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Student Voice

5 April 2018

Salman Al Qahtani, the Saudi Surfer Breaking Stereotypes in Tauranga

Salman Al Qahtani, the Saudi Surfer Breaking Stereotypes in Tauranga

Eighteen-year-old Salman Al Qahtani's warmth is obvious from the moment you meet him. A positive young man with a zest for life, Salman came to Tauranga from Saudi Arabia to study English knowing only how to say 'yes' and 'no'.

Four months in, his English is unbelievable, his status as the school’s social butterfly is well-known, and he is embracing the Kiwi lifestyle. Wise beyond his years, Salman has already learnt some valuable lessons from his short four months living in a new country.

“Before I came here, I thought people from different countries would be absolutely different. But it’s not true: we all think the same things, we just speak a different language.”

Here’s Salman’s story of settling into a completely new culture and thriving in Tauranga.

Growing Up in Saudi Arabia

Salman is from Saudi Arabia’s capital city, Riyadh. It’s a big city with around seven million people located in the centre of the country. 

“Riyadh is a good place to grow up. The culture teaches us to respect each other, respect all cultures and respect our elders first and foremost.”

Salman knows that the mention of Saudi Arabia brings to mind a lot of clichés and stereotypes in the minds of many Kiwis, but he is helping to shatter some of the more negative ones. For instance, he proudly explains that Saudi is much more open, more progressive than it used to be with changes happening even while he’s been away.

“The Crown Prince has made so many changes recently. Just since I've been away, women have been allowed to drive. It's becoming much more modern than you’d think.”

The Value of Education

Salman, who has deep respect for both his parents as well as his sixteen – yes, sixteen – siblings, was brought up understanding that education is a top priority.

“My father is serious with school. He always says you have to study and work hard now to earn yourself a good place in the world in the future.”

Salman’s father, who owns a building design company, suggested Salman study English overseas before carrying on to gain a civil engineering degree, which is how he ended up studying at Mount Maunganui Language Centre in Tauranga.

Arriving in New Zealand

Salman arrived in New Zealand in October 2017. His English has leapt forward and he plans to pass his IELTS tests then apply to study civil engineering at the University of Auckland.

“New Zealand is my favourite place I’ve visited. It’s a safe country filled with good people who respect each other.”

When he first arrived, he was desperate to communicate with people, but unable.

“I wanted to talk, but I couldn’t. I wanted to explain something, but I didn’t know how. I wanted to order something at a restaurant, and the wrong dish came out.”

Salman persevered and worked hard to grasp the language. He was especially encouraged by Kiwis, who as a rule didn’t dismiss him when he couldn’t speak English, but rather helped him try to learn.

Learning English at Mount Maungnaui Language Centre

Learning English is important for Salman’s future goals of studying at Auckland, but the benefits are further reaching than this.

“The world is small now, and knowing English helps you get by almost anywhere you go.”

Salman is thrilled to have chosen to study at Mount Maunganui Language Centre; it’s not only a great English language school but also a wonderful place to make friends from all over the world. While the transient nature of a language school can mean a lot of goodbyes with newly acquired friends, it also means that there’s always someone to travel and go on adventures with.

The Middle Eastern Surfer

After living with a host parent for his first four months, Salman has moved out into a Mount Maunganui flat and has found himself a key player in the local subculture of keen, young, international surfers. Taught by his Brazilian mates, Salman now loves his seaside lifestyle where he surfs most days and joins his friends on trips to other nearby surf beaches, like Raglan. The idea of one day living further than a stone’s throw from the surf is something he’d rather not think about!

Saudi Arabia and New Zealand

Salman is an optimistic lad, filled with only positive things to say about his adopted home. But still, there are things to miss from home and still other things in New Zealand that have been an adjustment.

“I miss my family most of all. And my social life with my friends back home. I also miss my mother’s cooking!”

Driving on the opposite side of the road rates as one of Salman’s biggest shocks in New Zealand. The food here is certainly different too, but Salman is a fan. Salman has filled the void of missing his friends back home by creating strong social connections at school, often organising trips to the beach or up the Mount. Salman also loves Tauranga’s smaller city size and fresh air.

“It’s easier to get around the city. Easier to exercise, play sports and the beach is so close.”

He’s also a happy ambassador of his country, proud that his presence has changed others’ perceptions of Saudi Arabia.

“Friends tell me, ‘you’re so different from what I would expect.’ It changes their views on my country 100 percent, which is great because I want people to know how friendly, peaceful and open Saudi is.”

Salman is looking forward to having three friends - two girls and one guy - visit from back home later this year.

Advice to Others

Salman’s biggest piece of advice for other non-English speakers thinking about studying in Tauranga is to live with a host family.

“Living with a local homestay is the best way to learn English quickly and learn the culture. I did this for my first four months and it helped so much. I still see my host family for BBQs. Also, immerse yourself in English: watch movies, read books, talk to people.”



Join us on Facebook and contact Regional Relationship Manager Melissa Gillingham for more information:

Melissa Gillingham

 Regional Relationship Manager

 Education Tauranga

 Tel: +64 7 571 1401 ext. 707 | Mob: +64 21 724 272    
 Address: Private Bag 13057, Tauranga 3141, New Zealand  
 Email me