By David Miller
College football games in the Southeastern Conference can start as late as 8:30 p.m. CST, and sometimes push through midnight.
It’s a minor inconvenience for University of Alabama football supporters, whether they’re in Bryant-Denny Stadium or watching the game remotely. Time constraints, travel, lodging and ticket expenses – it’s all worth it to see the Crimson Tide win – and win a lot – right?
In Saudi Arabia, eight hours ahead of Alabama and the Central time zone, Yahya Al-Bokhedaim and his son, Shahaeen, fight sleep each week to watch UA’s prime-time matchups. The CBS games offer a reprieve from the overnight viewings, but during late games, Shahaeen often leaves for school without knowing the final score.
Shahaeen, who recently enrolled in UA’s English Language Institute, will no longer wonder who won the game – or Alabama’s margin of victory. He’s taking the same path Yahya took in the early 1980s: learn both the English language and chemical engineering at UA.
“I want to follow that same step as my father,” Shahaeen said. “I can do that [at UA]. I want to follow his steps and be better than him.”
Yahya arrived at UA in 1983, just a year after the ELI was established. He was one of five Saudi students sponsored by oil company Saudi Aramco. Yahya has worked for Saudi Aramco since earning his bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering in 1988.
Yahya soaked in American culture and Southern hospitality during his five years on campus, a transition that was aided by a young, energetic ELI staff, he said.
“There were a lot of close friendships between the students and the faculty,” Yahya said. “Some of the faculty were pursuing their master’s or PhD, so that helped develop excellent relationships. They taught us the game of football, and once we learned, we all grew to love it. This was part of the socialization with some of the teachers.”
Yahya visited UA during homecoming week to help move Shahaeen to campus. It was Yahya’s first visit to campus since 1998 and only his second return to his alma mater since he’d graduated. Campus has grown, and there are “so many sidewalks and bike lanes,” but the same charm and “sweet home” he experienced in the 1980s existed the moment he stepped on campus, he said.
A familiar face greeted him when he visited the ELI.
“I was so happy to see the growth of the ELI – it’s become an excellent center,” Yahya said. “And it surprised me when I saw Mr. (Bill) Wallace, who is now the director. He used to be a teacher at ELI, but he remembered who I was. For them, it’s been 30 years, and they’ve had so many students come and go, so for him to have this memory of me shows how much he cares about people.
“And that’s why we’re here – we’re trying to copy and paste my experience for Shahaeen.”