Coming to Texas / International Students at the University of Texas
One thing leads to another. I had met Curly Ferris in the late stages of doing the Memorial Stadium book because the name of his boss, Dr. Nasser Al-Rashid, was on the door of the football players’ weight-training facility. And who was Rashid? He was an exceptionally bright commoner from Saudi Arabia who impressed the royals after returning to the kingdom with a pair of degrees in civil engineering from UT. In the 1970s, they used his firm whenever a hospital, school, government complex or palace needed to be built. Needless to say, he became fabulously rich in the process—somewhere north of $3 billion. I had known a few wealthy people before, but certainly not in the league of Rashid.
He was not just a civil engineer but a philanthropist, and Curly got his OK to have me do a book about people from around the world who had matriculated at UT and then went on to big things—much like Rashid himself. I was eager to take on the project, which would trace the development of the international student program at UT from the beginning (I determined that Motozo Akazawa of Japan was the first, back in 1905) to having more non-Americans than any other university. When the book was published in 1994, no fewer than 4,000 of UT’s 50,000 students came from outside the United States.
It was really interesting to learn about Dr. Joe Neal, who ran the international student program for nearly 40 years. He was a teacher, administrator and wheeler-dealer, traveling the globe as well as welcoming big shots in his office on West 26th Street. Neal was envied if not begrudged by other UT faculty members, but many foreign students—Nasser Al-Rashid, for example—loved him.
Rashid paid me a modest stipend during the two years I worked on Coming to Texas, but more importantly, he paid for my travel to Egypt, Bahrain, Mexico, Costa Rica, Bolivia, Peru, Korea (little did I know it would become my home 13 years later), Taiwan, the Philippines and several cities within the USA. The purpose of these trips was business, conducting interviews with prominent UT alumni and then moving on. I remember touring the pyramids in Cairo, a wild night of drinking and dancing in San José, sitting on a park bench in Lima overlooking the Pacific Ocean and chatting with former president Fernando Belaunde-Terry and incredibly succulent meals in Taipei and Manila. A few of the people of whom I wrote had been born in favorable circumstances, but most were poor but bright students who traveled far from their homes to attend college in Austin, Texas. I admired them all.