Lucien Zeigler | SUSTG
The new Saudi Arabian Cultural Mission (SACM) headquarters in Fairfax, Virginia provides a modern hub for Saudi Students in the United States, and stands as a symbol of the strong cultural relations between the United States and Saudi Arabia.
Until recently, the future of the iconic Watergate hotel and office complex in Washington DC, which was the site of the infamous burglary 30 years ago that brought Richard Nixon’s presidency to an end, was uncertain. Once home to DC’s finest restaurants, the headquarters of the Democratic Party, lavish apartments, and unparalleled views of the Potomac river, the Watergate complex was no longer DC’s “it” residence. And on June 19, 2011, it lost an important tenant: the Saudi Arabian Cultural Mission in the United States.
Although it now appears a gradual overhaul awaits the Watergate, the Cultural Mission has moved into bigger and better digs: modern, custom built headquarters in Fairfax, Virginia. Inaugurated a year ago, the new SACM complex was built to accommodate the soaring number of Saudi students studying in the United States.
SACM’s magnificent new building reflects the beliefs of King Abdullah and the Saudi Government that education is a top priority for the Kingdom. Government spending on this sector continues to soar with the 2012 Saudi budget committing 168.6 billion riyals (about $45 billion) for education and training. This represents about a quarter of the entire government budget. Compare that with 15% in the United States.
Now, SACM has a brand new headquarters and tens of thousands of students in the United States to assist. SACM administers the King Abdullah Scholarship Program, one of King Abdullah’s most successful educational policies. It provides eligible Saudis the chance to study abroad at top universities in order to build the next generation of Saudi business leaders at home. Roughly 6,000 Saudi students graduated from US universities in the last year, and it is estimated that 140,000 are currently studying abroad, with one-third of those in the United States.
The move to the new building has not slowed SACM’s other efforts across the United States. Recently, SACM organized a massive career fair and graduation at the sprawling Gaylord Hotel in Washington D.C. This event brought together graduates and Saudi officials and enabled students to interact with prominent Saudi and non-Saudi companies as they pursue employment and business opportunities.
The Cultural Mission implements “Saudi national educational and training policies to provide Saudi Arabia with qualified individuals capable of achieving the country’s goals of progress and development,” according to the SACM website. Originally founded as the Saudi Cultural Office in America, the organization at first looked after only 48 students. In 1975, the office relocated to Houston, Texas, and its name was changed to the Saudi Educational Office to the United States of America. A branch office was established in Los Angeles in 1978 and the end of 1984 saw the main office move back from Houston to Washington, D.C. In addition to the office in Washington, D.C. and the Los Angeles branch office, three new branches were opened in Denver, Chicago and Houston. However, in 1987, the Denver and Chicago branch offices were closed and a major reorganization in 1988 resulted in the consolidation of the remaining branches into the main office in Washington, D.C., which was renamed Saudi Arabian Cultural Mission to the USA.
The SACM headquarters inaugurated in 2011 reflects the growing importance of Saudi education and the strength of Saudi-U.S. diplomatic ties. The United States is the number one destination for King Abdullah Scholarship Program students. A strong job market at home awaits students when they finish the program and earn degrees from the United States, particularly with a renewed emphasis on hiring Saudi nationals through the Nitaqat labor program. As the Saudi Gazette noted in May of 2012, “All government departments and major private sector companies are on the lookout for qualified Saudis. Their participation in the job market is expected to give a new impetus to the nation’s development.”
This article originally appeared on SUSTG.com