A Month of New in a Nutshell

I has been over a month since I’ve written an entry (I’ve been in the KSA for 2 and a half months now), so it’s about time I update you!

Let me start with my teaching experiences. For the first 3 weeks I did nothing but observe and meet new teachers which allowed me to find my place and settle into the University. The first week was revision week for the girls (study time); the following week we had a holiday ( 1 week vacation); and the third week was exams. Finally, after a month I began teaching! I took over and started Unit 4 (taught up until unit 7) with a co-teacher, Comelite (South African who also lives on our compound). We split our class in half so that she taught reading and writing for two hours, and I taught listening and speaking for two hours. Our girls major in English Translation and Linguistics, so I was blessed to have them. Not only did I only have a class of 30 –some teachers have a class of 50—but they are advanced, attentive and dedicated to learning (most of them). They very much welcomed me with open arms and we immediately bonded. Comelite is also a pleasure to work with because she lets me do my own thing as a new teacher—no pressure. I feel like I can develop my craft without being scrutinized or watched. Teaching is a breeze for the most part; it’s like I’ve been here for months. Now that I’m teaching and doing what I love, I feel that I can finally call Tabuk my second home, and really settle in. I’ve formed my routine—my purpose here.

The girls are quite juvenile. It doesn’t have a university feel at all—more of a high school really. They are fairly immature and lazy, and even though they are polite in a gentle, innocent sort of way, they lack many of the manners that I think westerners have. These girls have been secluded for so long that when they arrive at school they view it as more of a social networking tool than as a means of developing their minds and growing as young women. Most of my students don’t actually have any real desire to work after college, and if they do work it is of Allah’s doing, not their own (this is what they say to me). The students are paid by the government to go to school here, so this is their job. By the time they finish school, 75% of them will be married with a baby on the way, and will become housewives. Even though I know that most of the students I teach will do nothing with what I teach them, it’s still fun and exciting for me. I enjoy interacting and learning with them, and I hope that my passion and enthusiasm will in some ways stick with them as they move on from the PYP (preparatory year program).

As we wrapped up the semester, my students threw Comelite and I a party! We had cake, sweets, breads, and grape leaves filled with rice (I can’t remember the Arabic name for them). They also bought us both a bouquet of flowers, and an English copy of the Quran. We sang, danced, and talked about our cultures and traditions. It was a great way to end the year and wish them the best of luck in the future.

Outside of school, I have quickly acquired more friends from other compounds. I have spent a lot of time getting to know Craig, Christine and baby Jon on the British compound—they have been an absolute blessing. I love having them around and spending time with them in Tabuk. I have also met more people on the American compound, and have had dinner their several times. The men host dinner parties once a month and I was lucky enough to have been invited—they know how to cook!!! They also offered to order me some American products (food) that they are able to get shipped from the states, such as blue cheese so I can make my Buffalo Chicken Wing dip! We also had a birthday party for Izzi which was a lot of fun but ended a bit messy (too much to drink). Since my last entry I have been to two new places: Sharma Beach where I snorkeled in the Red Sea, and Aqaba, Jordan which was amazing!!! Just about every weekend I am busy on other compounds or traveling to somewhere new. I’m really making the most of my time here. Aqaba was brilliant! The coastline, night clubs, restaurants, and the people were all fantastic. From the rooftop bar we could see the city of Eilak in Israel, Egypt, and downtown Aqaba. REAL ALCOHOL!!! No more of the fake poison that is brewed on the compounds…I’m saving my drinking for when we leave the country (unless of course it’s a special occasion)! We didn’t do any shopping, but we did go dry driving in the Red Sea, and enjoyed the sights. It was such a freeing feeling to be able to walk around without an abaya, and have restaurants to choose from so close by. The people were all so friendly and helpful! We met several Americans who were visiting for the weekend as well—some from Amman, and a few marines from a small town up the coast. We exchanged contact info with the men staying in Amman, and hopefully we will visit them next month so we will have a place to crash and good people to hang out with! We also had real Sushi and Italian food!!! It was so good…In Tabuk there aren’t a whole lot of choices…just Arabic food — although I did have breakfast at a Pakistani restaurant with Nermine (another teacher at the university) which was deliciously satisfying. I’ll be sure to go back to Romeros every time we go to Aqaba!  I couldn’t have been happier with my stay. Greg, Sally and I had a wonderful time, and hopefully we will return again soon!

This coming weekend we start our diving training. In two weeks I will be a certified diver (Inshalah)!!!! I also had my first experience at a Saudi hospital…it actually wasn’t as bad as I was anticipating…I was quite scared to go alone, so Sally came with me. I fell down the stairs at night school –Oh yes, I started teaching at a night school for extra money, although they don’t pay right away. Everyone says it takes a few months to get paid after you finish the 8 week contract— The hospital was clean and modern. Almost all the workers were Philippine or of some other ethnicity besides Saudi. I got an x-ray of my ankle to make sure nothing was seriously damaged (I was hurting pretty bad), and they gave me a ton of medicine for the pain. 3 Boxes of pain killers….I’m only using the one box…the other 2 are just unnecessary. Thankfully everything was fine and nothing was broken or seriously injured. The muscle was just swollen from the ankle twisting, and I’m sure all the exercising with Sally (our new diet and workout plan) put stress on it throughout the week. I have to take an easy on it so I won’t jump right back into my gym routine—just swim (although I danced in Aqaba and it actually seemed to help it).

What a month!!! Things have really blossomed here in Tabuk, and the more time I spend with my new found friends and travel the better it gets here. Sally and I have grown closer this past month, and we want to go to Korea to teach together. We might also go to Africa for the summer vacation, or perhaps I’ll take her to the States with me… money is an issue right now because Al Khaleej hasn’t made it clear if they will issue us our plane tickets as promised. We haven’t been here that long, so they are saying that I shouldn’t receive a ticket yet, but in my contract it states that at the end of my contract I should be given my ticket, and the end of the academic year is the end of my contract. In a few weeks the academic year will end, and my contract will be up despite the fact that I have only been here a few months… I should find out this week what will be given to me which will determine my summer plans.

