For Firas AlMohasen, an international student from Saudi Arabia, smiling was one of the hardest things for him to learn upon his arrival in the U.S.
“One of the hardest things for me to do was learn to smile when I walked around,” he said. “That was awkward for me, so I had to practice.”
Where he came from
AlMohasen went to high school in Bahrain, about an hour away from his home in Qatif, Saudi Arabia, because the school offered the international baccalaureate program.
At the end of his senior year of high school, he applied to CSU because it offered his major, math with a concentration in actuarial science.
Now, in his third year at CSU, he said he might stay an extra year after graduating because he likes it so much.
AlMohasen said his father studied in America and there is a noticeable difference in how he acts, and thinks in comparison to his brothers, AlMohasen’s uncles, who did not study in America.
Though AlMohasen applied because of his major, he said he also wanted to challenge himself in more fields than academia.
“I wanted to stretch myself,” he said. “I wanted to stretch myself mentally and socially.”
Like anyone traveling, or moving, to another country, AlMohasen went through hardships and culture shock when he arrived in America.
He said one of the hardest parts was leaving his friends and family and adapting to being alone.
This plagued him for the first few months, he said, but before long he pinpointed the problem.
“I didn’t like the state of mind I was in, so I completely changed it. You realize that what makes you happy isn’t out there; it’s in here,” he said, pointing to his head.
In addition to acclimating to relative solitude, big cultural differences that AlMohasen said he noticed were forms of expression.
Americans express themselves much more in which foods they eat, dress and in the ways that they speak, he said.
“You can’t look at someone’s mind and see what they’re expressing,” he said about reading people in Saudi Arabia, “Here, you see that.”
He said the people here are much more relaxed as well, making spontaneous decisions and coming to class in their pajamas.
“I am just waiting for someone to walk into class in just their underwear,” he said.
Meeting people and getting involved
After changing his state of mind, AlMohasen said he started making friends in the residence halls.
He is involved with the Office of International Programs since and has kept his love of soccer alive through his involvement in intramurals.
He said he has always enjoyed traveling and trying new things, and coming to America is a way to take that attitude and expand it.
This attitude, he said, made him feel like he is free to do anything.
“You can do anything here,” he said. “I am just enjoying the whole atmosphere.”
AlMohasen said he loves to go walking in Old Town on Sundays and going up to the mountains to go hiking.
He has also visited numerous amusement parks, gone jet skiing, scuba diving and snorkeling since coming to the U.S. and hopes to go skydiving and take salsa classes before he leaves.
Since he got here, AlMohasen doesn’t remember how many states he visited, but he has taken a bus trip from Fort Collins to New York with a friend. He has also traveled to Chicago, Colorado Springs, California, Florida, Texas and Washington D.C. But he doesn’t have a favorite.
“Each one had it’s own features and enjoyments,” he said.
But it’s not all roses in America when he starts to miss home.
In Saudi Arabia, he said, people become very intimate before they are considered good friends. He said this does not seem to be the case in America.
“In Saudi Arabia, you stay with people a long time,” he said. “Friendships get really strong.”
Where he hopes to go
Like many students, AlMohasen is not yet sure what he wants to do after college.
He said he is back and forth between pursuing financial engineering and architecture, but that someday he would like to start his own high school with his own curriculum.
“I want to enhance creativity and problem solving,” he said. “I want to give people a good outlook on life before they leave high school.”
AlMohasen said that when he came here, he realized there are an infinite number of opportunities, not just in America, but all over the world.
“If you can dream it, you can do it, and that’s really enforced here,” he said. “So I guess that’s what I want to take back home.”
Entertainment Editor Cece Wildeman can be reached at email@example.com.