Next Stop: Riyadh, Saudi Arabia!!!

Blog # 2

My flight leaves today!!!

Surprisingly, I’m not feeling as nervous as I thought I would feel. I have been networking through my blog, and through DavesESLCafe, and I have been able to meet quite a few people in Saudi Arabia already. Everyone is looking to help a fellow Expat, which is GREAT! I spoke with my recruiter this morning and she seems much more concerned about my well-being than she has been, which is a good sign. As she said, “I am a single woman and a huge responsibility”… As nice as that is (I almost feel important), it also shows just how dangerous it is for a single woman to be in Riyadh alone. If anything happens to me, her job would be on the line, and it would not only look awful for the company, but for the country as a whole.  Now that I have learned more about the company through other people’s experiences, I feel better about voicing my concerns and knowing what to expect. That’s why it’s important for future teachers looking to do this to check out my “Educate Yourself Page”, so they can feel confident starting with the interview, and all the way through the process.

The past couple of days have been a whirlwind of emotions though. With my sister passing away, saying goodbye to friends, flying half the day and staying alone in DC for a night, it’s been a little rough. Now is not the best time to leave, but since I’m working with a recruiting agency, I don’t really have a choice. I feel for my family and our loss, but I’ve decided to try to distance myself from the situation so that I can try to stay positive and optimistic. One of the hardest things about moving is your creating the best possible mindset for yourself. Everyone handles things differently, and for me, enclosing myself in my own sort of bubble (only talking with people who are positive and supportive) is what will keep me strong and secure in my decision to go through with this.

Good news:

I got to have dinner with my cousin Kimmy and Alijandra last night! It was great to spend time with family before leaving since I won’t be able to see other members before I go. I was all smiles J I also was able to Skype with my best friend, which was bittersweet, but at least technology gives us the opportunity to communicate face-to-face.

SMALL WORLD! As I’m waiting for my food to microwave at the hotel, I begin talking to a couple who are on their way out…. What are the chances that they are from Cassadaga, NY (also Jamestown and Williamsville), the husband works at a company from Evansville, IN (my second home), and they lived in Erie, PA for 16 years (My family lives in Erie)!!!! They also lived in Akron, Ohio (my best friend are form Ohio) Crazy!!! I love how connected we are to each other even though we are complete strangers.  Absolute sweeteharts ❤

I have met three women; they reside in Yanbu and Al Baha (Near Jeddah) Dammam (near Al Khobar) . Having women to visit in other cities will be great for my morale, and their experience in Saudi will do me wonders!

I have met 4 men in Riyadh (2 Americans , 1 Pakistani, and 1 Saudi) Some are more helpful than others, but all 4 men have great insight, and have given me important information about my company, the city, and culture. So far, things are looking up.

What to Expect:

I don’t have high expectations of my compound or the university I will be teaching at. It is possible that once I get to Riyadh I could be shipped out into the middle of the desert somewhere, but I’m praying that is not the case, and I stressed this concern with my recruiter this morning. She reassures me that she will get me to the location I desire as long as I am flexible and patient, but “flexible” and “patient” could very easily translate to headache and disappointment; so  like I said, trying not to expect too much, but also trying to avoid being taken advantage of. I hope since I am a single woman they will do their best to make me happy since it is rare that single women come to Saudi to teach. Normally, women come with their husbands and children, which means more money and arrangements on the recruitment side, and that’s a hassle. They should see me as valuable, or so I would hope… Ha!

I plan on changing into the Abaya an hour before my flight. I don’t want to wear the Hijab (the black face mask), but I have a black scarf to at least cover my hair and neck. It would be incredibly awkward to board a plane with women wearing the full dress and face cover and not at least be wearing something similar. It’s also much more respectful to wear what is culturally acceptable, even if I’m not in Saudi yet. I’ll post a picture below of me wearing it at the hotel though! It feels like a Halloween costume because it’s so abnormal from my usual clothing and its long sleeves so it’s hot!

