This article is part of an ongoing series here on Dal News focusing on international voices in our community.
When Khalid Tearo had completed his undergraduate degree from King Saud University, and received a scholarship to study abroad, he started his university search by the numbers.
“I looked at The Academic Ranking of World Universities by Shanghai Jiao Tong University, a list which ranks universities based on their academic research and publications,” he explains.
“It was from this list that I first heard about Dalhousie University; it had a good ranking. The Faculty of Medicine had a good reputation too.”
He also knew that the health minister in his home country, Saudi Arabia, had also studied at Dalhousie, so he had some sense of the achievements of the university’s alumni.
“The city also attracted me,” adds Khalid. “Halifax is a nice and quiet city with a slow-paced lifestyle, which I prefer.”
Similarities and differences in the environment
Though Khalid began working on his interdisciplinary PhD in Medicine and Computer Science in January, he’s been in Halifax since 2009, first completing his Master of Health Informatics degree from Dal.
He says he admires the multiculturalism of the Canadian educational system.
“I really like the people and lifestyle here,” he explains. “Before I came, I thought it would be hard to live here because I was going to be living by myself in a different culture and environment… I thought I would be a unique person here, speaking a different language and coming from a different culture, but I quickly realized that I was not. Everyone here is unique; the diversity of the community in Halifax made it easier for me. It might be shocking, but sometimes you will feel that it’s home.”
While on the surface Saudi Arabia may seem quite different culturally than Canada, Khalid sees similarities between the two countries.
“Saudi Arabia has a very multicultural community like Canada. I feel we, like Canadians, share a similar culture: we all are made up of different communities and ethnicities. People in Saudi Arabia may have ancestors who came from different parts of the world; not everyone comes from the same background. We don’t label people according to their background — everyone is just a Saudi. I think that is why the outside world doesn’t realize that there is diversity there.”
Like many newcomers to Canada, Khalid was a bit surprised by the weather. “I come from central Saudi Arabia, which is a very hot climate region, so it was very different for me,” he says. “Though Saudi Arabia does have different climates. It snows in the north, in the central region there is a desert, and in the south there is a waterfall and forest.”
Language was a small barrier to adjusting to university life in Canada. “Sometimes we need to think in our mother language and then write and then react in English. It may be difficult to communicate with course professors. The expectations of the professors and courses lecturers took me time to adapt to and understand what objectives they want,” admits Khalid.
He’s glad he made an effort to adjust and became involved in the campus community. He became the student representative to the program board of the Health Informatics program, which allowed him to sit in meetings with the board chair and dean. “I was exposed to the process of how programs are developed and change over time, and what is considered essential to the board and students. I learned that the educational system in itself was totally different.”
Finding connections and opportunities
“I worked as a lecturer back home, so was more exposed to the educational system there, which focuses more on courses and doing specific tasks,” he continues. “In Canada, I feel the research is more developed than what we have back home and it is more academically free.”
He hopes he can incorporate elements of the Canadian post-secondary education system into the system of Saudi Arabia upon returning.
“I feel that’s partly why I am here: to learn and make changes to education back home, to go back and try to use what I learned here to develop and implement a better advanced educational system there.”
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