Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to Saudi Arabia, etc.
A little about myself, for starters my name is Gina Saeed. I was born in Rome, Italy and raised in Canada. I have lived in Canada my entire life before venturing out to Saudi Arabia. I have travelled extensively internationally beforehand but never lived anywhere else.
I moved to Saudi Arabia 2 years ago following a job offer. I have since been employed and residing in Saudi Arabia going on my third year. I live and work in a remote city on the outskirts of the capital city, Riyadh. It is very small and the expat community even smaller leaving daily encounters with locals inevitable. One of the perks of working in Saudi Arabia is that I have been fortunate enough to travel across the Kingdom visiting many of the larger cities and attractions.
When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?
Blogging came out of pure hobby. I tend to enjoy reading others blogs especially those of other expats so it was only a matter of time that I would embark on my own. I pondered the thought for a couple weeks and then just gave in and set out to starting my blog. I am a novice blogger. My blog is very young; it is only 8 months old. I felt that there was and in many ways still is a huge void in female expat voices. Especially absent was a voice targeted at a certain audience, the young female expat demographic. I felt that if I could share my experiences, interests, thoughts and ideas both as a young female and an expat in one realm (the blog) then others would find it enjoyable and helpful.
Since the blogs birth I’ve been able to direct the content more and focus on certain expat experiences and lifestyle. With blogging for such a short time and the positive feedback and opportunities that have come out of blogging I have come to love it even more. I can only hope for its further growth and success.
Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?
Some of my favorite blog entries have to be my expat guides. They tend to focus on either a type of expat and/or experience and how to deal with it. They have also been very popular and from reader emails seem to be very helpful.
Another blog entry I absolutely adored creating was when I had the chance to interview a local Saudi blogger who is both an academic and the writer of a blog about sex. It was a rare opportunity to showcase Saudi talent to a broader audience on a topic many young females feel deeply about. The reaction spoke for itself as it quickly became one my most popular posts to date.
Tell us about the ways your new life in Saudi Arabia differs from that back home. Did you have trouble getting used to the new circumstances? Did you experience culture shock?
Saudi Arabia for anybody living in Canada would be described best as polar opposites. To describe better, Saudi Arabia is a strict Islamic state and women in particular are required to comply with very different ways of living. Being a female driver since the age of 16, the no female driver law in Saudi Arabia was the first of many red flags to be encountered. Another huge difference that I encountered was the way women dressed. Women here are obligated to wear an abayaa (long black cloak) over their clothes at all times in public. It’s the law. Yet, another shocker must be the closing of all businesses, 4 times daily for prayer time. It is the first time I have ever seen such compliance nation wide when the call for prayer is called. It could attribute that it is also the law to close all establishments during prayer times.
These are probably the biggest stand out differences I witnessed when I arrived. At first the depending on a male driver for your every transportation need (no public transportation) was madness and every commute resulted in a mini breakdown. But with time came an absurd amount of patience and understanding that punctuality is an understatement here. I got use to it slowly but surely. For the strict nature of women covering I was okay with it from the start. It was hard with the weather but nothing to cry over.
Culture shock never goes away here. It happens on the daily, you may experience it all day long, once a day or week but surely it never goes away. All aspects of the Saudi culture may appear to be shocking at first if you are from and are used to Western Nations. The way they work, school, socialize, communicate, parent and think definitely differed from what I knew and was use too. At first the culture shock resonates with you and has you baffled with emotions; but like all things with time it gets easier.
Do you think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in Saudi Arabia? If you could, would you change some decisions/preparations you made?
To be honest I did do a fair amount of research before deciding to come to Saudi Arabia but no amount of preparation can really fully prepare you for what awaits. If I could make any changes I would have packed more effectively. I was under the impression that Saudi Arabia was a very dated country with no malls etc. I ended up bringing everything I could think of; but once I got here I found how pointless that was because one thing Saudi Arabia has its endless retailers. You can find everything here.
Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?
The funniest experience that comes to mind would have to be my first washroom encounter. When I first arrived at the airport after going through customs and baggage I was picked up by my employer. I asked to use the washroom so he directed me towards the female restroom. Once inside I carried on to an available stall only to find a hole in the floor. The toilet was literally a ceramic hole in the floor, I was confused, looked around and decided to check the other stalls only to find that all the stalls had the same type of toilet. I stood in shock but couldn’t muster the strength or brainpower to try to even figure out the logistics of how to use the toilet in the floor.
I don’t know if it was just the shock or the mere jet lag but I cried. All I could think was this was a BIG mistake. Yes, it sounds ridiculous now but at the time it was all I could think. Funnily enough while wiping my tears a women and child came out of the last stall with the really big door which is designated for the disabled/elderly and coincidentally equipped with a standard Western toilet.
I wiped my tears, used the washroom only to realize that Saudi Arabia also doesn’t believe in the necessity of toilet paper.
Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in Saudi Arabia?
- Be open-minded; be very accepting it’s the best way to cope with the culture shock.
- Do your homework; make sure you know what you’re committing too.
- Leave your expectations at the airport. Expect the unexpected.
How is the expat community in Saudi Arabia? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?
Surprisingly the expat community in Saudi Arabia is very big and supportive. You can find a group of like -minded expats in almost every big city. It is easy to come by expat groups that share common hobbies such as knitting, sports, diving etc. With the expat community estimated at approx. 8 million in Saudi Arabia you are sure to find someone like you. Also, with the conservative nature of the country you may find that getting together is harder to arrange (no gender intermingling) don’t be distraught because there are dozens of online communities and forums dedicated to the Saudi Arabia expat community.
How would you summarize your expat life in Saudi Arabia in a single, catchy sentence?
Living the real life “Alice in Wonderland” the Desert Edition.