Saffanah Almajnouni: A young ambitious Saudi student living her dream in Japan

Saffanah Almajnouni. (Supplied)
Updated 01 July 2019

Saffanah Almajnouni: A young ambitious Saudi student living her dream in Japan

  • Saffanah Almajnouni: I consider Saudi students in Japan survivors, because we managed to adapt to the culture and lifestyle regardless of the huge difference between the two countries

RIYADH: Saffanah Almajnouni is a 24-year-old architecture student, currently enrolled at Tokai University in Japan, where she has lived for over five years.
During her first year in the country, she entered a speech competition, pitting Japanese contestants delivering a speech in Arabic against Saudi Arabian contestants delivering a speech in Japanese.
It was a landmark event for Almajnouni, who came second in the competition, organized by the Saudi Cultural Mission in Japan in cooperation with the University of Osaka and hosted by the Osaka International Center for Cultural Exchange. Almajnouni had entered a similar competition at the Japanese Embassy in Riyadh in 2012.
“My speech was about how much I love Japan, the culture, heritage and language,” she explained to Arab News. “At that time, I was confident that I would win the contest, so I was waiting to hear my name when they announced the winners but, unfortunately, I lost. I was really disappointed, because I really wanted to prove to my parents how much I wanted to go to Japan and study there.”
It was a bitter loss. But, she added, “If I didn’t lose in 2012, I wouldn’t have stood up again to win in 2014.”
Almajnouni’s winning speech that year was about how she lost in the 2012 competition and how she felt back then. “The 2012 failure made me a winner in 2014,” she reiterated. Almajnouni’s accomplishment is even more impressive when you learn that she taught herself to speak Japanese, which she now considers her second language.
“I started to learn Japanese in 2009. My sister and I used to practice the language together,” she said. “It was difficult for me to acquire the language, but because I was passionate about it I studied every morning.”

HIGHLIGHT

Saffanah Almajnouni says her father encouraged her to apply for the speech competition.

Almajnouni first visited Japan in 2011 on a 10-day vacation. “I immediately felt that I belonged there and I felt that I had to come back to Japan not as a tourist but as a resident. I had to live there and study there,” she said.

She said her father was supportive of that dream: “He was investing in our education, so he was one of the first to support me to study in Japan. In fact, he encouraged me to apply for the speech competition.”
She clarified why she chose to study architecture in Japan: “Japan’s population is high, (so people) live in small houses and apartments. But even though their houses are small, they are creative when it comes to using space. I want to introduce the concept of smart homes to Saudi Arabia when using small spaces.”
As much as she has enjoyed her time in Japan, Almajnouni explained that it hasn’t always been easy, and that during her first year or so she suffered from “culture shock.”
“It was strange, because I love Japanese culture, the cuisine, the lifestyle, even the TV shows. In fact, all of my friends in Saudi Arabia were Japanese or foreigners, so to feel homesick was hard for me,” she said. “I had to think these things through, because there is no turning back —  I fought for this and life is not easy. So I had to get more involved with the culture.”
She has certainly kept herself busy. “I decided to learn new things every once in a while, like production and montage and taking extra courses in translation,” she explained. “My goal is to come back to Saudi Arabia with several degrees.
“I consider Saudi students in Japan survivors, because we managed to adapt to the culture and lifestyle regardless of the huge difference between the two countries,” she continued. “It is a big challenge — especially with the language barrier. But we hope our parents are proud of us and that we are the best ambassadors for our home country.”


G20: India vows full support to Saudi Arabia

Updated 26 January 2020

G20: India vows full support to Saudi Arabia

On the joyous occasion of the 71st Republic Day of India, I would like to extend my warm greetings and felicitations to all Indian citizens and Persons of Indian Origin in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Republic Day is of very special significance to every Indian, wherever in the world they live. On Jan. 26, 1950, the Constitution of India came into effect, which declared India a sovereign, socialist, secular and democratic republic.

The Constitution of India provides basic fundamental rights to Indian citizens and assures them of justice, equality and liberty, and endeavors to promote fraternity among them. The Constitution does not discriminate against anyone based on religion, caste, creed, gender or any other grounds.

Republic Day is also the day on which India’s first president, Dr. Rajendra Prasad, was sworn in as the constitutional head of the country, replacing the governor general appointed by the British monarchy. Two-and-a-half years after India gained its Independence on Aug. 15, 1947, it transitioned into one of the biggest democracies in the world, fulfilling the dreams of Mahatma Gandhi and thousands of freedom fighters who had shed their sweat and blood to secure freedom for our country.

Thus, the idea of India as an open, pluralistic democracy that supports a multireligious, multicultural, multi-ethnic, multilingual and secular society emerged. Underneath this diversity lies the continuity of Indian civilization and social structure, from the earliest times until the present.

The idea of India as an “epitome of the world” has been fascinating people since ancient times. Numerous inspiring accounts of visiting India were given by world travelers such as Fahien, Hiuen Tsang, Ibn Batuta, Alberuni, Ferishta, Vasco da Gama, Marco Polo and several others.

