DHAHRAN, SAUDI ARABIA (December 11, 2005) - Saudi Aramco recently took a group of educators from schools around the United States out for a spin around Saudi Arabia, exhibiting the best of what the country has to offer its citizens and the world.

In coordination with the Institute of International Education (IIE) and Aramco Services Company (ASC), Saudi Aramco arranged the Nov. 18-29 tour of the Kingdom, giving the 20 high-school social studies teachers and library media specialists their first intimate experience of the country they have been teaching about.

U.S. educators join Saudi Aramco staff at Shaybah
Visiting U.S. educators join Saudi Aramco
staff at the top of a Shaybah
sand dune during one leg of their
cross-Kingdom, cross-cultural tour.
Photograph Contributed by Saudi Aramco

"All of us are incredibly appreciative to be here," said Jon Mapstone, a teacher at Guilderland Central High School in Guilderland Center, New York.

"We needed to be here to really understand the place and learn it and teach it," he said. "We're very appreciative to Aramco for giving us this opportunity."

Saudi Arabia's dedication to progress in science and technology played a big role in the tour, as the visitors toured such places as the Saudi Aramco Exhibit and the Exploration and Petroleum Engineering Center in Dhahran, the Prince Sultan ibn Abdulaziz Humanitarian City and the King 'Abd al-'Aziz City for Science and Technology in Riyadh, and the Prince Sultan Academy for Aviation Science in Jiddah.

Ed Cash and Aleta Oryall
Ed Cash, foreground, and Aleta Oryall
are welcomed with a pile of
chocolates by children at Jiddah's
Society of Children with Special Needs.
Photograph Contributed by Saudi Aramco

The group marveled at one of Saudi Arabia's, and Saudi Aramco's, most impressive technological feats, located in the middle of the Empty Quarter. "The visit to Shaybah was amazing," said Bram Hubbel, a teacher at Friends Seminary in New York City. "It was so powerful to see the industry in action in one of the harshest places in the world."

The teachers experienced the country's history and culture firsthand. "I loved exploring Old Jiddah," said Hubbel. "Between that and everything else we experienced, I have a much broader understanding of the Saudi way of life, its culture and religion, and will unquestionably be able to teach it more accurately in my classroom. This has been a phenomenal experience."

Josephine Tidalgo
Josephine Tidalgo chats with an
employee of the Khadeejah Bint Khowailed
Center at the Jiddah Chamber of Commerce.
Photograph Contributed by Saudi Aramco

They also visited the Arab-culture collection in the home of Munirah Al-Ashgar in Dhahran and saw the King 'Abd al-'Aziz Heritage Center in Riyadh, where they had lunch in the courtyard of King 'Abd al-'Aziz's old home and enjoyed a traditional Saudi folk dance.

The teachers paid particular attention to the Kingdom's schools. "It was a pleasure speaking with the students here," said Aaron Becker, a teacher at Evanston Township High School in Evanston, Illinois. "I've already begun corresponding with a couple of them through e-mail, and I look forward to having them chat with my kids."

They visited the Dhahran Al-Ahliyyah Schools in Dhahran and King Faisal Medical School in Dammam, the Kingdom Schools in Riyadh and Dar al-Hikmah in Jiddah.

"Seeing the anti-smoking posters that some of the kids drew was one thing," said Tom Ammazzalorso, a teacher at McKinley Technology High School in Washington, D.C. "But, I never thought that I would see such passionate drawings and designs by school children against terrorism hung up on the wall. This is what people back home need to know about."

Abram Hubbel
Abram Hubbel checks out a hand-crafted
door at the Heritage Gallery in Dhahran.
Photograph Contributed by Saudi Aramco

Aban Rustomji, a library media specialist at Spring Woods High School in Houston, Texas, said, "What really impressed me was that the women were confident, articulate and very comfortable with themselves."

The group came in contact with a striking cross-section of Saudi women, among them Saudi Aramco employees, renowned economist Nahid Taher in Jiddah and charismatic students at Dar al-Hikmah Women's College in Jiddah. They also dined with women who work at the Khadeejah Bint Khowailed Center at the Jiddah Chamber of Commerce, a center dedicated to Saudi businesswomen.

In Dhahran, the group visited Sunset Beach with Mustafa A. Jalali, vice president of Saudi Aramco Affairs, and had dinner with Khalid A. Al-Falih, senior vice president of Industrial Relations. They were also guests at a luncheon with Khalid I. Abubshait, general manager of Government Affairs.

During dinner, the group related their experiences of the trip. "I'll tell you what my highlight was," said Mapstone. "We were sitting at the seaside resort in Jiddah, ...watching a traditional Hijazi folklore dance. After a few Arabic chants, the dancers started chanting something that I'll never forget:

" 'Forget the rest, Aramco is the best.
" 'From the east to the west, Aramco is the best.' "

(Article by Ahmad A. Dialdin)