Right now I’m really focusing on my health. Weight loss and building muscle is a priority – I’ve gained 8 lbs since I came here!!! The food is so sweet and fattening, and we sit around at work all day and eat (the women are always bringing in food), and even during the week the only exercise we get takes place at the gym. I’m also making a point to try to be more conscience of saving money so Sally and I can travel like we want. Ambitious, I know, but we will do it! I’m hoping to go to Dubai (UAE) for my birthday!

I’ll upload more pics as soon as I can…I’m at at work now… Greg has a much better camera than I do, so I’m waiting to steal some of his pictures!!! Oh we also have 2 new people on the compound, so I’m no longer the newbie!!! Laticea from America, and Steven from South Africa! The more the merrier here.

I will honestly try to not go an entire month without writing again, but if I’m not writing then that means I’m busy having fun and making memories! The Middle East really is something special and worth exploring. The desert is beautiful with all of the rock formations, mountains and the sea in the background. It’s full of culture and history. The people are friendly and the food is delicious. I wish I could bring my friends and family to show them that I’m not in a war-zone and that even though the cultural norms are different, at the end of the day we are all human, and that will always bring us together. I feel more relaxed than I’ve felt in years… there is no stress here… no pressure. There are things here that may make you feel as if you are oppressed (the clothes, censorship, inability to drive, and utter lack of choices), but the simplistic, idiotic way of life here is mentally and emotionally freeing (at least for me). In many ways you can’t take work seriously because it’s backwards and illogical; the compound life style is very much like a resort type of setting—no bills; and the ease of travel makes the entire experience seem exciting and new, even when your days and weeks in the KSA become redundant.

Looking forward to diving this weekend! Off to plan and get ready for night school….talk to you all soon!

—Kitty

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This article is from Chiara Fucarino. Enjoy!

Disclaimer: This article is not intended to address those with clinical depression or other mental illnesses.

happinessThere are two types of people in the world: those who choose to be happy, and those who choose to be unhappy. Contrary to popular belief, happiness doesn’t come from fame, fortune, other people, or material possessions. Rather, it comes from within. The richest person in the world could be miserable while a person living in the slums of a third world country could be happy and content. I have spent plenty of time amongst both groups to have seen it first hand. Happy people are happy because they make themselves happy. They maintain a positive outlook on life and remain at peace with themselves.

The question is: how do they do that?

It’s quite simple. Happy people have good habits that enhance their lives. They do…

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I’m Free As a Bird…On the Compound!

Hello Hello!!!!

Sorry for the delay in blogging… I know you’re just dying to hear what life on the compound is like…

To put it simply, it’s as if you’re on vacation 24/7, and getting paid for it. It’s that random trip you took to Vegas, when you befriended absolute strangers, and instantly had yourself a party to remember. I’m sure for others, this may not be the case, but that’s how it feels to me.

The compound has a swimming pool, tennis court, basketball hoops, a theater room, pool table, gym, sauna, and a hot tub that lacks heat—but I’ve bugged Ali (manager of compound?) about it every day and I’m hoping it gets fixed…soon. The dynamics of the compound are probably the most fascinating, both socially and physically; there is the family section, single ladies section, and male section. Tracy and I are in the family section (not sure why), and the rest of gang (as I call us) are on the other side of the compound. It’s a 2 minute walk from side-to-side, but no one from the “singles” side makes the trip to our side. Also, the families don’t come out of their house… ever. Our area looks deserted, aside from a few bicycles hanging out on the side walk. Only two single ladies come outside to socialize, and three or four of the men will join us as well… That’s eight out of maybe thirty people who actually socialize and take part in activities on the compound… And seven people for me to see and interact with everyday. Just seven. Lucky for me, each of them are unique characters that I thoroughly enjoy spending time with. We are all very different, but living together with such limited options is an immediate way to bond and form relationships; I’ve only been here a week and a half now, but I feel like I’ve known these people for months. Strange how that happens.

So what do we do? We’re all usually done working by 5 (work is a piece of cake—easiest job thus far in my teaching career), and mostly everyone besides Jim, Tracy and I nap after work… for a few hours the compound is quiet and desolate. But usually I’ll seek Jim out and we’ll play tennis, pool, or just hang out and unwind from work. Izzi has a jeep and can drive, so he’ll usually suggest going out to eat, or running into town for something which is nice—gives us something to do. He took us to this one section of Tabuk which was full of small shops and restaurants—a bit grungy looking, but intriguing at the same time—so I bought a black skirt for work, had it hemmed for $3, and then we ate at a Pakistani restaurant, which was delicious. Another day he took us to an authentic Arabic restaurant where you can either sit outside and eat, or choose a small hut filled with pillows and a carpet to sit on. Since we’re westerners, we sit inside the hut, which gives me the freedom of taking the abaya off and relaxing. The food is dirt cheap, and afterwards you can order a Hookah for dessert. Sometimes you sort of have to be creative to pass the time here… One night we started drinking, blind folded ourselves, and competed with one another to see who could find the designated villa first. It was actually rather fun, aside from stubbing my foot on the curb, and Greg getting wacked in the eye from Jim’s blind fold when he took it off. We play spades, make fires and listen to music. We had a few movie nights in the theater room, and a UFC night. I’d like to think that I take advantage of everything here on the compound; I’m almost never bored—everything I enjoy doing is available here—and there is usually someone to do something with. It’s an easy adaption, and for all of you who think I’m crazy for being, I think you’re crazy for not taking advantage of such an awesome opportunity to make easy money and meet some great people!

