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.”


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.”

60 days until 2020 Saudi Census begins

Updated 17 January 2020

60 days until 2020 Saudi Census begins

  • Residents will have 20 days to submit the required information about their families
  • For the first time, the Kingdom is using online census forms to collect the data

RIYADH: There are just 60 days to go until the start of the 2020 Saudi Census. Families will have 20 days, from Mar. 17 until Apr. 6, to submit their information.

The General Authority for Statistics (Gastat) issued the reminder on Thursday, as the final preparations continued for the Kingdom’s fifth General Census of Population, Housing and Establishments. The next phase, running from Feb. 3 until Mar. 6, involves a survey of buildings, property units and families.

Previously, census takers visited people in their homes to collect the required information about their families, but thanks to advances in technology, residents will for the first time be able to complete an online census form instead.

The 2020 Saudi Census will provide a wide range of up-to-date data about the population that will be used to plan and carry out studies and research required by development programs and plans, and to help achieve the objectives of Saudi Vision 2030.

It will reveal changes in population characteristics, and the data will be used to make local, regional and international comparisons and to review and evaluate future population estimates.

As part of the preparatory work, Gastat has updated its population records and postal addresses, and the online app that people will use to enter their details has been designed and tested. Training of census workers is also continuing.

To ensure the collected information is as accurate as possible, given the changes to the collection process and the increased use of technology, Gastat has linked a number of data platforms. It is also working with the National Information Center and the Saudi Post.

Saudi Arabia conducted its first official census in 1974, the second in 1992, the third in 2004 and the fourth in 2010. As of the last census, the Kingdom’s population was 27,136,977.