther told Arabia Now, ““The highlight of my education was definitely the people that I met and learned from. My professors, mentors, and peers changed and shaped the way I look at the world, and helped me grow in ways I never thought I could. I learned the importance of looking to other individuals and organizations who have better experience or new ideas. I realized how invaluable they were to my own endeavors. Through their insight and sense of hope, I became more energized about philanthropic work everyday.”
While spending hours in the library studying for her degree in sociology, Kawther quickly identified a need to help other Arab students trying to apply for an education in the United States. In her interview with Arabia Now from Riyadh, she said, “The Brown International Organization became a second home to me my first year of university. The transition to another country with a completely different culture, no matter how familiar you are with it beforehand, is hard. BRIO really helped ease the process. The organization was dedicated to making the international community feel safe, heard, and understood in the university campus. By my senior year, the board and members had also begun participating in off-campus international issues, like working with children in refugee camps to help them learn English. I found myself involved in the organization my entire college career. I loved both its mission and the people involved, many of whom became very close friends. The broad array of backgrounds and cultures represented in the organization helped me learn a lot about the world and about myself.”
Speaking with great candidness from her home in Saudi Arabia, the recent graduate told Arabia Now, “I think the two major challenges of studying outside of Saudi Arabia, are being so far away from everything familiar, and balancing your culture while trying to get exposed to new things. It is hard to, for instance, discuss and debate issues one believes deeply in with others who disagree, but it’s vital in order to learn.“
There was of course natural curiosity from American students on the Rhode Island campus, who were eager to learn about the Kingdom too. Recalling those conversations, Kawther told Arabia Now, “Many people were shocked to hear about the life I had back home, particularly how normal it was. I think a lot of people expected that I would have grown up very differently, or that life works like a completely different world back home. They were sometimes surprised to hear that I wanted to return to Saudi after graduation, or how happy I was living there. In all fairness, most people asked many questions and assumed very little, which was very appreciated. They really wanted to learn about the country and culture.”
Mentoring also had a big impact on Kawther, who helped guide other Arab students about the culture of the United States and how to apply to university there. She did so by joining, “Qimmah,” a non profit organization that aims to increase the number of Arab students admitted into world class universities. Established in 2013 by Ivy League students, the Qimmah Mentorship Program is largely conducted via social media platforms such as Skype, FaceTime and WhatsApp. Kawther told Arabia Now, “It is completely unfortunate for gifted and talented students to miss the chance of attending a top university only because no one is there to help them through the process. Qimmah pairs high-achieving high school Arab students with Arab students attending top universities to help them through the process.”
Up next for Kawther is a Masters in Marketing at NYU’s school of professional studies. But she is also looking ahead at post university life back in the Kingdom. Many of her goals are reflected in Saudi Vision 2030, as she explained to Arabia Now, “The ideal plan is to merge the initiatives of entrepreneurship and philanthropy, creating something that fulfills both social and financial aspects together and creating a strong viable driver. I imagine supporting women’s rights through an entrepreneurial initiative.”
Kawther’s enterperneriual spirit will certainly help her in whatever she chooses to do. She is someone who has already shown to have impact and sustainability, and she will bring that Ivy League talent with her for others to learn and appreciate too.