Last weekend Sally, Jim, and Izzi created a “sports day” which was actually more of a family friendly kids day. We made a piñata for them to beat, had arts and crafts set up, and designed a treasure hunt for them. Everyone brought food and mingled. It’s definitely something we should try to do once a month so we get to know everyone on the compound, not just a few faces. We have to mix things up a bit or we’ll go stir crazy here (at least I will). I’m in charge of setting up “top chef on the compound”…that will be our event in our April.

Sally and I talked to one of the managers here about setting up a monthly trip for us to get off the compound, and he seemed to be all for it, but from what I hear enthusiasm is usually trumped by laziness, and nothing actually changes, or gets done on the compound. Perhaps since most of us are young and active, fresh blood, we’ll be able to change that. Inshallah! I was able to meet a couple from the British compound, Craig and Christine, who are friends of Izzi and sometimes come to our compound to hang out and drink (Chrisitne used to live her euntil she married Craig). We hit it off nicely and they invited me to their compound for dinner and to meet a scuba diving instructor so I can get certified.

On the British compound, they have several restaurants (loved the Thai restaurant), a few bars, a spa, a medical center, football field, mini golf course, an elementary school and day care, a massive gym, and I’m sure other facilities that I don’t know of. The security is high too since it’s actually a military compound, so that was neat to see. Loved the massive machine guns pointed at us as we drove through the checkpoints…The dive instructor said we could plan for the certification in May (it’s a 2 weekend process—one weekend in the pool, one weekend at the beach), and then I’ll be good to go! The certification is only 1,500 riyals, which is about $430 US dollars. Not bad. Christine said she would take me to get a wet suit and any of the other equipment necessary, and we’re going to plan a trip to the beach to go snorkeling before the actual dive session. I’m sure the whole gang will want to come too, so it’ll be a party on the beach!

Right now we are all on vacation (1 week off due to midterms?), so everyone has pretty much left the compound to go travel. Since I don’t have my Iqama or passport back yet, I have to stay here. I’m pretty lucky though; I’ve made friends quickly so I have options, and I’m not just stuck here on the compound while everyone else is gone. I’m going back to the British compound today, and Christine and I made an appointment to go to the Spa this week. Craig said he wanted to take us out to the desert this week too, which will be fun.

I probably won’t write as much as I was… Just once a week. There isn’t a whole lot to tell, but I should have at least one interesting story or event to report back on from the week! Like I said, we are all active and want to take full advantage of our time here, so I’m sure I’ll have stories to tell. I’ll post pictures of the compound, and when everyone returns I’ll try to get some snap shots of the faces you’ll soon know all too well from these blogs.

Miss you all! Summer break starts in July J Vegas with my girls, Arizona (Wendy and Dan!), New York, and I’m definitely going to go to another country for a week! I should have 6-8 weeks off if they don’t make us work summer school… If they do, then I’ll just have 4 weeks… but we’ll see what happens!

I’ll post my address on Facebook for those of you who want it!

Little Miss.

The Weekend.

Wednesday.

Not sure if I mentioned this in my last blog or not, but, plans changed again and I’m going to Tabuk! I’m happy about that =) Two British teachers for Al Khaleej came to visit for the weekend from Ha’il, and I drilled them about all the schools and compounds. They said Tabuk had a nice compound, and the city is like a mini Riyadh. They said I’ll be really happy there, especially since I’m closer to the ocean and the borders of other countries. Talking to them made me feel a lot better. They seem happy, and satisfied with the company—they’ve been with Khaleej for a year—although they did say that the longer you stay in Saudi the nuttier you get…. Haha.

I met a new teacher (another Egyptian) who gave me some food to try that she brought from home. It tasted like pastry bread, and at first I didn’t really like it (tasted plain), but the more I ate the more addicting it became. She offered me cheese to go with it, which looked curdled, and when I smelled it I knew immediately that I probably wouldn’t like it, but I tried.. It was very sour, like Feta cheese that was left out in the sun for a few days. No good!!!! Then we had some rice and chicken, but the insides of the chicken (intestine and liver) were served nicely on the platter too. Really freaked me out. There was also a green pepper, which I thought was a sweet green pepper because I asked her if it tasted sweet and she said yes. Excited for something normal, I took a big bite…. Yeap! Not sweet at all…. It was most definitely a hot chili pepper. I immediately started coughing, tears rolled down my cheek, and I ran to the fridge for water. She laughed and laughed as I tried to regain myself. I couldn’t eat anymore. She decided to lay down and take a nap after lunch, so I went downstairs and chatted with Ahmed.

Riyadh 003   Riyadh 002   Riyadh 001    Riyadh 004  (Fresh Dates)

Ahmed and I made plans to meet up at midnight for a tutoring session, and also for the following night to see a new place in Riyadh. After hanging with him, Amir finally showed up to the hotel…. And Guess what he showed up with? A NEW PHONE!!!  FOR ME!!!! And not just any phone, but an awesome Nexus 4, which is just like the Iphone =) SCORE!!! I couldn’t believe it. I still can’t believe it. It’s so incredibly nice of him to do that for me. After we played with our phones and got it all set up, we went out to the pool for a BBQ with both Mohammads, and had chicken and beef, hummus, and salad. Delicious! A new teacher from the states (Tracy, from Seattle, Washington) arrived, so I brought her downstairs to join us and introduced to her everyone; she fit right in. We stayed by the pool for a good minute, and then went inside to tutor Ahmed. After about an hour of tutoring, we called it a night. It was a long day full of surprises!

