A Journey from Saudi Arabia to San Diego – Two Generations, One School

Faisal and Ghusson Azizs

From Saudi Arabia to San Diego – Faisal and Ghusson Azizs

In a home in Saudi Arabia last year, a father (Ghusson) and son (Faisal) were both excited and nervous. Faisal’s acceptance letter to study in the U.S. had arrived. That excitement turned to total shock, when Faisal got the good news — he was accepted to be a part of the 2010 San Diego State University American Language Institute (ALI) English program.

The ALI has been teaching students for many years. It has welcomed many students from over 115 different countries for 37 years; however, it has never had two generations of family members attend the same program. Until now.

“I knew he was applying to schools, but I had no idea he applied to SDSU. When he told me I couldn’t have been more proud,” says Ghusson. “And when I told Faisal I went to SDSU in the 80s, well he was surprised.”

“Yeah, I was shocked. I couldn’t believe it was the same school. He started telling me about where he lived and other small things like how to pronounce ‘El Cajon.’ My father told me before I came here, ‘Don’t say El Ca-joan,” laughs Faisal.

Ghusson and Faisal recently reunited (Faisal has been in the U.S. for several months) on SDSU’s campus and discovered that yet their experiences in the classroom were very similar, the surroundings changed a bit. “The campus is completely different, but the beautiful garden is the same,” Ghusson explains. “It’s very emotional – I’m happy I can share a good education with my family. I knew ALI’s culture and they are like a family and my son is in safe hands.”

They have done a lot during their visit. Faisal showed his father downtown, which is something Ghusson hadn’t seen during his time in San Diego, and they spent some time at the Bay. Faisal has an American roommate and his family mentioned that when his father came to town that they all should go out to dinner. So they did. Faisal adds, “My roommate’s family lives in San Diego, so they all spoke about San Diego 30 years ago and mentioned things we didn’t know.” All agreed it was a great night of learning, sharing, and making new friends.

When father and son discuss their first day in the U.S., Faisal says that his first day was memorable to say the least, “I was like a little kid who went into a toy store where he’s just exploring the place, watching everything. I had never been to the U.S. before so everything was like a dream, a new experience.”

Ghusson mentions that the city’s reputation extends around the world. “San Diego is a beautiful city, and ALI and SDSU have a great reputation in Saudi Arabia. SDSU is known to provide an excellent education.”

The conversation continues and switches to learning English, and Faisal chuckles about how his English has changed since arriving at the ALI, “If we had this conversation when I first came here, we’d probably be here for two hours just so I could explain myself. My roommate helps me when I have difficulties, especially writing.”

Faisal also provides advice for those who are studying English. “I tell my friends that sometimes I don’t have a problem communicating [English] with people. By the end they will understand what I’m trying to say. Start thinking in English, don’t think in Arabic. When you wake up in the morning, don’t think in Arabic, ‘I will go take a shower, get my coffee, and go to school.’”

So what does the future hold for Faisal? Well, his father has an answer for that, “I want my son to earn a degree and come back home of course. Use his knowledge he learns here, since he is getting a good English education. I haven’t used my English in probably 15 years, and as you can see I can still speak English. It shows you I got a good education.”

Today, Ghusson is back in Saudi Arabia and Faisal is planning to pursue a degree at an American university in business administration. As for the ALI, it will be here when Faisal decides to send the third generation of Azizs to learn English at SDSU.