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Moving to Saudi Arabia: pre-travel thoughts

Moving to Saudi Arabia has been the goal for the past year. The process of just getting on the airplane has taken over 12 months, so I am excited to finally be on my way. Through the past year I’ve often been asked if I am scared to move to the middle east. If the question is if I am fearful- then no. As fear usually stunts my motivation, I think I am experiencing an opposite sort of feeling- I am ready to be immersed in a culture much different from my own. Am I nervous? Yes- a kind of healthy nervousness that comes before stepping outside your comfort zone. It is the driving force of my motivation; an addictive feeling that precedes the next big thing. The simplest way I can describe it is a mixture of excitement and uneasiness. All comfort and routine are lost and replaced with energetic confidence of a new situation.

How I found my job

About a year ago I stumbled over the opportunity to work as a nurse in Saudi Arabia. I was not dissatisfied at my current job. I was working on a neuro-specialty unit in Washington D.C. Washington D.C. is the city of motivation, diversity, and opinionated people; and I loved every part of it. Something about the demographic saturated by career hungry people made me take myself more seriously too. I had amazing support, fabulous coworkers and had been awarded “Nurse of the Year” for my unit. I drifted into a routine that is supposed to be the reward of finding confidence in the workplace, but I was itching for an adventure. A new challenging environment was calling. I took my job search to my laptop and quickly fell down the rabbit hole that is the internet.

I had only one pre-requisite for my job search: a location very culturally different. I looked into opportunities abroad to instruct yoga, teach English… maybe even work on an organic farm. Knowing the priority was to continue to learn more within the medical field, I reeled myself back in and sent feeler messages to companies and hospitals I stumbled across within nursing. Amidst my endless search I got a call from an employee of Helen Ziegler and Associates, one of the businesses to which I had sent my contact info. The company facilitates the process of sending nurses to the middle east. It was an opportunity I had never heard of before and immediately I was intrigued. She was informative without being pushy. Her friendliness was comfortable, and she was realistic from the beginning, telling me common challenges of being an expat in Saudi Arabia. A challenging opportunity was music to my ears.

Telling people

Statements I hear: ‘do you know how you will be treated as a woman over there?’, ‘it is dangerous, why don’t you work in Europe/Australia?’, ‘who put the idea of working in the middle east into your head?’, ‘…repressive culture’ or ‘…corrupt politics’. I got to the point of avoiding the conversation at all costs, trying to avoid the topic of career and work in general. Honestly, I had my own doubts and maybe I did not want their opinions to feed my own. But sometimes it just felt like an insult, as if their passive knowledge of Saudi Arabia being fed to them by the news somehow trumped the hours of research I had poured into what it was like to actually live there. I have read just about as much as any person can about living in Saudi Arabia. I follow current events of the region and chat with westerners who are actually living there. When I doubt myself, it has nothing to do with politics or culture.

My doubt creeps in when I think about leaving my friends and family. The words “lonely” and “isolated” drift in an out of my mind. I will be a long, indirect flight away from Pennsylvania, and it is inevitable the time difference will decrease my communication with the important people in my life. Leaving ones you love for personal growth is a hard decision and can feel selfish in a way. Two of my best friends are getting married this summer and I will miss their bachelorette parties and bridal showers. It is an added stressor to my parents lives, their only daughter on the other side of the world. We all have a responsibility to the people we love, and I could not leave without the support of my parents. They were hesitant in their initial reaction, but after their own research and a couple months, got on board. I believe we all have unique talents that drive us in certain directions. For me, I have always loved travel, cultures, languages and religion. I am not scared to enter into an unknown situation; rather, I’d prefer it. Many people do not feel the same way I do about living abroad, so I feel grateful to have this motivation in my personality.

Looking forward

I do not feel naïve to the challenges of living abroad. I am looking forward to the discomfort as I know it comes with the opportunity to broaden my perspective. I want to create my own opinion of the experience rather than believing what I think it would be like from the comforts of my hometown. People still believe that ‘Colombia is dangerous and filled with drug lords’, ‘Malaysia is swarming with terrorists’, and ‘you will get robbed at knifepoint in the Philippines’. Colombia, Malaysia, and the Philippines are all well-traveled countries that are safe so long as you are vigilante and responsible, as is the rule in every country-including the United States.

I have realistic expectations for living in Saudi Arabia. I am excited to find positives within a culture much different than my own and am ready to deal with the frustrations that also come with that. Being scared of regions, cultures, and religions different than our own is of centuries prior. The boom of technology within the past few decades has only increased the importance of a worldly mindset. We must lean into the diversity around the world and find what we can learn from others with excited nervousness, not fear.

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1 Comment

Ahmed Danial
Ahmed Danial
Feb 10, 2022

Enjoyed reading every word of it. I enjoy stories of foreigners living in Saudi Arabia, having lived in Jazan for a few years myself. I also loved your article on Farasan Islands.

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