Thursday (which is the start of our weekend, like Saturday), we had breakfast with Ahmed and Mohammed at the croissant shop across the street, and then afterwards I went for a drive with Amir to Tamimi (a grocery store known for having all sorts of American brands), and then we went to Wadifa, which is an area outside the city where palaces and really nice homes are. It was a nice scenic drive, and gave me the chance to see what was outside the city—mostly just desert and beautiful homes Lol. At around two, Tracy and I caught a cab and went to the mall. I thought I would think it was weird walking around the mall with everyone wearing black and white, and the women’s faces being covered, but it really wasn’t strange at all. I’m not sure if I’m just accustomed to the culture already, or if it’s natural, but I didn’t mind it at all. No culture shock. We actually went to two malls because they were beside each other; the malls are incredible: shopping paradise!!! They have every store you can imagine, and some of the shops have the most beautiful dresses I’ve ever seen. I don’t know where I would even wear them to, but I want one! I tried to find a new abaya for myself, but I didn’t have much like. They were either too expensive for what I was wanted to pay,  or just not my style (yes, these black dresses have style!!!). We stayed at the mall until about 5:30, and then headed back to the hotel to meet Ahmed.

He took us to a park in South Riyadh. It is called Salaam Park. It was after dark, but everything was lit up; kids were playing on the playgrounds, families were sitting on blankets eating and chatting, there were carnival rides, a small lake/pond with motor boats, and live entertainment for the kids. It was really something special. I ran around with Ahmed’s kids and played tag; we played on the swings and slides; and we tried some new food (of course) and had coffee. Ahmed’s wife is so kind. She can barely speak English, but she did everything she could to make us feel welcome and to get to know us better. It was probably the best night I had all week. Nothing makes me happier than playing with kids and feeling like I’m part of a family, especially one as gracious as Amhed’s. I’m so lucky to be surrounded by good people, and he’ll be a friend I never lose contact with.

Riyadh 014  Fatume, Tracy and I      Riyadh 008  A show for the kids

I came home, exhausted, showered and went to bed. Another long day.

Today, I woke up in a bit of a slump, but got ready for yet another BBQ by the pool.

poolside Mohammed grilling for us!

Not sure why the slump, probably because my bed feels like a hard floor so I don’t sleep that well… who knows. I want to go to Tabuk already!!! I mean I love Riyadh and my friends here, but trying to find patience and enjoying my time off is killing me…and I feel like I’m getting settled into my life here in Riyadh, and Riyadh isn’t where I’ll be calling home for the next 10 months. This is not how I operate… I’m so used to just going and getting things done. I want to teach already! I don’t like waiting on other people, or just waiting at all… LOL. I’m shaking my head at myself and chuckling. I reread what I’m saying and a part of me just thinks I sound crazy. I should really stop worrying and overanalyzing the situation. I’m incredibly lucky. I’m very much enjoying my time here, and it really doesn’t even seem weird that I’m in another country. My friends here have already made me feel like this is a place I could call home if I wanted… which is strange in a way. I’ve only been here a week, but it feels like months, as if I’ve been doing this all along. (Don’t worry, I still miss all you crazy people back home in the states!!! ❤ )

Inshallah. I do hope Saudi teaches me some much needed patience.

I downloaded an app on my phone t help me learn Arabic. I’m going to try to be fluent (or at least semi-fluent) by summer. Everyone says it’s easy to learn, but we’ll see. I bought an Abaya today with yellow/pink embroidery. It’s pretty. I’ll be sure to post a pic of me in it soon! Not much else to report… Hopefully tomorrow—the start of the work week—I’ll have more news.

Amir and his friend are supposed to be stopping by later for the radio interview… that’ll be neat… other than that I’m just going to cool it. Relax and listen to my music. Maybe teach myself some Arabic. J

–Buttonface

A Normal Day in Riyadh…

I have had the opportunity of going to a local’s home today! He works at the hotel as a receptionist/security guard, and is from Chad. His name is Ahmed. I didn’t go alone, another teacher came with me, and it was such a great experience! He lives in south Riyadh, about twenty minutes from our hotel. I didn’t know what to expect, but when we walked into his home I was in awe. It was dark, with 2 sitting rooms, 2 bedrooms, a bathroom, and a small kitchen. I’ll do my best to paint the picture:

The house was dark, with only a few lights on. Incents were burning, like the smell of a sauna. To the left was a small sitting room, and it was similar to a black room. Black, shimmery curtains hung down from the wall; giant, overstuffed pillows sat around the perimeter of the room; the glow of the room was soft in contrast to the hard black carpet, and there was no furniture to sit on. Instead, the black, white, and silver pillows were what we lounged on. There was a large LCD T.V hanging on the wall, 3 shelves with candles, and that was it. We sat down on the floor and chatted with his wife (she couldn’t speak English so Muhammad had to translate), as well as met his 4 children. They were adorable!!! After our introductions we were given a tour of the home. Outside the sitting room, you walked into another sitting room with a couch, and to the left was the children’s bedroom. The kids stayed in a brightly painted pink room with two beds, and two dressers. To the right of the second sitting room were a small kitchen and bathroom, and the second bedroom. Muhammad’s and Fatuma’s bedroom was beautiful. The walls were lined with gold curtains that glimmered in the light, and the furniture was all black. The home was humble, but culturally majestic. They immediately felt like an extension of my family.

The kids were fascinated by us. Muhammad said that he thinks I am the first white person they have seen. They liked shaking my hand over and over again LOL. I used my scarf and played peek-a-boo with the youngest girl. She had the sweetest laugh. The other children came in and out of the room to check up on us while we mingled, but none were as interactive as the youngest. They learn English at school, but Muhammad said that they have no one to practice their English with. Once they leave school, they either speak their native language at home or Arabic in the streets. Because of this, they don’t maintain the English they have learned, so they can only speak a few words.