I know that once I arrive in Riyadh I will be staying in a Hotel for a few days, or a few weeks. Hard to say. I assume that I won’t be in the hotel long though because as my recruiter says, it’s not ideal for me to be in the city alone. A compound would be much safer. At least in my hotel I will have plenty of time to continue networking, and to read up on the TEOFL exam, because that is what I will be teaching. It’s also nice that everything is paid for, so even though I will be stranded, I will at least be taken care of.

Once I get to Riyadh I will post a message on Facebook so you all know I have arrived safely! I’ll tell you all about the plane ride, airport, city, hotel, and further directions.  Insha’Allah!!! ( Arabic phrase for “Hopefully” “I don’t know” “If God may have it”)

Talk to you soon!ImageImage

Hate the way I look!!!!! Have to get used to it though!



Mental Preparation and a World of Patience

Working with a Recruiting Agency.

When I had my interview in November 2012, and they said I would be gone by Jan 11, 2013, I thought two months would be plenty of time to get my documents in order, say goodbye to family members, and to pack. Of course, nothing ever goes as planned, and if you want anything done right, you must do it yourself, ESPECIALLY WHEN WORKING WITH A RECRUITING AGENCY. Teachers beware: apply directly with schools if you can. Avoid agencies. You live and learn.

Keep in mind that every agency operate differently, but all have the same goal: to get you over there. Little information will be given to you, and they will make it sound like everything is easy-breezy. IT’S NOT. Before signing a contract, do the research. Find out everything you can about your recruiter from internet; read expat blogs, look up reviews, facebook people who have worked for the company and ask them questions about their experience. Be pro-active. While you are doing that, research  how to encounter negotiating a good contract. Don’t just settle for any contract. Know what you deserve, and ask for it. 

Here is an example of what you should be asking for (Teacher with bachelors degree and 1 year of classroom experience):

  • Salary: $11,000 riyals per month tax free
  • All accommodations included (apartment, travel to and from work, utilities)
  • Paid Airfare (there and back)
  • Summers off – this is important: you will be working for a University, although your recruiter won’t tell you that. All university instructors have the summer off (45-60 paid days leave) Be sure to have it written in your contract that you will have your summers off. If they refuse to do it, move on to a different agency. Don’t let them take advantage of you.
  • Visa costs – who is paying for the visa? Find out what they plan on paying for, and when they plan on paying it. Also, find out what type of visa it is, and what it includes… residency is important, as is making sure a multiple entry visa is part of the deal (travel purposes). I didn’t do this, so I have some negotiating to do when I get over there!
  • Residency Permit  VERY IMPORTANT. I didn’t know about this until now, and I really wish I had. You want a visa that says you are a resident so that they cannot take your passport when you arrive. If your visa says that you are a permanent resident, then there is absolutely no need for your employer to hold your passport. IT IS ILLEGAL FOR THEM TO DO SO anyways, however, if you arrive without a residency permit  then they need your passport to get one for you. If this does happen to you (as it will for me), be sure to make them promise you that they will return it. If they do not keep their word, and you have not received your passport back from them in a month, RAISE HELL. Let your director/manager know what is going on, and make sure that they know that you are very much aware that it is illegal for them to hold it (human trafficking), and demand to have it back, or you will go straight to the Ministries of Foreign Affairs or your Embassy. Your Embassy can’t do a whole lot for you, but they can put you in contact with people who can. That’s their job.
  • Bonus: every agency should offer you a bonus at the end of your contract, but just make sure you know how much it is, and when you’ll get it

Even with all these requests, remember that you are going to another country by sponsorship, meaning, all traveling outside KSA will need to be approved by your sponsor (employer). And honestly, it’s for your safety that your sponsor knows where you’re going and when you’ll be back. As long as you reassure them that you will be back, they shouldn’t have a problem with getting you an exit-reentry visa.

