Ghassan Gammoh ’10 can remember the precise moment he learned about King’s Academy. It was 2006 and he was the only 9th grade student at Udhailiyah School, at the smallest and most remote compound in the Saudi Aramco* company network of communities in Saudi Arabia.
“I remember Dr. Eric [Widmer] driving all the way up here from Dhahran – driving 200 kilometers just to see me,” he said, recalling one of the initial efforts at student recruitment at King’s, prior to the opening of the school.
The headmaster’s personal pitch to Ghassan was effective. While his older siblings had both gone to TASIS in Switzerland, Ghassan became the first Aramco student to enroll at King’s.
Seven years later, more than 40 Aramcons have followed in his footsteps, and next year King’s will have 25 Aramco students enrolled in grades nine to 12. There are no official statistics, but it is a safe bet that King’s will soon be home to more Aramco students than any school outside of the Gulf.
“King’s is a great fit for so many of our students,” said Diane Wilson, who has been a counselor at Aramco’s Dhahran Middle School since 2007. “It’s a place where super high achievers can excel, but the program also is broad enough that other kids can do well, too.”
She noted that the warm and supportive school community at King’s also makes it appealing, along with, of course, a location only two hours from Aramco.
Although the transition from home to boarding school can be a challenge for any student, Aramco students generally fare well at King’s from the moment they step on campus. The curriculum and classroom environment at Aramco are good preparation for King’s, and the active athletic, service and community life at Aramco schools matches up well with the King’s co-curricular program.
“Aramco students are very involved when they come to King’s. They add a lot to the school community and tend to be involved in all aspects of school life,” said King’s Dean of Residential Life Ryuji Yamaguchi.
Moreover, Aramco students enrich the diversity and global awareness at King’s. Students from Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Indonesia, Venezuela, Malaysia and Colombia have brought their cultures to the King’s community.
According to Sabal Almadi ’14, even though Aramcons at King’s come from many different backgrounds, they share a common experience and therefore have established a tradition and special community within King’s.
“When I came, there were older Aramco girls here, so I turned to them for everything,” Sabal explained. She said the group tends to stick together at first but then everyone finds their own friends.
King’s proximity to Aramco was a deciding factor for Nicole Alfonzo ’16, a native of Venezuela who moved to Aramco at age nine. She was admitted to boarding schools in Texas and Florida, both places where she has extended family, but was attracted to King’s because of its strong program and location close to her Aramco home.
Next year, Ghassan’s sister Sarah will be the youngest of the family and last to go off to boarding school. Although she was admitted to eight boarding schools in Europe and the United States, King’s was the easy choice for her and her family, said her father, Dr. Sultan Gammoh.
“This school is academically so impressive and the college counseling is wonderful. My son had an easy transition to Harvard after three years at King’s. We are so lucky to have such a great school so close to us at Aramco.”
*Aramco is the Saudi Arabian national petroleum and natural gas company based in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia.