No longer lost in translation: In world’s languages, Saudi youth speak of home

Updated 09 January 2019
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No longer lost in translation: In world’s languages, Saudi youth speak of home

  • A group of young Saudis are seeking to portray the correct image of the Kingdom in various languages, with a focus on culture, art and identity

A group of multilingual Saudis is informing the world about their country through their “KSA in All Languages” volunteer initiative.

It serves to promote dialogue and information about Saudi identity, culture and history in various languages and on various social media platforms, including Twitter and Instagram. 

“Many across the globe are still oblivious about Saudi Arabia. There are many misunderstandings and misconceptions about the Kingdom and what it represents,” said Khadija Moraished, the general director and a board member of the initiative.

“We want to correct this. To reach a global audience we had to use their language, find talented and skilled Saudis who excel in a certain language, hone that skill and use social media.”

The initiative so far has 264 volunteers who speak 11 languages. One of their tasks is to identify language trends, interests and national days.

“We’re targeting the world’s most spoken languages — English, French and Spanish being the top three,” said Moraished.

“But in order to reach a wider audience, we expanded and we’ll keep expanding as we continue to discover local talent with the same dedication as those who launched the initiative.”

In a globalized world, translation has become an important tool to enhance understanding between cultures. As such, the initiative translates various topics about the Kingdom.

“Stumbling upon Korean culture by coincidence three years ago paved the way to an interesting journey of self-learning the Korean language,” said AlReem Mutlaq, 23, the initiative’s media director. 

“I pushed it further after passing a Korean language test two years ago that focuses more on scientific terminology.”

Abdulhakim Al-Dhafeeri, one of the founders of the initiative’s Spanish translation department, said: “I’ve been fascinated by the language since 2006. Interacting with locals while studying for my master’s in innovative business creation and management in Valencia, Spain, strengthened my language skills while creating a social circle of friends and colleagues.” 

He added: “Many of the volunteers share the same experience of integrating into societies, and are able to fulfil the initiative’s goal.” 

He said: “As connections are made, each language expert is better able to properly portray the Kingdom’s image.”

Volunteers participate in local events, conferences and festivals, and share their experiences on social media.

Those events have included the Misk Global Forum, discussions at the King Abdulaziz Center for National Dialogue, the Formula-E racing championship and the Janadriyah festival.

“The King Abdulaziz Center for National Dialogue held a workshop in late 2018 called ‘The Image We Want of Saudi Arabia’,” said Moraished 

“We were invited to a discussion panel with a focus on what type of content should be prepared to correct misunderstandings about Saudi Arabia, and how understanding different cultures and diversity can help deliver this content to the world,” she added.

“We focus our efforts on highlighting the Kingdom’s progress and achievements, and efforts by Saudis both young and old, backed by our generous and supportive government,” she said. “We plan to expand more and reach a wider global community.”


How Saudi women are getting ahead of men as STEM graduates

Dr. Fatima Alakeel, cybersecurity expert. (AN photo)
Updated 20 March 2019
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How Saudi women are getting ahead of men as STEM graduates

  • ‘Securing a job after the degree remains the challenge,’ says Dr. Fatema Alakeel of King Saud University in Riyadh
  • ‘Saudi women are ambitious,’ says one graduate. ‘We are acquiring high degrees and seeking successful careers’

DUBAI: More and more girls in Saudi Arabia are opting for an education in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM), and now the challenge is finding them employment, said Dr. Fatima Alakeel, a cybersecurity expert and faculty member at King Saud University (KSU) in Riyadh.
“In the Kingdom, STEM-related jobs are limited at the moment, as the economy is primarily oil-based and there are few technical jobs available,” said Alakeel, who is also the founder and CEO of the non-profit Confidentiality, Integrity & Availability Group (CIAG), which focuses on information security training and research in Riyadh.
According to a government report on the labor market situation in the third quarter of 2018, more than 30 percent of Saudi women aged between 15 and 65 are unemployed.
Among them, the highest rate of unemployment is among 20-24-year-olds (more than 70 percent) and among 25-29-year-olds (55 percent).
According to the report, there are 923,504 Saudi jobseekers, of whom 765,378 are women (82.2 percent).
“We have more girls in STEM education compared to Western countries,” said Alakeel, who completed her doctoral degree in computer science in the UK at the University of Southampton in 2017.
According to a report prepared by the Saudi Education Ministry, girls accounted for 57 percent of undergraduates for the year 2015-2016 in the Kingdom.
That same year, women outnumbered men in graduating with a bachelor’s in biology, information technology (IT), mathematics and statistics, and physics.
According to a survey Alakeel recently conducted on social media, “almost 80 percent of (Saudi) girls were keen to study STEM, but securing a job after the degree remains the challenge,” she said.
Maha Al-Taleb, 22, graduated earlier this year with a degree in technology from KSU, specializing in IT networks and security.
“It’s common for girls in the Kingdom to opt for STEM education,” said Al-Taleb, who now works in a public sector company in Riyadh as a junior information security analyst.
“Saudi women are ambitious. We’re acquiring high degrees and seeking successful careers. I don’t know why the world assumes that Saudi women are a backward tribal species who have no say in these matters. This entire perception is flawed.”
Al-Taleb got a job offer immediately after university, but realizes that not all her peers are as fortunate. Women “are facing problems in securing jobs, not because companies don’t want to hire us, but because employment for Saudi youths is a major challenge,” she said.
“In today’s Saudi Arabia, parents are encouraging their daughters to get a degree not just in the Kingdom; they also want them to go to Western universities. It has become a common phenomenon. Things have changed. Women are a crucial part of the nation’s development process.”
Not all women graduating in the Kingdom are as lucky, among them Razan Al-Qahtani. “It has been several months since I graduated, yet I haven’t been able to find a job. It has been a struggle so far,” said the 25-year-old IT graduate. “We have more talented and qualified girls, especially in the field of technology, but there are few jobs available. It’s a difficult situation, but we’re hopeful things will change very soon.”
Al-Qahtani expressed confidence that the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 reform plan will bring opportunities for qualified Saudis.
As part of Vision 2030, the government has committed to raise employment among Saudi women.
Alakeel said the government is working hard to find a solution, and it is only a matter of time until more such jobs are on offer.
“As per Vision 2030, there will be more jobs, including technical jobs, available in the country. Once we have more jobs, women will eventually get their due share,” she added. According to Alakeel, female empowerment and promotion to leading roles have made huge progress in Saudi Arabia, and this may affect existing STEM job opportunities.
“We’re glad to see Her Royal Highness Princess Reema bint Bandar Al-Saud becoming the first female ambassador of the country. It only suggests change is on the way,” Alakeel said.
Al-Taleb expressed pride in the way her parents have supported her, saying: “My father isn’t educated and my mother has basic literacy, but both provided me with the education I desired. They want their daughters to be as successful as their sons.”
Like women in any country, the transition from university to the workplace is not always easy, even for young Saudi women with technology degrees. Yet they are not losing hope.
“We realize these are difficult times in terms of employment, especially in technology-related fields, but things will change,” Al-Taleb said. “Saudi women will soon be ruling the fields of STEM all over the country.”