Fatuma cooked us lunch—rice, lamb, and salad, and for the first time I had plain yogurt as a drink! They call it milk here, but it was definitely just a thin yogurt. It was good, but very filling so I couldn’t finish it. They kept offering me more food, and said that I needed to fatten up, but I was stuffed! After lunch we had mint green tea, and talked. Fatuma had to leave us because one of her friends was in labor. I can’t wait to hear details.

Ahmed's home 009 Ahmed's home 008 Ahmed's home 005 Ahmed's home 004 Ahmed's home 003

 

The one in the overalls is the “trouble maker” as Ahmed says. The first two pictures are the outside of their home. And the pictures of all of us were taken in the second sitting room, and the picture of just the youngest is in the “black room” (as I call it)  — WONDERFUL family!!!

We had to leave at 6pm because I had a meeting with the WSI recruiter, which went very well!!! He said that for my age my resume was impressive, and I show much promise. He was also happy that I already knew what the Wall Street method of teaching was, and what to expect. Since the branch doesn’t open for another six months, he will keep my contact info, and then get in touch and send me my offer letter. I haven’t even been here a week and another school is interested!!! Love having options.

After the meeting I went to a French restaurant with Amir which was nice; we sat in the “family” section which mostly consisted of women, but there were two Saudi men with their wives. In case I didn’t mention this before, almost all restaurants have a “single” section, for men, and a “family” section for families (or in our case, westerners). Some restarants are for “sing;es” only, meaning only men can go to them, such as the Mc Donalds up the road. We stayed there until about 10pm, and then I took a taxi home.

Now I am in my room, exhausted.

I have been fortunate to meet many people here, however, sometimes the amount of information I get can be overwhelming. It’s helpful to hear stories from other people, but it also makes me feel conflicted about the choices I’m making, which makes making a choice that much harder. As a result, I decided to go to Tabuk instead of Qassim. I have heard good things about both places, and although the compound might be nicer in Qassim, I want to be near the ocean (the red sea) and closer to other countries so I can travel (Eqypt and Jordan are on the border). I’m here to strengthen my mind and body, travel, and make the money… Tabuk will give me that.

Well, off to bed! See you in the morning.

–Mittens

Inshallah.

Tuesday March 5, 2013 à Staying at this hotel with not a whole lot to do is making me forget what day of the week it is, and the actual date… Had to remind myself! As of now, I’m getting paid to be a tourist for a week… not too bad.

I spoke with my director today, and he said that if I want a compound with luxury, and a university to teach at, then Al Qassim would be best for me… “Sigh”

From my understanding, Al Qassim is a providence of Saudi Arabia… There are several towns and a city within it, but it is mostly an agricultural area. My friends from Riyadh say that it is very traditional, historic, and old. I read in a news article that it is the most conservative region in Saudi Arabia. Natives in Qassim don’t exactly welcome westerners like they would in Riyadh, Jeddah, or Khobar… Even Tabuk or Yanbu (smaller cities on the west coast) would be more inviting than Al Qassim. I suppose that is why the compound is supposed to be so nice… Not supposed to leave it! I’ll be about three and half hours North of Riyadh, which isn’t too bad since I have friends there that I can visit now, and there is a regional airport that I can fly out of if  want to go to Jeddah or Al Khobar to sight see.

All of us teachers at the hotel or slowly getting shipped out. The men first. Next, us ladies. All the guys are going to the East Coast – Dammam, Khobar, and Jabail. LUCKY!!!! These places are really beautiful, and western friendly!!! I raised hell when I found out that Michael was not only placed in Khobar, but would be staying on an Aramco! Talk about getting the best of the best placements. The director said that it was an all male project, and that is why I couldn’t get placed there, but I told him if I found out otherwise from either Michael or other teachers in that area, he would be the first to hear about it. “Inshallah, the next female position in Khobar is yours” he says to me. Have faith in him.” Yeah… I’m getting sent to the sticks, and the males get sent to the East Coast. Nice. At least I have my compound.

Yesterday I had a free day since I skyped with the director rather than going to his office. Bob introduced our gang to his friend—can’t remember his name L who drives him around when he is here in Riyadh on business. His friend is Syrian, and is the regional manager of Tommy Hilfiger in Riyadh. He offered to drive Michael and I went to the Diplomatic Quarters, which was such a neat experience. It’s HUGE!!! There are a few mini parks (basically like rock sculpture parks), one green larger park (although we didn’t get to it until after sunset so the pictures didn’t come out), and a running/walking trail that goes around the perimeter of the Quarters. The trail is made of rocks and sand, and it overlooks what seems like a mini canyon. There is a barbed wire fence along the trail for the embassy’s protection as well. When we were walking the embassy police drove by patrolling. It reminded me of the border police because they only drive around the perimeter of the embassy. At the quarters we saw all the embassies (a few were throwing parties), and when we climbed this hill we could see the entire city of Riyadh. We also saw one of the Prince’s palace, which was huge and very elaborate. Did I mention I didn’t have to wear my Halloween costume either??? Talk about feeling free for the day!!! At the embassies, you can wear whatever you want. I got to bathe in sun!!! It reminded me of being at home, hiking with friends. It’s interesting how clothes can make you feel a certain way. You don’t really think about it when you’re out shopping, or at work, or just doing your normal day-to-day activities, but here you recognize it. I felt free with the abaya off, but as soon as it was dark and we were running into more people at the embassy, I wanted nothing more than to put the abaya back on, and become indivisible to man’s perverted eye. Around 7pm we caught a cab back to the hotel and met up with the others.

I almost fell asleep (walking around for 5 hours in the sun, and pulling an all-nighter the night before drained me), but then everyone decided to go out to dinner, and I was starving, so I dragged myself out of bed. We went to an Indian restaurant nearby, which was okay, but I think the Indian food I had in Florida with my family was better. Since it was the guy’s last night they wanted to stay up and hang out, but I said “peace out I’m tired” and went to bed. I could barely keep my eyes open.

