When the subject of moving to work in Saudi first came up, frankly – I was horrified. Leaving my family, friends and my dog to go live in the desert in (what I thought was) an overbearing, oppressive, patriarchal society? ‘No way pal’ was something along the lines of what was said.
Let’s be honest, we don’t know that much, as a general rule, about this fairly mysterious country. Tourism is not permitted, Saudi culture embraces privacy and the value of close knit families and spending time with them, not necessarily socialising with a bunch of people you don’t know – which means it’s difficult for ‘outsiders’ (aka me) to know much at all about what it means to live in the Kingdom and day to day life there. What are the people like? What are their cities like? What is their food like? Honestly I didn’t have a clue. In summary my base knowledge of the entire country was:
- Hot. It’s really hot. You’re in the desert after all. Heat. Sand. Sticky. Humidity. Monica-from-friends-hair. Nope.
- NO BOOZE. I knew Saudi was an alcohol-free country. Frankly this was a pretty big concern of mine.
- Women = second class citizens full stop.
So that’s what I knew. And in fairness it IS bloody hot, there is absolutely no booze and women’s rights could do with a gigantic kick up the arse over here, HOWEVER, there is so much more to this beautiful and beguiling country which I’ve only just begun to discover, and I’m so excited to find more out about it. I genuinely love it here (disclaimer – I have currently only been here a week so this could potentially change, but I do hope it doesn’t).
For instance no-one is in any kind of rush to get anything done fast. At all. It took us five entire months from the beginning of the process to arrive here, imagine that – FIVE WHOLE MONTHS OF WAITING TO SEE IF YOU ARE MOVING ACROSS THE WORLD OR NAH. It was a fairly stressful time – best illustrated with Pauls completely irrational superstition that begun in month two where he HAD to buy a daily packet of Rowntree’s fruit randoms for a certain homeless gent he saw on his morning commute, otherwise he was convinced we weren’t going to move. This is what stress does to a person, it turns them into complete psychopaths ladies and gents – please be warned. Maybe do some brain training before applying to ensure you are mentally strong enough for the never ending stream of beaurocracy and legal tape you are going to have to tackle.
The people here are so nice and cannot do enough to help. Seriously, I’ve met people from all over the world – reaching from kiwi’s cooking me home cooked meals after meeting me in a supermarket aisle, to South Africans spending THREE HOURS digging my van out of quicksand and not accepting a penny. People are generally great (aside from you, dwellers of Budapest, maybe I caught you on a bad day but you did not want to tolerate my dietary choices at all – and didn’t I know about it). It seems to be a different ‘kind’ of niceness here – folk are more softly spoken, respectful and kind. It’s a quiet type of nice, not brash or attention seeking, not ‘I’ll do something for you, what’s in it for me’ it’s altogether more gentle and welcoming. People of Saudi, you are downright lovely.
This was a massive relief to me as I was concerned that as a woman I would be ignored, spoken down to or reprimanded (again, these were my half baked impressions from pre-arrival) I’m happy to say I couldn’t be more wrong. From the Saudi’s we met on the plane on the way over, to the attendants in the airport, to the people I’ve met on campus – everyone has been polite, courteous and interested in our adventures here. I absolutely haven’t been here long enough to comment on the standing of women in Saudi society – but based on my own experiences and what I have witnessed so far – women have been treated reverently and with the utmost respect. It is important to point out that here on campus, it is not necessarily a usual snapshot of Saudi life. Things are very westernised here, it is very relaxed in comparison in terms of dress code and behaviour and the religious police are not present on campus. I will be going to the nearest city, Jeddah this weekend which I’m sure will give me a better idea of the real Saudi Arabia – outside of the KAUST bubble.
Hopefully this blog can help you if you’re facing the very same decision, or maybe you just want to know a little more about the country in general. I’ll be doing my best to update on a regular basis with accounts of day to day life on campus, what it’s like arriving, getting your new house, navigating your way around campus and so on. If you have any suggestions please let me know 🙂