Hampton University

student spotlight

Senior plans to 'live life to the fullest'

As commencement slowly approaches, the sometimes daunting question of the future rises in the minds of graduating seniors. Some have signed contracts with big name firms and many have received their graduate school admission packets.

Ashley Jackson now knows where she will be for the next two years, al Khobar, Saudi Arabia.

Ashley Jackson

Ashley Jackson

Jackson, a senior physics major from Riverside, Calif., will go to Saudi Arabia on a two-year teaching contract. While there, she will teach fourth grade Saudi Arabian girls math and science.

"Through a private teaching firm, I heard about a conference in Boston," stated Jackson. "I went through about 26 interviews and then later learned that I got the job."

Not the most common job choice, Jackson is used to making very random decisions. After graduating from high school in California, she made the decision to attend Hampton University without ever visiting the campus; a decision that has made a difference in her life. Over the last couple years she's had the opportunity to tutor non-physics majors. She enjoyed tutoring so much that she decided to teach prior to going to graduate school.

When Jackson shared the news with family and friends she got a similar reaction from many.

"I've heard just about everything," stated Jackson." 'Are you a little bit crazy,' that's what Dr. Rankins said. I get a lot of wows and of course a lot of say what looks."

Her relationship with the physics department and Dr. Claudia Rankins, dean of the School of Science, has played a major role in her development. Jackson considers them family. Many of the faculty members have expressed concerns about her decision to teach in Saudi Arabia, nonetheless they have offered their full support.

"I love Ashley as if she were one of my own," stated Rankins. "I am very apprehensive about her going, I am concerned about her being a woman over in that environment... On the other hand I am very excited that she is taking this opportunity to teach and I wish her, the very best. I know she will do well."

Like any other mother in this situation, Jackson's mother has been extremely supportive in the midst of her concern. Jackson herself has a few fears about traveling to the Middle East, but luckily they are accompanied by excitement to try something so unique.

"I am excited to learn about a new culture and language. I am also exited about traveling to Egypt and Morocco while I am there," stated Jackson. "I worry about being a woman in a middle eastern culture. I am outspoken so I worry about that also. I also worry about the lack of religious freedom." Jackson, who is a Buddhist, understands that she will have to transition into the culture by keeping all religious material to herself.

The middle school where Jackson will teach, host international teachers as well as Saudi Arabian teachers. She will live in a furnished one-bedroom apartment building with the other international teachers. As women are not allowed to drive in al Khobar, she will be provided a driver as well as a travel allowance.

Initially, Jackson will wear an abaya, an over-garment worn by many women in Muslim countries, until she feels comfortable with the required conservative dress.

For fun, Jackson will travel to the westernized country, Bahrain, where the international teachers often share transportation for the weekend. Jackson is adamant about not dating while in Saudi Arabia.

"I have read about the responsibilities of a Saudi Arabian wife and the role of the woman in a Saudi Arabian household," stated Jackson. "I have no interest."

The soon to be, first generation college graduate plans to attend graduate school following her stay in Saudi Arabia. Her ultimate goal is to teach in Japan.

"I have always loved the history and culture of that region," said Jackson. "My grandmother has always told me, 'once a teacher, always a teacher.' "

Jackson encourages her fellow graduates and Hamptonians to always be spontaneous.

"Enjoy life to the fullest, especially while you are young," said Jackson. "I plan to."

-Naima A. Gethers