Today I am supposed to meet with a recruiter from WSI (Wall Street Institute) which is a language school. This is actually the school I was offered a position at in Turkey (they have several branches in different countries), but since I decided to stick it out here (the money is just too good to turn down), I decided to meet with the recruiter for the branch here in Riyadh. The woman’s branch won’t open for another 6 months, but it doesn’t hurt to make connections and have options for later in case this Al Qassim gig sucks. After that, Amir and I are going to this French restaurant for dinner which should be fun. I might go to the mall today (Bob’s friend offered to take me anywhere I wanted), or just walk around the city with the girls to sight see some more and take pictures. It sucks that I can’t walk around alone and that I have to depend on the others girls to do things. But at least wherever I go I’ll have someone to talk to!

I’ve learned here in Saudi that for every negative there is a positive adjoining it. It’s a very bittersweet country, and I really do like it a lot already. The city is so old, yet incredibly modern. When we drive around and I look at all the buildings I’m just in awe. The sea of people here are so diverse it’s amazing. Everyone is from everywhere, and they are all so nice. It’s not like in America where we are so go go go, and everyone is out for himself; here, time is nothing to them, nor is money, and hospitality is a priority. A spoke to a British woman yesterday and she said at first she didn’t like how nice everyone was, and that it was really hard for her to get used to. Think about that… not liking how nice people are… and finding kindness hard to get used to. Just doesn’t sound right does it? But that’s really how it is. I don’t have to open a door, pay for my meals, or ask to be helped. People here just offer, and are offended when I say “no, that’s okay I got it” … It’s much easier to embrace the culture here, than to fight it. It also feels really good to be taken care of here, especially when I was stressing so much about my teaching placement, and what to expect from Al Khaleej.

Speaking of Khaleej—a friend forwarded an email to me from this guy who used to work for AL Khaleej in 2011. He said that the company was terrible because it didn’t offer housing to the male teachers, and the female teachers were put up in these crappy apartments (probably the same ones I was shown), and that they lost a lot of the teachers they had employed because of it. He said that since then, the company has made a lot of changes, and it slowly getting better. He also said that in comparison to other stories he heard about teachers in different companies, he learned to appreciate Al Khaleej. I think what I’ve noticed about this company is that they don’t really see the value of teachers, nor do they separate teachers by race, which is actually very different than most companies. Amir said that everyone here is judged by their race—it’s one f the first things you ask someone when you meet. I came here thinking I should get the best of the best because I am a female American teacher with good experience, but this company just sees me as another teacher recruited, whereas other companies who know that Saudi’s prefer the American accent, and understand that it’s hard to keep women teachers here, would be much more appreciative. Due to these recruiting agencies, Al Khaleej can replace teachers almost instantaneously, they just can’t keep them. Hopefully, they will learn that it’s better to give more to the teachers in return for them staying, and growing with the company.

Everything seems to be looking up though, and I’ve relaxed. Even though Qassim will be a radical change from city life in Riyadh, I know I’ll make the best of it. I always do. It’s 8:45am and my stomach is growling… time for some breakfast!

I will post pics of yesterday under the “Saudi Pics” page….

Hope everyone who is reading this has a great day! Inshallah.

—Me

Hardball.

Day 3-Riyadh

Well, I have certainly learned a lot about culture, recruitment agencies, and my rights here. Thank gosh I’ve made friends! They have been incredibly helpful through this process… Where to begin?

I met with my director and he gave me 3 options:

  1. Stay in Riyadh, work at one of his centers with split shifts, and stay in an apartment
  2. Stay in Riyadh, work at a college, and stay in an apartment.
  3. Go to Tabuk (a small city with nothing) and live on a compound

The second option does sound the best on paper, but the apartment I saw was not at all appealing. It was on the outskirts of the city, and the building was owned and operated by all men. No security. No promised safety, although a male teacher said he enjoyed it just find. I just wasn’t convinced.

At the meeting he was playing coy with me, and offering special treatment. I certainly pissed him off though when I told him I wouldn’t go alone to the apartments and that I would bring another teacher with me. His response: this is supposed to be a secret, an offer only for you, no one else can come. I refused to go along with it and he eventually let the other teachers come, but he was not happy. Nor was our driver who is his right hand man. Both were visibly pissed as we all drove in the car, and they didn’t speak to us the entire time. It was really uncomfortable. That alone made me want to leave Riyadh. Later that night my friend stopped by the hotel and dropped me off a phone (super nice!), and told me not to let them take advantage of me. As an American teacher, I have value. I also have knowledge because I have learned so much about the companies here, my rights, and how to play hardball. It’s really not that easy though, especially when you’re alone in an office with an unhappy director. But, I bought myself another day to think about my options and decide what I want to do. I told the director that since he gave me three choices, I would give him three choices:

  1. Provide me with a compound and college in Riyadhà after meeting more people here, I kind of want to stay in the city. There is so much to do here, especially if you know people. I’m enjoying it very much, I just don’t like the situation I’m in.
  2. Pay for my flight home since he wasn’t meeting my expectations
  3. Allow me to work for a different company here in Riaydh

