An American Businessman Speaks Out on Building Bridges with Saudi Arabia in Cookeville, Tennessee


 

Cookeville, Tennessee is not the immediate location that comes to mind when you think about where Saudi students may come to study in the United States.  It is known as one of the country’s micropolitan areas, meaning it is a smaller town with significant economic hubs.  It is also home to Tennessee Technical University which the Saudi students attend. American Bedu is honored to have the opportunity to interview residents of Cookeville who have met some of the Saudi students.  How have their perceptions and understanding of Saudi Arabia changed since getting to know some of the Saudi students?  It is a pleasure for American Bedu to interview Bob.  Bob is an American and resides in Cookeville, Tennessee.  He has agreed to tell us a little bit about himself and share his perspectives not only on the organization of the Rotary International Night but as a Cookevillian, his experiences with getting to know some of the Saudis in the community.

Thank you, Bob for this delightful opportunity.  Let’s begin with a little bit about you.  Are you an original native of Cookeville?

What do you do?

I am a native Tennessean, but my home town is Clarksville.  Tennessee is the land of ville’s; Cookeville, Clarksville, Nashville, Knoxville, etc… The city of Clarksville is located a little over 2 hours west of Cookeville.  Much like Cookeville, it is a University town.  I attended Austin Peay State University in Clarksville.  After graduation moved with my wife to the west coast of the United States and lived in the San Francisco Bay area for 14 years before returning to my home land. 

 

I am a businessman specializing in the healthcare field.  I have worked in this field over 30 years.  As the CEO of Premier Medical Park I have had the opportunity to be a part of bringing world class medical imaging technology and healthcare to the Upper Cumberland area, which is our community.  Cookeville has become the medical hub for patients throughout our small town and rural counties comprising of over 325,000 people.

What is life like in Cookesville?  What are the most popular activities there?

Cookeville is, I believe one of the wonders of Tennessee.  Our people are friendly and polite.  We are driven by our Christian faith and good moral values.  We are a caring community with many professionals and citizens in all vocations participating together in numerous community service programs and projects to help those in need.  Our land is a forest of rolling hills with waterfalls, creeks and rivers which change dramatically over the four seasons.   We have many natural beauties in our state parks.  One of the most popular sites is Burgess Falls.  This is an easy to moderate walk beside a series of 4 waterfalls; beginning with a smaller waterfall and rapids and increasing in size and grandeur to the Grand finale fall.  There are many opportunities to hike in the forest, go boating, water skiing, or fishing in our rivers, lakes and streams. Camping and caving are also favorites. Attending the High School and University sports’ events are big also.  The Arts and Theater scene is also unique to our small community.  Personally, I enjoy attending our symphony orchestra at Tennessee Tech University.

I understand that you are President of the Cookesville Rotary breakfast club.  How long have you been in this position and how long have you been a member of the Rotary?

My one year term as President of the Cookeville Breakfast Rotary is at its half- way point.  The President’s track is a three year term, so I will spend the last year of my term in the capacity as “Rotary International Foundation Chairman” for our club. I have been a Rotarian since 1999, took some years off to spend more time with my young daughters, and returned a few years ago.

Do you anticipate a large turnout for the International Rotary night?

I expect a sold-out packed room for our International Night Event this year.  Last year was our first International Night in which the featured country was India.  It snowed,made it difficult to attend the event, but the turnout exceeded our expectations.  The word spread throughout our community of how fantastic an evening it was.  The committee planning this year’s event has worked diligently to create an evening like no other that can be experienced in our area.

As the International Rotary night is going to showcase Saudi Arabia, what has been your own exposure to Saudi Arabia?  Have you ever traveled there?

I am particularly looking forward to learning and experiencing the culture, traditions and current condition of Saudi Arabia.  I have never traveled there, nor has it been on my list.  The anticipation of this event could change that.  Being in the United States limits our exposure to the Middle East to the main stream media. Our focus is mainly on Western European culture, music, and the arts.

What was your perspective of Saudi Arabia and its people prior to meeting Saudis?

My perspective of Saudi Arabia is limited to our government’s role in the oil markets and global security.  I am looking forward to getting the official perspectives and interests out of the way and learning and understanding the values, hopes and dreams of the native men and women of Saudi Arabia.

How has your perspective of Saudi Arabia changed since getting to know some of the Saudi students in Cookesville?

I have not had enough exposure to the Saudi students to fully develop a perspective as of yet.  What I have observed from the limited exposure are young men who are courteous, respectful and have great confidence.  They also speak English very well and can understand our southern dialect.

To your knowledge, is there much interaction between Cookesville residents and the Saudi students?

To my knowledge I am not sure how much interaction between local residents and Saudi students takes place outside of the teacher and student relationships.

How do you think the Saudi students have adapted to the lifestyle and customs of Cookesville?

From the confidence and contentment of their demeanor it appears they have adapted very well to the lifestyle and customs of Cookeville.

What kind of programs or activities are there in Cookesville which has helped bring local residents and Saudi students together?

Every spring Tennessee Tech University hosts a WOW “Windows of the World” event that is a showcase for all peoples of the world to exhibit their culture, clothing, food and traditions with our residents.  Our international night is another opportunity for our nations to build bridges.

How have these activities impacted towards a greater understanding of each other’s cultures?

These activities give people an opportunity to get to know each other and realize that we have more things in common to unite us, than we have to divide us.  It can change the attitudes of people to not believe all that they read and hear in the news reports.  It can influence an understanding based on direct knowledge, not distant reporting.

What do you think are some of the misunderstandings local residents and Saudis have of each other?

I have not discussed any misunderstandings with others. 

What are the five top “must see/must do” places and activities you suggest for a newcomer to Cookesville?

The top five “must do/must see” places and activities for me are: Burgess Falls, Fall Creek Falls, Fall Fun Fest, TTU’s Appalachian Craft Center, and if you’re a golfer, Rotary’s Annual Golf Classic Tournament in September.

When and how did you get involved with Rotary International? 

I became involved with Rotary International in 1999.  Being in the healthcare field, the mission of Rotary International to eradicate Polio from the face of the Earth, is a mission that can only be compared to our country’s mission to land on the moon in the 1960’s.  There has only been one other disease that has been conquered by man and that is small pox. At Rotary we are so close to achieving this monumental mission in my lifetime.  It will happen on my watch and that is exhilarating!

My sincere thanks, Bob, for the opportunity to ask these questions and share your words with American Bedu readers.

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2 Responses

  1. It’s very nice to learn about Bob. Thanks for sharing this interview!

  2. You are welcome, Susanne.

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