As part of a unique fel­low­ship in Saudi Arabia, North­east­ern­ju­nior Matt Cournoyer con­versed with high-​​ranking gov­ern­ment offi­cials and wealthy busi­nessmen, toured uni­ver­si­ties, and observed the local cus­toms of Saudi life on every­thing from reli­gion to business.

The fellowship’s goal was to intro­duce Amer­ican stu­dents to all aspects of Saudi cul­ture, and Cournoyer said the expe­ri­en­tial learning oppor­tu­nity left him much wiser, inspired and glob­ally enlightened.

Cournoyer was selected as one of nine cur­rent col­lege stu­dents — all Model Arab League stand­outs at their respec­tive uni­ver­si­ties — to par­tic­i­pate in the 10-​​day fel­low­ship. The trip, June 7 to 16, was orga­nized by the National Council on U.S.-Arab Rela­tions, an Amer­ican non­profit that strives to improve Amer­i­cans’ knowl­edge and under­standing of Arab cul­ture. It was cospon­sored by the Saudi Ara­bian Cul­tural Mis­sion to the U.S.A. and the Saudi Ara­bian Min­istry of Higher Education.

In his group’s guided travels across the country, Cournoyer had some mem­o­rable expe­ri­ences. He shared tea and coffee with Dr. Abdul Rahman Al-​​Zamil, a Saudi bil­lion­aire. He met Prince Turki bin Faisal Al Saud, long­time director of the Saudi Ara­bian intel­li­gence agency, who shared his views on Saudi Ara­bian his­tory and the Kingdom’s for­eign affairs poli­cies. And he heard John Sfakianakis, a leading econ­o­mist and group gen­eral man­ager at Banque Saudi Fransi, dis­cuss the oil industry’s place in Saudi Arabia’s eco­nomic future.

The fel­low­ship also included visits to sev­eral uni­ver­si­ties and museums show­casing the country’s his­tory, sci­en­tific advance­ments, and oil drilling and pro­duc­tion process.

It strength­ened my interest and appre­ci­a­tion for society in the Middle East,” said Cournoyer, a polit­ical sci­ence and inter­na­tional affairs double major.

Cournoyer said he dis­cov­ered there are more oppor­tu­ni­ties for women than is com­monly believed in the West, and the fel­low­ship strength­ened his under­standing of how closely reli­gion is inte­grated into every ele­ment of Saudi life.

What we saw was much more dynamic and had much more depth to it than the per­cep­tion that the only thing going on over there is exporting oil,” he said.

Cournoyer, who said he is eager to return one day to learn more about the cul­ture, has been selected as the secretary-​​general of the 2011 National Model Arab League Con­fer­ence in March in Wash­ington, D.C.