Sultan Attiah

Saudi Arabian student Sultan Attiah finds snow, second home at WVU


MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Sultan Attiah walked into his dorm room in Summit Hall for the first time more than four years ago. As he turned the door knob, he and his new roommate, a fellow West Virginia University freshman from Saudi Arabia he had met only recently, walked into the room.

“It was really tiny,” Attiah admitted. “I thought it would be a problem.”

He saw the community showers and ate an American dinner on his first night. Honestly, Attiah was as nervous as could be.

“When I called my parents and explained the way I felt, they supported me and said it would get better after a few days,” said Attiah, a senior petroleum engineering major graduating in May. “They told me that this was my life – that I wasn’t going to be able to be in Saudi Arabia forever; at some point I would have to start your own life.”

Attiah kept his cool around his friends despite feeling uncomfortable. He’d eat hamburgers and pizza, use the community bathroom in Summit Hall and find his way despite doubts in the first two months.

In the end, the words his family’s words of support were right.

The dorm life ended up helping him transition. He met friends on his floor and said by the end of his second month in Morgantown, he felt comfortable.

“Everyone faces difficulties in their lives. When you need someone to talk to, having those people like your family around for 18 years was easy. But, when I came here, it was different,” Attiah said. “We had a course back home about the culture shock and how to deal with it. It’s much different to study it and to experience it. It’s like when you learn another language and don’t use it in real-life situations. When you read it, you understand it; but, once you experience it, it’s a whole lot different.”

While at WVU, he’s learned how to deal with those unlike him. At first, he was reserved when trying to make friends with others from different cultures and backgrounds

Two months into it, he felt comfortable with his new community. While he doesn’t necessarily love the food, Attiah enjoys the fact that he gets to enjoy four different seasons. At home, he said, he only experiences one, maybe one-and-a-half.

Once he got comfortable with his surroundings, Attiah found new friends, involved himself in programs like WELLWVU and took advantage of an internship. Last summer, Attiah spent his time in the U.S. instead of heading back home to take part in an internship with Dresser-Rand, an oil company, in which he spent a month in Houston and another in Olean, N.Y.

“I had a chance to explore myself and see what I can and can’t do. I feel more responsible now, and I don’t think I would do the things that I’ve done if I didn’t have the experience to live far away from my family and study abroad in the U.S.,” he said. “The internship showed me how the real world is working. You can learn the basics and fundamentals in school, but when you move into the industry, it’s much different.”

Attiah, who came to WVU as part of an educational scholarship program at an oil company called Saudi Aramco, will head back home to Saudi Arabia after graduation to start work as an engineer for the company.

“I’ve had a great time at WVU, and I’ve learned a lot,” he said. “I really found a second home.”