GUST students enjoy their summer abroad at UMSL

by | Aug 12, 2019

Abdullah Desouki, Maria Saade and Yousef Abuhayya were three of five students visiting from UMSL's longtime academic partner in Kuwait.
GUST students

From left, Abdullah Desouki, Maria Saade and Yousef Abuhayya were three of five students from Gulf University for Science and Technology in Kuwait who spent the summer studying abroad at UMSL. (Photo by Jessica Rogen)

It was with a mixture of excitement and sadness that Abdullah Desouki, Maria Saade and Yousef Abuhayya bid farewell to the University of Missouri–St. Louis campus on Friday and headed to St. Louis Lambert International Airport.

Eager as they were to begin their journey back home to their families in Kuwait, the three Gulf University for Science and Technology students weren’t quite ready to be finished with a two-month summer study abroad experience that exposed them to new places and people half a world away while helping teach independence.

“The whole experience, it was so much fun,” said Desouki, speaking inside the Fireside Lounge at the Millennium Student Center on one of the last days of his stay.

He echoed the sentiments of his compatriots.

There were five students – Salma Aly and Lina Hamed were the others – who spent the summer at UMSL as visiting students from GUST.

The school of roughly 4,400 students was the first American-style university in Kuwait. UMSL served as a foundation member at its formation in 2002 and has continued as an institution building consultant in the years since. The program allowing GUST students to study at UMSL during the summer has been in place for more than 10 years.

All of this year’s students are majoring in business, and they enrolled in either one or two courses for the summer. Four received competitive scholarships that covered their tuition costs.

Some of those academic experiences were connected to their field of study, such as with Abuhayya, an American citizen majoring in finance who grew up in the Middle East. He took a course in the College of Business Administration on life insurance and employee benefits.

“For my big assignment, I compared types of insurance here in the U.S. and in Kuwait,” Abuhayya said. “There’s thousands of different insurance types between here and Kuwait, so this was one thing that really shocked me. One topic that was really interesting for me – disability insurance. Here, disability insurance is a big thing, but when you go back to Kuwait, it is there, but not too many people consider the risks of being disabled.”

Other students took courses farther from their intended fields with Desouki and Saade both taking a course in geology and another in history and gender studies on “Women and Leadership in the U.S.,” taught by Associate Professor Priscilla Dowden-White.

“In the Middle East, we study about the history of the United States but not into that detail, so we learned a lot,” Saade said.

“I didn’t know anything about the African American case here, and everything that we took here just put me in shock,” Desouki said. “What? What happened here? Why did it happen? Why are people doing this and that? I had so many questions in that class.”

Dowden-White said they were two of the most engaged students she’s ever taught.

But their time in the classroom was only a small part of their experience.

“When we did the interview for this opportunity, they asked us a lot of questions about if we would just go there to study,” Saade said. “It was their point to go there and live by yourself, be more confident, enjoy and explore a lot of stuff. They didn’t want us to be there and sit in your dorms and study.”

They credited international liaison specialist Liane Constantine from UMSL Global with offering support as they learned to navigate around UMSL and beyond campus.

Unsure when they might get another opportunity to visit the United States, the students – all of whom lived at University Meadows – did their best to take in as many sights and as much culture as they could between their arrival June 12 and Friday’s departure.

All five students paid a weekend visit to Chicago. Saade, Aly and Hamed made a trip to New York, and Saade also spent time with her aunt in Dallas.

They also tried to navigate their way to all corners of the St. Louis region by whatever means of transportation was available to them without a car. That meant a lot of rides on the MetroLink or public buses as well as taking advantage of Uber and Lyft.

They spent a day at Six Flags, hung out downtown and snacked at Insomnia Cookies in the Delmar Loop. Though they ate at several local restaurants, including some with Middle Eastern cuisine, they also developed a fondness for a few American chains, most notably Chick-fil-A, Chipotle and Texas Roadhouse.

Abuhayya, an avid soccer player, found the Saint Louis Pick-Up Soccer Facebook group and joined them on several occasions at locations across the area, including Bayless High School, Washington University in St. Louis and O’Fallon Family Sports Park in Illinois.

“It was one of my favorite experiences here in America,” he said. “It was so nice. I really liked the experience playing soccer here. I went more than once. We had so much fun. We played like three hours straight.”

Getting to play outdoors was a cherished experience because the extreme heat in Kuwait pushes people to spend most of their time indoors for nine months of the year.

It was also a chance to interact with some Americans – one thing the students wished they’d had the chance to do more on campus.

“We didn’t meet a lot of people due to it being a summer course,” Desouki said. “I really encourage people to come for a fall or spring semester because they will meet a lot of people, and they’ll get to know a lot of cultures.”

Though they struggled to find room in their suitcases for the gifts they acquired for friends and family back home, none seemed to be packing any regrets.

Steve Walentik

Steve Walentik