One thing which was a major concern to me before moving out to KAUST was the potential for boredom. In the UK I was living in the North East, working between home/Leeds/Bath and Liverpool and the majority of my friends were in Manchester or West Yorkshire. This meant that I was used to travelling around, driving back and forth, visiting people and just generally being busy. Now that I live in KSA that’s suddenly changed to knowing one solitary person on site, having a fifteen minute commute (if traffic is REALLY bad, otherwise it’s about seven) and as a result having a lot of free time. Which is great, obviously, I’m not complaining.
So if you are wondering what you can do with all this spare time you suddenly have now that you aren’t queuing on the M62 every evening (Not something I even vaguely miss about England), here is a list of stuff on campus that you can do:
Gyms and classes. There are three separate gyms on site and they are ALL FREE (for KAUST staff/dependants/families etc) which is amazing! They are well kitted out, air conditioned and separated into male gyms and female gyms (to be expected and also far better in my humble opinion – dudes stink at the gym). The gyms are never busy as far as I’ve seen, they have lockers, changing areas, showers, basically everything you would need. There is a gym in the middle of the university campus which is handy for going to on your lunch break ( 1 hour lunch is standard) then another at the harbor recreation club, and another at the island recreation club. These are all open between 6:00am to 10:00 pm seven days a week.
There is a great range of classes available at the gyms including; yoga, jazzercise, pilates, bootcamp, Zumba, spinning and so on. These cost 25 SAR a session (about five quid) or with some of these you can buy a monthly pass for 150SAR and go to as many classes as you like in that month. You can also hire a personal trainer, or club together with some friends and get a PT and split the cost between you all.
There are swimming pools at each of the recreation centres, one is for family only (no single men/women) and then a single sex pool for each in addition. The pool at the island rec centre is especially worth checking out as it backs onto the beach and you can sit in the pool and watch the sun go down which is really spectacular (check out the image at the top of this post). Again, these pools are free for use for KAUST students/employees and their families. They do swimming lessons for children which will cost, but I know nothing about it and so I shall not speculate.
At the Harbor Sports Club in addition to the pools, male and female gyms – there is also a 16 lane bowling alley which is loads of fun, a sports hall for indoor football, badminton, netball, basketball etc. Squash and racquetball courts and an outdoor running track and athletics field incase you are a lunatic who enjoys exercising in 40-odd degree heat (people do actually do this, I’ve seen them).
At the Island there is a skate park, an indoor climbing wall, beach volleyball, squash courts, children’s play area, and big tv’s and lounging areas where they play important football or sports games on gigantic televisions.
In addition to these rec centres there are also a couple of specialized sporting facilities; the Raquets Club which provides courts for tennis, squash and badminton and the Safaa Golf Club and Academy which has a driving range in addition to the 9 hole course.
There are a bunch of self-directed groups as well as sport teams that people have set up themselves to get involved in. Paul plays football every Wednesday night, there is an equestrian group that go into Jeddah to ride every weekend, there are diving groups taking advantage of the beautiful reef structure we have around here, there is even a dragon boat SDG if that’s your kind of thing.
So yes, lots and lots of sports. It’s a great motivation for me as I despise exercise and if there is any way I can get out of it I will find a way. The sheer array of exercise options and the fact that none of it is more than ten minutes away from my house really means I have no excuse. Also the instructors here are really very good and know their stuff inside out and are incredibly patient with new starters which I found comforting as it can be a little intimidating joining an established class as a beginner.
HOWEVER, it’s not all about sports here, there are other things to do. We are very lucky at KAUST in that we are one of the only places in the whole kingdom to have a cinema. Not only that, its ridiculously cheap – 5SAR to watch a film which is less than two quid. Not only THAT but you can even get popcorn! Every week they have two new films, a kids film and an adults film – this week the adult film is ‘Everest’ and next week is ‘The Martian’ – both of which I saw just before I left the UK three weeks ago just to give an idea of timescales so they aren’t that much behind the release dates in England. (They are both excellent films as well so I guess we’ll be going back to have a watch!).
If you are into reading there is a great fiction/non fiction library by the harbor which is separate from the University library which is more for research/text books. Here your KAUST ID card is your library card and allows you to withdraw 15 books at a time for a period of up to three weeks which is great. Great children/ young adult sections here too as well has having DVDs available for borrowing.
On the weekend we often go to the beach for a couple of hours (or as long as we can stand the sun!). This is located at the south end of KAUST and you will need your KAUST ID to get in. Important piece of information – ladies you are allowed to wear your bikinis here. I searched and searched for the answer to that before we arrived and couldn’t find it. So yes, bikini’s are fine at the beach – at the pools you are required to wear a one piece swimming costume.
Anyway, back to the beach. It’s a really nice area, they have loungers and tables and straw umberellas laid out, the area that has been cleared of rocks and is safe for swimming is clearly marked out. For the kids (or young at heart) there are some brilliant inflatable assault courses arranged in the sea. You are given free life jackets to wear if you want them and there are always lifeguards on duty. There is also a snack/juice bar playing music at the back of the beach and grills which are free for anyone to use and have a bbq on. You can also rent pedallos, paddle boards, windsurfing, and other adrenaline-fuelled watersports equipment if you so desire.
In addition there are regular social events planned and advertised around campus, there is a monthly ‘pub quiz’ (minus the pub), weekly tennis social’s, bands playing, round the world culinary events, festivals, quarterly enrichment programmes where guest speakers come and talk on the relevant subject (the fall enrichment programme just finished which was on the subject of large marine animals and their migration patterns. There was a whole score of events planned which were free to attend, from lectures, to meet the sea life sessions for the kids, to musical performances. Great to attend and learn about something new. I believe the next one (the Winter Enrichment Programme) is due to start at the beginning of January, although its subject is yet to be announced.
There is a great cycling track around KAUST so it is possible to either take your own bikes, or rent some and go riding around the coast of the red sea. You can also hire a boat (including people who will sail it for you) and go out on fishing trips up to eight hours. We recently went on a sunset cruise on the below catamaran which was a really nice thing to do. You have a delicious on-board buffet and travel up and down KAUST’s coastline for a few hours for only about £8 per person. Not bad at all.
I’m sure there is a lot more to do around here but my brain has stopped working as I’ve just written that whole thing in a furious spate of typing in about twenty minutes. I’ll add more as and when I think of them but my main message is this – there is no reason you will be bored here, as long as you are willing to go out and meet people and join groups etc. everyone will welcome you as we have all been in the same boat, being new isn’t that much fun – but everyone here will help to make the transition as painlessly as possible.