11,000 Miles to Beachwood

Meet Sophomore Rihab Ali


“In Saudi Arabia we spent much more time studying for tests than completing homework,” Rihab said. “It’s a lot different.” Photo by Ofek Hyer.

The sun bakes down violently on the dry desert of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia and on the girl wearing the black hijab.

But she is used to the heat.

She is used to wearing the black, heat-absorbing cloth.

She is used to the division of genders in her school.

She exchanges numbers with her friends at Abdulaziz International School and says goodbye  for the last time before embarking on a journey back to America.

Rihab Ali, a new student at BHS, traveled with her sisters and parents from Saudi Arabia this summer. The family moved here to support her sister, Ridaa, who is attending college.

“We’ve come here to accompany our daughter, who was accepted at Case Western Reserve University as a freshman,” Rihab’s father, Dr. Mohsin Ali, wrote in an email.

“Another reason is so Rihab and her younger sister, Hiba, could have a better education.”

Dr. Ali will teach dentistry at the Cleveland Dental Institute and part time at Case Western. He also practices as a dentist in the institute’s clinic.

Ali’s mother, Syeda Fakeha Rehman, now stays at home but was once also a dentist herself. Dr. Mohsin Ali and Syeda Fakeha Rehman believe adjusting to Beachwood has come easily due to the cordial environment and proximity to Case Western Reserve University.

“It was rather easy because the neighborhood is nice with good schools and shopping and other facilities close to the university,” Dr. Ali wrote.

Rihab has not had a hard time adjusting either. Rihab attributes this ease to her years living in the Houston, Texas area.

For religious reasons, students in Saudi Arabia are separated by gender.”

“I was born in Saudi Arabia, moved to Texas around four to five years old and after fifth grade we went back to Saudi Arabia,” Rihab said.

“We love Texas,” Dr. Ali wrote.

Rihab found it difficult when moving from Texas to Saudi Arabia because of everything she was leaving behind.

“I grew up there, so I missed it a lot,” Rihab said. “Some of the things I missed were my school, friends, house and the weather.”

Rihab has noticed significant differences between BHS and Abdulaziz International School in Riyadh. One of the major differences is the integration of genders. In Saudi Arabia, boys and girls were in separate buildings and did not have lunch together, classes together or see each other in the halls.

“For religious reasons, there were separate sections,” Rihab said. “But changing back was not hard because I already experienced it in Texas.”

Another difference is  the way classes are organized.

“In Saudi Arabia, the teachers would go to different classrooms while the students stayed put,” Rihab said. “In Beachwood we have to switch classes, but I preferred the way we did it in Saudi Arabia because it was easier.”

“The buildings were also [organized differently],” Rihab said. “There was a primary section building that was made up of kindergarten to 4th grade, and a different building containing 5th grade to 12th grade.”

Her school in Saudi Arabia was also different in that there was only one lunch period for all students grades 5-12, gym and art were mandatory, the class schedule rotated daily, all classes had smart boards and all students had tablets.

“Also in Saudi Arabia, we spent much more time studying for tests than completing  homework,” Rihab said. “It’s a lot different.”

While there are some differences that Rihab has not particularly enjoyed, she does enjoy block days.

“I like block days because they let me sleep in a little bit and talk with my friends,” Rihab said. “I also like it because there are fewer classes and easier classes, which make the days more relaxing.”

While Rihab has found many differences scholastically, she has found Beachwood students to be welcoming. Rihab feels she has not been treated differently.

“It’s nice socially, I’m finding friends” Rihab said. “I also talk with other Middle-Eastern kids.”

During the eleven-hour plane ride to Cleveland, Rihab was struck by a storm of emotions. Rihab watched movies but couldn’t keep her mind off finally arriving in Ohio.

“It was hard because I really do miss my friends and family,” Rihab said. “But I finally got to be in my new home.”