He immediately said that there was no way he would let me choose a different company; he has spent too much money to bring me here to just let me leave his companyà This means leverage. He has in fact spent a lot of money to bring me here, and I know he wants to keep me, which means I can still negotiate on my terms. It’s still not easy though. It’s like hitting a wall when I try to negotiate, and its stressful/nerve-racking. It’s really not my director’s fault that my recruiter brought me here under false pretenses—Adwaa Rabia Group (my recruiting agency) will say anything to teachers to get them here, make their commission, and then send us to Al Khaleej. Once we get to Saudi, we are taken to Al Khaleej to meet with the director, which is when we learn that our recruiting agencies lied to us. We then have to make choices. When I was in his office today he called the director of Adwaa Rabia to discuss why I was lied to, and they tried to say that they were innocent, and that I just assumed I was getting more. I laughed because they were on speaker phone, and I told my director that I had the emails to prove it. He hung up with them and said that it was clear to him that they were lying since I had proof, and he would handle it. However, he said that I am here, and an employee of his company and have to work with him (meaning, choose an option). I am supposed to meet again with him tomorrow to tell him what I want to do. I am thinking Tabuk, but I’m stubborn, because I still don’t feel like I’m getting what I want. The choice I offered him was to stay in Riyadh on a compound if I was going to stay in Saudi at all. And I want what I want. But, I guess I have to remember why I came in the first place-the money, and to travel. Tabuk offers that. I do think that if I work with him, in the future he will work with me to get me what I want. The company won’t pay for a teacher to live on a city compound; the compounds in the city are expensive, and they require a 6 month deposit, not one month like we would expect in the states. We’re talking around $7,000 (US dollars) upfront for a 6-month lease. That’s around 23,000 riyals. And this is for a basic compound, which might not even have a pool!

As of now, he doesn’t have what I want available. He reimbursed me for my hotel in DC which I didn’t think would happen, and he is giving me time to at least weigh my options; HE’S GIVING ME OPTIONS, which none of the other teachers here with me have been given. They walked into his office, and he told them where they would go. I walked in, and he gave me three choices and said he wants me to be happy with the company.

My friends have tried to help me find a safe place to live here in Riyadh, but it would cost around 3,000-4,000 Riyals a month ($950 US dollars). This wouldn’t be a compound, which is a real bummer. No one else really seems concerned about being on a compound except me, but I think it’s because no one else is a young single girl. Not to mention, I went exploring in the middle of the day with my Abaya on, and it was hot hot hot! I think come summer I will be craving a pool, and a space where I can wear what I want, and a compound will provide that for me. Also, Tabuk is a rural area, so it will force me to save, not spend money.

I’ll question him more tomorrow and see what else I can get since he has invested money in me.

The men I met in DC who checked my suitcase for me brought my suitcase and lunch yesterday!!! Such wonderful people. If I do go to Tabuk, they said to keep in touch so we could visit each other. They both invited me to their homes for dinner so I could meet their family, and said if I do leave Riyadh I was always welcome to come visit, and they would still help anyway they could.

Three more teachers have arrived. One American female from Virginia. A female from Egypt (her name is Hoda, and we exchanged contact information so I will forever know someone in Egypt!) A male American from LA (haven’t met him, but I know he is here). Everyone has joined together.

Future Teachers:

  • I learned that SKYLINE GLOBAL COMMUNICATIONS and ADWAA RABIA are the two recruiting agencies for Al Khaleej. Skyline at least told their teachers that they would be teaching for Al Khaleej, whereas Adwaa straight up lied about everything. The one teacher from Virgina was given an entire brochure about what to expect in Tabuk—very informative—which I thought was pretty nice. At least she knew what to expect.
  • Don’t walk in and let them place you just anywhere. BE DIRET AND VOICE YOUR NEEDS AND CONCERNS. If you don’t they really will just do what they want with you.
  • AVOID SKYLINE AND ADWAA!!!!!!!

Last night we went out to dinner, and our friend from LA bought it for us. I had Hummus, chicken, and lamb. It was Lebanese, and delicious!!! I posted pictures below. I went to Krispy Kreme today—stress reliever! We also had our medical exams today which was quick and easy. We also got stopped by the “morality police” tonight because I was walking Rasheida and I were walking around with Trivendran, and we have no relation to him. We just said that tonight was out first night in the city and we were still getting accustomed to the rules. Then they made me cover my hair. Tomorrow, after we meet with the director, we are going to go to either the Riyadh Gallery Mall, or the Royal Mall. I’m also going to meet up with my Amir (the one who gave me the phone) and hang out. I would also like to see the DQ (Diplomatic Quarters) before leaving the city.

As of now, it’s 2:30am and we are all just hanging out in my room chatting. We probably only have a few days left together before we are transferred to our locations. These beds are really awful, which makes sleeping hard. I’m exhausted, but can’t fall asleep.

I’ll post more tomorrow!

Ashery.

 

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Getting the Paper!!! Ha!Image

Best Hummus I’ve ever had!!!Image

Bob – business man from LA – travels all over the world. He has been more than generous and helpful to us teachers at the hotel!!ImageFalafel – very good!

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Chicken and lamb – Very tasty as well!

 

First Day/Night in Riyadh – It’s Going to be a Bumpy Road!

Before departing the states, I met two Sudan’s who live in Riyadh. They work for a company that is contracted by Princess Noura University, so we immediately hit it off when I told them I was an English teacher headed to Riyadh. We had the same flight, so they offered to check one of my extra bags for me because they only had one bag, and you could check up to two, however, they had a layover in Jeddah, where as I had a direct flight to Riyadh…we exchanged contact information and they will drop off my suitcase to me tomorrow (Saturday). They also translated my visa for me and made me aware that I had a residency permit! Glad they did so, although I still don’t have an Iqama which means at some point I will still have to surrender my passport. Also, one thing that I didn’t realize when coming was that the Saudi weekend is Thursday and Friday (I thought it was Friday and Saturday), so tomorrow Abdel and Muhammad will have work! Hopefully we can arrange a time that will work for both of us. I’m not worried. They were very nice and reassuring.

The plane ride was long and exhausting, but I met a Saudi woman named Abeer who was kind enough to also exchange contact information, and offer any assistance that I may need in the future. She is currently home (KSA) to visit her family, but will return to the states in a month to finish her education. She is Single, uninterested in marriage, or having kids. I asked to take a picture with her, but she said no pictures. She didn’t have a full face mask, which might have been why, or it could be religious reasons. Regardless, we talked about our experiences and our plans for the future and really hit it off; Can’t wait to see her again!

