Life as an Actuary

Attempting to value the future Alaa Alghamdi

Photo: iStock.com/GDArts

Growing up, I always knew I wanted to venture into a career that involved applying mathematics in the real world. Both my learning and working experiences have fueled my ambitions and facilitated the realization of my dreams. This is my journey.

Experience as an Actuarial Science Student

I attended Albaha University, which is located in a small city in Saudi Arabia, to obtain my bachelor’s degree. After graduation, I realized it was time to seek a different path that would help me accomplish my goals. My experience as a mathematics teacher was unable to satisfy my desire to apply mathematics in the real world.

Therefore, I decided to search and learn about the different programs available before I picked a new major. I found information about actuarial science, read a lot about it and finally decided to study it. Actuarial science was interesting to me because I was looking for something that would require me to apply my mathematics knowledge.

So, my journey to study actuarial science began. In Saudi Arabia, there is a program that allows students to apply to study abroad. I applied for this program and selected actuarial science as the field I wanted to study. I received approval from the Ministry of Education and SAMA, which is the Central Bank of Saudi Arabia, to study in the United States.

I first went to the University of Denver in Colorado to study English. After I received my approval letter from DePaul University, where I was accepted to study applied mathematics in actuarial science, I moved to Chicago.

I can still remember preparing for my first actuarial science exam. The pressure to do my best and the fear that I might fail did not deter me from succeeding. The company of other actuarial science students, who were also on a path to achieve their educational success, kept me going.

Actuarial Mentorship Experience

As an actuarial science student, I knew I needed to gain more than just education and knowledge. My experience at DePaul University reminded me of the need to have a mentor. For me, I knew having a mentor would be like having a role model and a support system as I continued to study, especially since I was in a foreign country.

The university connected me with a mentor who helped me throughout my journey of acquiring knowledge of applied mathematics in actuarial science. She not only guided me in my studies, but also my career path. She encouraged, inspired and guided me during my years in the United States as I studied and focused on achieving my dream.

Experience Living in the United States

Apart from my academic experience, I can confidently say that I also had spectacular life experiences while I studied in the United States. My life did not only revolve around going to class and studying—I also had a chance to make friends and indulge in day-to-day activities that others around the world love. From staying indoors to watch movies to going to the park and other famous spots in the United States, I had a number of life-changing experiences.

My first life-changing experience was the chance to learn and study English. As a student from Saudi Arabia, English was not among the languages I knew and could speak comfortably. However, being in the United States gave me a chance to learn English, and I can now speak it fluently. I remember how challenging it was to adapt to the new education system during my first academic quarter, especially due to the language barrier. But learning English allowed me to understand my coursework, make new friends and ultimately fulfill my dream of studying actuarial science.

Another life experience that shaped me for the better was having my son. Motherhood comes with its challenges, but the joy it brings is even greater. It was tough at first, but it has taught me important life lessons and created lasting memories. I managed to juggle parenthood as I studied by establishing balance—finding the right balance between motherhood and academics has allowed me to be successful in both areas. Also, I developed a schedule, which helped me prioritize my well-being as I spent time with my son and studied.

I also met my best friend during my time in the United States, and I am grateful to have her in my life. Our different backgrounds did not prevent us from creating a beautiful friendship. As a Muslim woman, my religion can present a challenge when it comes to mingling with people from different religions and cultures. As I interacted with my classmates, they would ask me questions about my religion and country. That is how we exchanged information about each other’s lives and learned about one another. By accepting our differences, I gained a great best friend in the process—she is not judgmental and is not afraid to interact with me.

Actuarial Recruitment Experience

After two years in the United States, I came back to Saudi Arabia and joined the Arabian Shield Company, which is an insurance company. I was able to get a job at this insurance company for a number of different reasons:

  • The fact that the Crown Prince’s New Vision of Saudi Arabia supports women working in the labor force
  • My master’s degree in applied mathematics in actuarial science from DePaul University
  • My knowledge about programming and programming skills gained at DePaul University
  • My technical skills—that is, specialized math knowledge and analytical skills

Saudi Arabia has a good market for actuarial science students, as there are few actuaries in the country. Currently, there are two universities in Saudi Arabia that offer degrees in actuarial science, and one of the universities began accepting applications from female students just this year. The other university started offering the program in 2014, which is the same year I applied for it.

Love of Actuarial Science

I am glad to have had a learning experience in the United States and that I was able to bring back knowledge of actuarial science to my home country of Saudi Arabia. My experience as an actuarial science student, along with being an actuary at the Arabian Shield Company, helped fuel my love of actuarial science. As an actuary, I am able to surround myself with intelligent and diverse people who speak the same “math language,” and we share knowledge and learn from each other through our interactions.

As I continue to work as an actuary, my dream is being fulfilled. The chance to work—as a woman in Saudi Arabia—is satisfying. The salary is great, and I get the chance to advance my career. The environment at the Arabian Shield Company is also inspiring and motivating.

I appreciate the opportunity to be an actuary in Saudi Arabia. The position challenges me every day as I apply my knowledge and learn more about the field.

Alaa Alghamdi is an actuarial analyst at Arabian Shield Cooperative Insurance Company.

Statements of fact and opinions expressed herein are those of the individual authors and are not necessarily those of the Society of Actuaries or the respective authors’ employers.

Copyright © 2021 by the Society of Actuaries, Schaumburg, Illinois.