However, if you can’t get into a school directly, this is the process you will most likely encounter when working in Saudi Arabia:

Interview: quick and easy. They tell you that you can start in 2-4 weeks. What they really mean is 3 months.

Documents: be prepared to PAY FOR EVERYTHING that is required in obtaining a work visa. Once you arrive, you’ll get reimbursed, however, it’s a bug chunk of money, and takes weeks for certain documents to be approved, so don’t quit your day job!!! Your agency should walk you through the process of what you will need (and by walk you through I mean give you  a website with the list of requirements). What I found to be most time consuming and a real headache was having to send my University diploma to the Saudi Cultural Missions in order to be notarized, and wait for them to send it back so I could send all my documents to Washington, DC to obtain m work Visa. Most of the work was on me, and all they had to do was put a stamp on it. 

Life Lesson: People are lazy and are not getting paid to really help you. If you can learn to stay on top of things now (harass people until they get what you need done, or do the research so you can avoid certain outcomes), you’ll save yourself a lot of time and stress later! I waited 3 weeks for my diploma to be notarized– 1 week was wasted because no one told me a was missing a document (always call and check after you send things. They will not contact you right away if they need something else from you). A second week was wasted because a college employee didn’t feel like emailing the Saudi Cultural missions back about questions they had, nor could he pick up the phone and call me about questions that he had about my diploma. And a third week was wasted due to mail service–Unless you’re over-nighting everything and paying the big bucks, half your time will be spent waiting on FedEx. 

Quick Tip that you may not think of, but would want to know are:

  • Medical Licenses from your doctor are required, and should be included with all your Visa documents. I learned that Medical licenses can be found online. Just Google it. Took me about 20 minutes to find and print out. However, because I didn’t know it would be required (wasn’t on the list!), it added an extra 2 days to the process. Two days may not seem long, but when your patience is running thin from running around and doing all the work, 2 days really seems like 2 weeks.
  • Scan/copy every document that you have received and sent out. Because you will be working with several different people (Recruting agency, Abriggs Visa and passports, Saudi Cultural Missions, your University, Hospitals/doctor office, etc), it’s good to have everything on file so you can make copies when needed, and use for your own reference. Just get in the habit of every time you receive something, scan it. This helps you to STAY ORGANIZED as well.
  • Some places use ELECTRONIC SIGNATURES such as sheriff departments. So when you go to your local sheriff’s department to obtain your criminal background report, be sure to tell them that you need an ORIGINAL SIGNATURE on the document. Or, when you receive it in the mail, just sign it yourself before scanning, printing, and sending it in.   They won’t know who signed it, just as long as they is a “real” signature.
  • The Embassy and Abriggs is very picky about original copies. You will need a copy of all documents, but be prepared to send them the originals of everything you have. Nothing can be photocopied (except for the second set of copies they ask for). For example, you will need 3 original copies of the medical report you have to print and have the doctor fill out… even though all three copies are exactly alike, and it seems like a good idea to simply make copies of the first report, don’t waste your time. Your doctor must fill out all three reports even though they are exactly the same. To make it easier on your doctor, just have him fill out the parts that you can’t fill in yourself, such as his signature, his license number etc.
  • Also, your doctor will not know what the embassy expects from the medical report unless he/she has done it before. You’ll both probably be new at this. Just remember this: ALL LAB REPORTS MUST BE DONE (blood and stool), and you must get a CHEST X-RAY, along with a normal physical (eye exam by your doctor included). The total costs for the medical part was about $500 for me, but I’m sure it varies, and if you have health insurance from your current employer, I’m sure it won’t cost as much for you. Keep in mind that you must save and scan all receipts so you can be reimbursed by your recruiter.
  • Once you receive the visa, you will get all original documents back, except they will have stamps on them. That’s another reason why it’s important to scan everything BEFORE you send it to DC. 
  • When working with Saudi people, understand that they work at their own pace, and they give you very little information. You may not hear from them for a month, and what may seem urgent to you is not a concern to them, but as long as you are doing what you need to do, it’s okay. These are cultural differences that you just have to remember and prepare for. Always be one step ahead by doing your research, reading blogs of people who have already gone through the experience, and educating yourself. 
  • Mentally prepare yourself for a 3-4 month wait, and start collecting your documents BEFORE they even ask you to. You know what you will need (I posted a website below that lists everything you need), so just do start the process yourself. If you know something may take a couple weeks to process, make that your first priority, and then while it’s processing you can go ahead and do the little things like passport photos, background check, etc. I think as long as you know that the process takes at least 3 months, you’ll be in much better shape than most people who embark on this journey, and you can plan a road map with as little stress as possible.