Another interesting woman on the plan was a Pakistani woman…. I thought she was a little crazy at first, but she turned out to be alright. I didn’t enjoy her dry, crusty bare feet next to me while she slept, nor did I like that she stole the two open seats next to Abeer and I so we couldn’t sprawl out… but after she got her sleep she grabbed my legs and put them on top of her lap so I could lay down on all the seats in exchange for allowing her to steal our seats most the flight. What a trade!!! I guess it’s one of those “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” type of culture, except in my case it was more like, “Let me put my feet next to you, and you can put yours next to mine”… Even though it was comforting to know that we were in way looking out for each other, I would still have preferred if she had stayed in her own seat and left our two seats alone! We were too nice to deny her though.

I learned from my driver, Osama, that I will not be working at Princess Noura University, which was disappointing, but hopefully all my sweet talking will encourage him to put in a good word for me and get me on one of the nicer compounds! When we first met we didn’t hit it off because the other female teacher and I were a bit weary of what was to come since our recruiters haven’t given us much information. We immediately drilled him for info which took him by surprise, and rather irritated him. It also didn’t help that we flat out said we thought Al Khaleej was disorganized, dishonest, and shady… He was not pleased, but neither were we when we found out that meals wouldn’t be provided for us, and that we were just going to be dropped off at some hotel to await further directions. Once I vented my concerns though, I won him over by not talking (my Dad would be proud..Ha!), and letting the other teacher drive him nuts with all her questions and answers. By the end of the night (he took us to a store to get food and an Abaya) Osama even offered to buy me the lingerie I had pointed out at the store (it was a very stylish negligee)… that was a bit odd, but I wasn’t surprised by his offer. Instead, I told him a better gift would be to make sure I was on a secure compound with good amenities, and a job in a city that I would be happy with. I think I did good! He seemed very concerned about my well being when he dropped me off at the hotel, and he apologized for all the negative feedback I had been given by past and current teachers of the company.

Our Hotel is shady looking….Not the best way to introduce Americans to Saudi Arabia. Just see the pics below! But, it is what it is so won’t complain anymore about it. Another teacher (male) just showed up a t our hotel! Trivendran-South African. He has had nothing but problems with Al Khaleej since he arrived (about two weeks ago). He was told he would be teaching in Riyadh, and they shipped him out in the middle of the desert- Shakra- and now he is back in Riyadh, and doesn’t know where he is supposed to go. Everything is so disorganized, and his experience thus far has really freaked me out. I talked to my recruiter, Cara, and she reassured me that everything would be okay. She honestly seemed much more sincere than normal, and I think I might believe her when she says she’ll take care of me. She did keep her promise and paid me the money she said I would be reimbursed for the medical and visa costs. I was very happy about that. Raised my spirits. It’s just very hard to trust these people after hearing such horror stories from other people. The three of us are unhappy with the company, and we plan on addressing all these concerns tomorrow with the director at our meeting.

From what I’ve seen the city looks incredible (for being in the middle of a desert). Bright lights, big stores, and every American fast food shop you can think of… including Krispy Kreme!!! Hurray! I’m happy that non-saudi women can walk around without the Hijab (face mask) if they want, and wearing the abaya really isn’t all that bad. I don’t mind it at all – yet. Despite all the fussing and venting of frustrations, the three of had tea time and relaxed in the hotel lobby. We also met an American man, Bob, who is here on business for two weeks. We all went for a night walk, stopped at a grocery store, and then called it a night.

Plan for tomorrow:

Medical exams – not looking forward to it

Meeting with Director – hopefully we will receive our placements

Our trio is going to have lunch/dinner with Bob at a local Mall – he’ll drive and show us around

Obtain my suitcase!!!! Hopefully I can get my suitcase back from Abdel and Muhammad!!!

My Advice to future teachers:

Be sure to be thankful, and to butter up your driver/contact person

Bring extra passport pictures – for some reason we need 10?!?! I hope I can get some tomorrow since no one told me I would be needing them until after I arrived.

Come with at least $200-300 since you won’t get paid until the end of the month and meals/transportation during free-time is not provided.

Try to purchase an Abaya before arriving in Saudi – they are much cheaper online than they are at the store your driver will take you to. Drivers don’t care how much money you are wasting. They just want to get the job done.

HAVE FAITH. BE PATIENT. The best way that I found to voice my concerns with Cara, my recruiter, is to simply tell her that I am scared. Rather than shifting the blame to one person, just make her or your recruiter aware that you are feeling distressed, betrayed, and fearful; Also make them aware that you know people have had negative experiences (several people), and that you don’t want to have the same types of experiences because then the company looks bad, and as an employee of the company you want to promote it. You can’t promote something if you are unhappy, and good publicity is very important for a country like Saudi Arabia. Recruiters (especially Saudi ones) forget that sometimes because they think their country is the best.

It’s 3:30am and I’m going to sleep with a positive attitude… not giving up quite yet. I still believe that things could turn around, and honestly the night ended really well. It was great to meet new teachers and friends today; everybody is so generous and helpful. It’s not like America at all; EVERYONE here wants to help us, or so it seems, and I’m grateful for that. I do miss my friends and family, and I’m having a hard time falling asleep, but at least I have WiFi and was able to make contact with everyone.

P.S – A British teacher just showed up!!! He’s exhausted!!! So late!

Enjoy the pictures!!! I will talk to you soon!

Kitty.

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My hotel room (we each have our own room) Beds are as stiff as a board!Image

Bathroom.. not sure why the men need their own toilet? The one works just fine! Image

Female teacher from America – Virginia I believe – Evalyn

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Trivendran on the left – from South Africa – Tea Time in the hotel lobby!Image

The staff made us Tea!!!

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!

PeachTree,

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,

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