Noel: A Long Way to Go for a Sun Tan
Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to Saudi Arabia, etc.
My name is Noel Scanlon, I work as a Project Manager in Riyadh for an Irish Consultancy here, my background is in Architecture and Business, I come from Ireland, in the west of the country close to the city of Limerick, I first moved abroad to work in July 2011, initially to Afghanistan and then to Saudi Arabia in May 2012. It is well known how the global credit crisis has affected my home country and I am one of many who have moved abroad to work after working for 17 years back home including running my own business for 8 years, my family remain back home in Ireland for the moment.
When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?
In my first Month in Afghanistan, it occurred to me that I really needed to record the experience, primarily for the benefit of my family and friends so they could get a sense of what it was like working in a challenging environment, and also as a very useful tool to stay connected to existing colleagues and indeed make new friends, it got great feedback in my time there and was published a few times also, so when I moved to Riyadh, I was encouraged to continue with the blog and write about the experiences of living here so it developed from there….
Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?
Yes, and the most popular one on the site, “Kandahar Airfield….Another world” , I wrote this after my first few weeks in Afghanistan, after the culture shock experience of life on a Military Base in Afghanistan and also after taking a helicopter trip from Kandahar Airfield to Tarin Kowt in Uruzgan Province.
Also from the Saudi entries, I really like “Road to Riyadh” which was written after my first road trip by car from Riyadh to Al Hofuf in the Eastern Province….
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?
Obviously Riyadh is a very big change from rural Ireland , everything from the climate to the culture, to social norms, yes it was a culture sock but somewhat lessened by my previous experience in the region, the heat takes some time to get used of, and also adapting to the social and cultural norms here, as that is obviously very different than home, the city is expanding at a fast rate and Saudi Arabia is in a massive growth and development stage both economically but also I feel socially, it’s a very interesting time to be right now, and obviously being away from family is tough also…..
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?
As I said previously, I was better prepared than most given my previous work in the region, and I did research on the cultural aspects of Saudi, though I guess it still doesn’t fully prepare you for it, so I was happy enough with the preparation I had, I also spoke to colleagues of mine who lived and worked in the Kingdom previously which I found very helpful
Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?
In my first few weeks in Riyadh, I and some of my colleagues were staying in a small Hotel in Riyadh (shall remain nameless), It was, shall we say, basic enough, staff were friendly and it was clean etc. One morning while we were leaving for work, one of my colleagues asked the front desk manager in an audible voice? “Can you please have my room cleaned today?” to which he received a response, “of course not, we cleaned it yesterday”, added to also having to come down to reception to acquire toilet tissue which one ran out….
Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in Saudi Arabia?
- Do your research, find out about the culture and social norms as that will help you adapt in the early days and will help you to remember that it’s you that has to adapt to Saudi culture, rather than the other way around….
- Be open to new experiences and meeting new people, Saudi’s are friendly people and Riyadh has many different nationalities living here, an open mind will get you places and win you many friends….
- Learn to be patient, work and life operate at a different pace here and decisions are made in a different way, but patience will really help you….
How is the expat community in Saudi Arabia? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?
There is a very active ex-pat community in Riyadh in fact, as there are quite a lot of ex-pats living and working here, in the Health, Education, Finance, Engineering and Construction Sectors. Riyadh also has a Diplomatic quarter where almost many nations have their embassies, you need to connect with people to create a network here but its very open and people are very willing to allow in join their groups and get involved, there are various social and sporting activities organized through ex-pat groups and societies and InterNations and similar networks are developing all the time also, the key is you must seek out these people and don’t be a stranger…
How would you summarize your expat life in Saudi Arabia in a single, catchy sentence?
“It’s a long way to go for a sun tan but it open your mind and you discover a lot about the bigger world out there and even about yourself and what you are capable of”