Telling Family and Friends about your new adventure! Do so now, rather than later!

This is the fun part… Because I am a young, single woman, it is not particularly favorable that I live in a country in which women have no rights or freedom outside their home. Also, everything you consider “fun” in the states is banned, which is not idea for people in my age group. Most people who have not left the United States only associate the middle east with terrorism and war, so as you can expect my family was not happy with the idea of me teaching in what they consider to be a “war zone”, and in a country where people are stoned to death, and women have to wear black clothing so that only their eyes show through their mask. I can understand their confusion and perhaps frustration with my decision. However, always remember that there are two sides to every story, and hundreds of teachers are currently employed in Saudi-both male and female-and absolutely love it. My advice to you: STRESS TO YOUR FAMILY ALL THE POSITIVES! Show them videos of life on the compound. Explain how safe a compound really is, and all the amenities they offer. The salary and travel benefits of Saudi are some of the best in the world… when I sat in the teacher’s lounge and heard my friend’s story about her life in Saudi, and how incredible her life there was, I was in absolute Awe. People had thousands of dollars saved up in their villa. Families spent days by the pool tanning, bonding, and working out. Neighbors were like family, and they took care of each other; sounds a little like the 50’s when America sported the image of white picket fenced suburbia right? But it’s real. I never thought it would be possible to make a tax free salary for $3,000 a month (at my age and with only 1 year of teaching experience), have all living expenses basically paid for, travel for vacation since I would actually have money available to spend, and meet some awesome people from around the world. I WAS IMMEDIATELY SOLD, and eventually, you’ll sell you’re family and friends on it too. Just have some faith. After several months, the idea has finally sunk in, and my family is on board. The three months that it will take for your visa to be processed, will also be needed for your family and friends to adjust to such a radical life style change. You’ll be thankful that you have the time to slowly prepare and start adapting.

It is now February 25th, 2013 and I have sold everything I own. My life has been reduced to 3 suitcases (2 small cases and 1 large duffle bag) and a tote for my carry on purse! My cats are staying with a friend in the States–she’s simply the best–and I am now mentally preparing for the cultural shock that is about to come my way,a although I feel very blessed to have such great friends and connections who are here to help me along my way.

It has been quite the struggle to reach this point, and everything I have shared above are all things I have learned along the way. Adjusting to how Saudi people think and act sometimes felt like a I was banging my head against the wall. Literally. When they booked my place and told me I would be staying at an airport in DC for 26 hours, and then staying at hotel in Riyadh alone rather than being taken to my compound where it is safely guarded  I nearly lost it and called it all off. But, as my best friend says, “It’ll all work out”, and she has been right about that thus far. Thanks to my inconvenient flight, I now have time to spend with one of my favorite cousins who lives just 30 minutes from the airport–Kimmy–who I haven’t seen since the end of summer!!! Very excited! There is a rhyme and reason for everything!

I have not had the best of luck with my recruiter, Al Khaleej Training and Education, so at this point I would not recommend them to future teachers. I’m hoping that once I arrive I can retract this statement, and tell everyone how much I love my life in Saudi, and that the initial process was simply a fluke… Time will tell!

I will keep you all updated and posted!!!

Talk to you soon,