Abdulateef Al-Mulhim
Abdulateef Al-Mulhim
Commodore, Royal Saudi Navy (Retired)

About two weeks ago, Forbes deputy editor Karen Blankfeld referred to an encouraging speech that was delivered at the University of California at Berkeley by Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg.

In her speech, Sandberg said, “It is the hard days — the times that challenge you to your very core — that will determine who you are. You will be defined not just by what you achieve, but by how you survive.”

During the month of May, American schools and universities hold their graduation ceremonies. Thousands of Saudi students graduate from America’s top schools every year. Saudi graduates from the US are in addition to the tens of thousands who graduate from the many universities in the Kingdom.

What does Sandberg’s speech mean to the Saudi students? To start with, let us make things very simple. Saudi university students studying either in the Kingdom or abroad always have an easy ride. For example, by the time an American student graduates from school, he or she is in debt but a Saudi student enrolled in a university in the Kingdom receives a monthly stipend of $320 and does not have to tuition fees and many campuses have free boarding facilities for students coming from nearby cities.

And a Saudi student studying in the US receive about $1800 a month, tuition paid in full, medical insurance and annual travel expenses are also paid by the government.

The only problem the Saudi students face during their stay in the US is homesickness.

They are not worried about getting a part-time job or worry about qualifying for a loan. And yes, this is good and convenient and it is not a challenge. And this is why Sandberg’s speech caught the attention of many Saudis.

If a young man or woman is not subjected to a challenge, then he or she will be vulnerable to disappointment at the first sign of a challenge or even a failure. The Saudi government has furnished all the necessary means to educate the youth so they have an obligation to study harder, work harder and be more patient. And it true that all government departments and private companies are encouraged or even obligated to offer employment to young and fresh Saudi graduates but our youth should realize that there are many jobs that can be taken up temporarily until better opportunities appear on the horizon. And the Saudi youth must hone whatever skills they have.

There are many employment opportunities available in the Kingdom. There is a need to provide fresh graduates with adequate training to prepare them for future roles in the Kingdom’s huge economy.

Saudi education system has to be refined to make it easier for students to adapt to any work environment and students should be taught the real meaning of work ethics from an early age. For many decades new college graduates lean toward taking up jobs in the public sector because these jobs are secure, simple, without competition and with no real challenge but in the long run, it doesn’t help the country develop in the true sense.

With the new government approach to economic development and reforms, our youth must adapt to the new changes. The Saudi students always have an easy ride during their school years but they shouldn’t expect the same after finishing school. The more you are trained and motivated, the easier your professional journey will be.

Written by Abdulateef Al-Mulhim. No Growth Without Challenges reprinted with permission of Arab News and Abdulateef Al-Mulhim.