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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - JEDDAH: Students from across the globe studying in Saudi Arabia are enjoying their experience of life in the Kingdom, and their opportunity to travel the country.
Italian student Elisa Grassi, 23, admits she “fell in love with KSA” after visiting the country last year, when she won a scholarship from King Abdullah University for Science and Technology (KAUST). Grassi, who is currently studying for a masters in bioengineering, told Arab News that she sees Saudi Arabia as a place of significant reform.
“We cannot avoid noticing how the habits here are different from ours in Europe, but I have also witnessed a big difference between the local habits last year and now,” she said.
On a visit to Jeddah’s historic Al-Balad area, Grassi said she was delighted to discover how welcoming the local people were and how curious they were about Italian culture. She was also pleased that it is no longer mandatory for women to wear an abaya when out in public in the Kingdom.
Grassi added that she would encourage people to visit the country, suggesting it could change their perception of it. “The common vision we have in Europe about the Middle East is entirely different,” she said.
There are currently students from more than 60 countries studying at KAUST, many of whom have traveled to various areas of the Kingdom.
Amnita Robles, a 27-year-old Ph.D student, said she has visited Riyadh frequently, as well as heading to Jeddah. Her experience of both cities has been overwhelmingly positive.
“I have enjoyed of the beauty of the Red Sea, attended concerts, visited many delicious restaurants, street markets, and more,” said Robles. She has encouraged her family to visit her in the Kingdom and enjoy what Saudi Arabia has to offer, advising anyone who loves travel to get to know “the gorgeous Saudi that I am getting to discover.”
Mexican student Claudia Ponce, 23, said she has not yet had the opportunity yet to travel widely in the Kingdom, but said she has seen enough to want to return after she graduates.
With camera in tow, she has visited areas of the western region: Jeddah, Taif, the deserts of Khulais, and the shipwrecks off Yanbu’s coast. She was particularly struck by the vast contrasts between each of these places, despite their close proximity to one another.
“That’s the beauty of this country. You can have sea, desert, flowers, mountains,“ Ponce said. “Of all the areas I’ve visited so far, Yanbu is my favorite. It felt just amazing to be surrounded by fields of flowers in the middle of a country considered as a desert.”
Ponce suggested that anyone visiting Saudi Arabia should bring a good camera, because the “landscapes are simply breathtaking, rich in history and provide diverse geographic conditions, with captivating scenery and traditions, and delicious food.”
Under the Kingdom’s current tourism visa regulations — revamped in September — citizens from 49 countries are now granted visas on arrival that allow multiple entries for up to 90 days. Its slogan — “Saudi Arabia: Open Hearts, Open Doors” — certainly seems fitting.
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