Renowned American philosopher Will Durant described India as “the motherland of our race, and Sanskrit the mother of Europe’s languages.” German Indologist Max Muller called India “the country most richly endowed with all the wealth, power and beauty that nature can bestow.”

In a modern context, India advocates a democratic and rules-based international order that emphasizes the equality of all nations, irrespective of size, population and military might. India adopts a consultative and law-abiding approach as its geopolitical role in the regional and global arena is increasingly recognized.

India’s commitment to transparency and market principles in its economic decisions, and its steadfast will to ensure that its economy is open and shares its resources and markets with its global partners, including the Gulf nations, makes it a favored economic partner for countries around the globe.

The numerous measures undertaken by the government to improve the ease of doing business — including the slashing of corporate tax rates, increasing foreign direct-investment limits in a range of sectors, and cutting red tape in decision-making — have, among other things, helped India climb to the 63rd spot in the World Bank’s rankings based on ease of doing business during 2020. 

In addition, India has made significant progress to achieve 52nd rank in WIPO’s Global Innovation Index (GII) 2019 and 54th rank in Bloomberg Innovation Index 2020 which implies that the culture of innovation is taking center stage in India. 

India’s foreign exchange reserves rose by $64 billion in 2019 to touch a record $457.5 billion. India is self-sufficient in food grains with an output of nearly 284 metric tons last year. This year we expect to grow more food and take the total output to 291 mt, including 116 metric tons of rice and 100 metric tons of wheat. Despite a slight slump in India’s economy last year, the future looks promising. The IMF has projected that India’s GDP would grow at the rate of 5.8 percent in 2020 and rise to 6.5 percent by 2021, keeping India on course for a $5 trillion economy by 2024-25.

On the foreign policy front, India advocates a democratic and rules-based international order that emphasizes the equality of all nations, irrespective of size, population and military might. India is in favor of comprehensive reforms of the UN Security Council and its expansion to make it more representative, effective and responsive to the geopolitical realities of the 21st century.

India’s deep commitment to the Indo-Pacific region based on our vision of SAGAR — Security and Growth for All in the Region — and its consultative and law-abiding approach on matters of global importance is widely recognized and appreciated. India continues to have comprehensive cooperation with the GCC, IORA, ASEAN and the African countries among others.

India’s bilateral relations with Saudi Arabia in modern times date back to 1947, when diplomatic relations were established between the two countries immediately after India gained independence. The bilateral relationship has evolved progressively into a multifaceted and mutually beneficial strategic partnership.

The signing of an agreement between the two countries, during an official visit by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the Kingdom in October 2019, to form a Strategic Partnership Council marks a new era in Indo-Saudi relations.

The leadership of both countries is keen to strengthen and expand the gamut of bilateral relations in diverse fields such as trade, investments and economic cooperation, infrastructure, security and defense cooperation, energy security, food security, health care, entertainment, civil aviation, tourism and culture, along with people-to-people engagement.

India has a robust trade and economic relationship with Saudi Arabia, which is India’s fourth-largest trading partner. Bilateral trade is worth $34 billion, which includes a non-oil component of $10 billion. Several prestigious Indian companies operate in the Kingdom and are participating in the development process underway in the country under its Vision 2030 program.

Saudi Arabia plays a significant role in ensuring India’s energy security by meeting its long-term energy requirements, supplying 18 percent of its crude oil and 30 percent of its liquid petroleum gas needs.

The Kingdom’s plans to increase its footprint in India’s downstream sector — including a partnership that proposes to create world’s largest oil refinery, taking equity stakes in existing refineries, and its decision to participate in India’s Strategic Petroleum Reserves — reflect the keen desire of both countries to transform bilateral cooperation in the hydrocarbons sector into a larger strategic partnership based on complementarities and interdependence.

For its part, India is keen to contribute to the food security requirements of the Kingdom. Numerous initiatives are being explored in the fields of agriculture and food technologies. Greater collaboration in the areas of education, knowledge-based Industries, innovative technologies, and capacity building are being explored.

India has promised its full support to help ensure Saudi Arabia’s presidency of the G20 is a great success. Nearly 150 delegations from India, including several Cabinet ministers, are expected to visit the Kingdom this year and engage with their Saudi and other international counterparts on a range of issues, including finance, infrastructure, health care, climate change, energy sustainability and food security.

I would be failing in my duty if I did not acknowledge the enormous contribution made by the Indian professionals and skilled workers to the economic development of the Saudi Arabia, and for promoting greater understanding between the people of the two countries.

I would like to avail of this opportunity to express my deepest gratitude to King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for their strong support in elevating the bilateral relations between our countries into a strategic partnership, and for ensuring the well-being of the 2.6 million Indian nationals who live in the Kingdom.

Long live the India-Saudi Relationship.

• Dr. Ausaf Sayeed is the Indian ambassador to Saudi Arabia.