He was supposed to be an architect. But studied electrical engineering in Brno and is now a recognized expert in Canada
Wahab Almuhtadi, from Yemen, was originally supposed to be an architect. But the Yemeni ambassador offered him a scholarship and the opportunity to study in Czechoslovakia. With one catch. He had to swap architecture for electrical engineering. Wahab Almuhtadi got into the BUT and discovered the world of electricity, which enchanted him so much that he never returned to architecture. He served, for example, as a deputy in the Yemeni Ministry of Energy and is now a professor, researcher and coordinator of the Optical Systems and Sensors degree program at Algonquin College, Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada. He is also the President of the IEEE Consumer Technology Society (CTSoc).
Wahab Almuhtadi was born in Yemen. Since he did well in high school, he was given the opportunity to study abroad after graduating. The young Wahab then decided to study architecture at the American University of Beirut, the oldest university in the Middle East. "But then the civil war started there. I had the option of continuing my studies either in America or at the American University in Egypt," recalls Wahab Almuhtadi.
In the end, however, fate chose a completely different path for him. During a visit to Prague, he learned from the Yemeni ambassador about the scholarship offer. "I liked Prague, it had an atmosphere. I also liked the Czechs, the rich history and the special language," says Almuhtadi. He accepted the opportunity. And this despite the fact that he was not able to continue his career as a future architect, but had to switch to a completely different field. "They told me I could study electrical engineering, and if I am interested. So I thought to myself why not," Almuhtadi says.
This decision led him to Brno University of Technology in 1980. Before that, however, he spent some time in Jihlava, where he learned Czech. "I like people, so I had a lot of Czech friends in Jihlava. We went to cultural and sports events together," Wahab Almuhtadi recalls in Czech. Sometimes he gets a little bit of English into his Czech, but it's not surprising. He left the Czech Republic in 1990 after completing his doctorate. Yet he continues to come here regularly. Not only to visit his alma mater as part of a collaboration, but also to visit his Czech wife's family.
Wahab Almuhtadi was not the only Yemeni who lived and studied in Czechoslovakia. "Yemen was the first Arab country to open an embassy here. At that time I was invited to the embassy and met many other students from North and South Yemen who were here at universities in Prague, Brno or Olomouc. Many of them got very good jobs when they returned home. For example, some Yemeni ministers studied in Czechoslovakia," he points out.
He admits that the beginning was difficult. He was studying a completely new field in Czech. "It was difficult. There were two hundred of us at the lecture, the professor was standing in front and talking very fast. At the beginning I had to borrow notes from my classmates. Gradually, however, I learned to write it down myself, and eventually my classmates borrowed notes from me," he says with a laugh.
He graduated from the BUT with an honour and an offer to stay on for a PhD. He accepted and devoted himself to the topic of energy. Specifically, the power grid in Yemen. "I also taught and worked at the BUT, my office was on Antonínská. Besides that I collaborated with the Energy Research Institute in Brno," he adds.
However, he turned down a permanent position at the university after completing his PhD and returned to Yemen with his own family. There he worked, for example, as a deputy in the Ministry of Energy. "We were in Yemen for three years, but I started to be drawn elsewhere again. I had the opportunity to work abroad and accepted an offer to come to Canada," he says of his journey to Ottawa, where he has worked for nearly 30 years. "I originally wanted to work in the energy industry, but Ottawa is an IT hub. At that time, there were almost two thousand companies here that were involved in high-tech. The leader was Nortel, which is where I started working and pursuing the topic of telecommunications and fibre optics," recounts Wahab Almuhtadi. He didn't abandon this topic when he moved to Algonquin College, where he established a degree program and a state-of-the-art optophotonics lab. It is through his work on campus that he was able to reconnect with his alma mater and collaborate, for example, with the Department of Telecommunications at the Faculty of Electrical Engineering and Communication, BUT.
According to Wahab Almuhtadi, the Czech Republic has changed noticeably over the past thirty-plus years. "For the better. Some things take time, because you cannot erase forty years of the former regime's influence overnight. But the Czech Republic has clearly become European in terms of international relations and culture. For example, on my last visit to the Department of Telecommunications at FEKT BUT, I observed today's young generation, and noticed there was no longer a difference between the young people in Brno and those I see at the universities and colleges in Ottawa," Almuhtadi notes.
Although he has lived with his family in Canada for more than a quarter of a century, he admits that he would like to return to the Czech Republic in his old age. "I think I have Czech blood in my veins. I feel being Moravian," he concludes.