Layla: Blue Abaya
Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to Saudi Arabia, etc.
I'm a Finnish medical professional who moved to Saudi-Arabia four years ago for a position in a large government hospital. Originally the plan was to come for one year and then go back home, but you never know where life will lead you!
When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?
I actually started a blog about Saudi when I moved but I only wrote a few times and then deleted it because I simply did not have the time. I started again after my life had settled a bit from the hectic first two years. After reading so many negative and biased views from other blogs, I wanted to write about Saudi in a more light hearted but also realistic perspective and to help expats find activities around the Kingdom. Having a Saudi husband gives me a special insight into both the local and the expat life of the Kingdom.
Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?
Tell us about the ways your new life in Riyadh differs from that back home. Did you have trouble getting used to the new circumstances? Did you experience culture shock?
Oh it differs a lot of course! There are some things that are better now, some worse like the obvious no driving for women. I find the relaxed pace of life here is more suitable for my nature and I love the weather (except sandstorms!).
Everyone experiences culture shock; people just go through it differently. I think I had an easier time than many because I had previously lived and worked abroad and was used to scenery changes since childhood. My culture shock presented itself as an unexplained anxiety and restlessness which I treated by keeping myself active and making many friends as well as getting to know and understand the local culture better.
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?
I think I was fairly well prepared, but could have read up more on the local customs and culture and especially religion before coming! I was in the impression that the hospital's three week orientation program would prepare us but I was very wrong! Knowing just the basics of Islam I think should be included in the orientation; especially the medical professionals would benefit from it greatly and it would prevent many misunderstandings.
Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?
Oh there are so many stories! I think some of the funniest happened with patients and lack of understandings of each other's cultures. Bedouin patients would be among the funniest because their style of life is just so different from ours. I have many such experiences on the blog.
Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in Saudi Arabia?
- Keep your mind open, try to take things with a dash of humor and surround yourself with positive people.
- Try and find out as much as you can about local customs and culture before you come and once you're here, ask the locals and get to know them. Don't get stuck in the closed (minded) expats circles only.
- Keep in mind that although this is a Muslim country not everything you see around you is from Islam. Don't judge the book by its covers or the religion by some of its followers. Always try to find out for yourself and don't listen to or believe in the rumor mills.
How is the expat community in Riyadh? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?
The expat community is very lively and there are many different nationalities. Unfortunately some nationalities prefer to only socialize with their "own kind" and sometimes very tight knit groups form. Saudi has the tendency to make people very patriotic and unfortunately some become extremely negative of the host country.
Some western expats that live in closed compounds hardly ever interact with other nationalities, let alone locals, which is a shame.
There are of course many like-minded expats out there who have no problems making friends across borders and religions - this makes Saudi-Arabia such an amazing place to make new friends. I have made true friends from around the world here and am truly grateful for that. It was one of the reasons I came here!
How would you summarize your expat life in Saudi Arabia in a single, catchy sentence?
Life in the Magic Kingdom is full of surprising adventures and undiscovered beauty for those who seek them!