My Story: From Saudi Arabia to Wharton

What adjectives would I use to describe Wharton? Impactful, innovative, and monumental. If I could, I would add “The Wharton Experience.” While obtaining a premium education, you’re sharing a classroom with the crème de la crème of students and professors. At the same time, you get an amazing level of support from administrators plus a great deal of experience from extra-curricular activities and through leadership training. Two years later, you’re a much better person than when you started.

What has been most surprising about the U.S.? I don’t think I experienced any major culture shocks for two reasons. First, my family and I are well-traveled and I have been to North America many times. Plus I lived in Canada for a year. Second, the American media has a very strong global presence; that by itself bridges the cultural gap. 

Being the first female student from Saudi Arabia, I would like to see Wharton’s presence strengthened in the Middle East. Wharton is known in the region, but not as well as it should be I feel. I don’t believe the school gets it fair share of publicity there. It is my hope that I can encourage every woman to get more education and to pursue their professional and educational goals; not limiting themselves because of social pressures.

If humans want to walk on their hands, they will. They just need perseverance. This advice came from a colleague when I was struggling with my application to get into Corporate Banking. The concept was very simple, but it sparked faith in my soul that you can dream as much as you can and make it happen if you are resilient.

The greatest challenge I faced was social acceptance at the beginning of my career. My main issue was dealing with extended relatives and conservative family friends. Ten years ago my parents were cautious about who they would let know their daughter worked with men. This was frowned upon and many traditionalists would express their disagreement with mixing genders at work.

Similarly, the crucial part of my career has always been the public’s reaction. Some of the companies we did business with were very supportive.  Others were neutral. But some were against it. Owners and business managers refused to meet with me and I needed to prove time and time again that I was good enough and worthy.

Change is always faced with rejection and, although social rejection was difficult to live through, it brings me joy that now society not only accepts working women, but expects women to work.

When I entered into banking ten years ago, Saudi culture was very male dominated—and it still is compared to other cultures—but there have been a lot of positive changes in a short period of time. In the Jeddah regional office alone, Banque Saudi Fransi went from just one female employee to now having 45. The government also supports women employment as shown by the appointment of the first Saudi woman as Minister of Education. Other countries take decades to see such changes.

Three significant events that have changed my life. The first event would have to be my promotion to Relationship Officer. This meant advancing from administrative work behind the scenes to working front and center and dealing face to face with clients.

Second, my father has real estate properties that I am currently managing. As the youngest of four children, my father’s trust is something that I greatly cherish. The fact that he has given me this responsibility has impacted my personality and the way I perceive things.

Finally, I would have to say when I got the call from admissions with news of my acceptance into Wharton.

Two things I am most grateful for. I am very grateful for all the wonderful opportunities that I’ve had in my life. I was lucky enough to be one of the first Saudi female professionals who encouraged many other women to pursue higher education. Second, I am grateful for having the opportunity to attend one of the world’s top business schools and to be a part of The Wharton School.

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