Back in 2011, we had just completed our first year living and working in Saudi Arabia.
We published a blog post on the Top 10 Best Things about Living in Saudi Arabia to our personal blog which was later published to TIE Online Blog. Now, six years later, we are finishing our 7th year in Saudi Arabia and thought there was a need for a reflection and update to this top 10.
With that said, our priorities have changed mainly because we have two children. That, along with our longevity here, has altered the list. First, let’s revisit the original:
10) Labor Costs
9) Location for Traveling
6) Availability of Food
5) Coworkers and Our Jobs
Six years later…
This is a no brainer. This was the top of our list back in 2011 and is still here. Almost no one is here for anything other than the money or perhaps family. Anyone who says otherwise is kidding themselves. We doubled our salary moving here back in 2010, and it has gone up another 50% since then. That, along with the free health care, housing, utilities, and flight money home, it is overall an outstanding package that rivals all but a very few in the world for international teaching.
2) Nursery on Campus
Again, this rises to a high spot because of we had our children in the past five years. Above all, this is what is keeping us in the country for the time being. Our school provides a free nursery on campus. So, our boys ride with us to work and ride with us home from work. They are about 100 yards away from us at all times, and the nursery care, facilities, and curriculum are outstanding. The ratio of children to staff is around 3.5:1. You would be hard pressed to find another school that has this benefit.
This remains high on the list and has been enhanced the more we have stayed. Needless to say, we have become quite spoiled. While our compound isn’t the greatest in the city, compound life in and of itself is relaxing, fun, and enjoyable. It can be a fishbowl at times, but you really can have as much privacy or be as social as you wish. We have a housekeeper, gardener, and guy to wash our car. Our kids can run around the compound freely at a very early age. There is a great swimming pool area and decent little recreational center. Our neighbors are our co-workers which overall is a pleasant experience, because we all know we are in this together. We’ve had some pretty cool compound parties and get togethers over the years.
4) Professional Development Opportunities
This is a new one to the list too as we didn’t quite understand how fortunate we have been to be able to attend such amazing conferences for professional development opportunities. Many of these have been paid for by the school or district, which makes it even better. We’ve had training from experts in the field of education at some of these conferences and have learned so many new skills that have allowed us to immediately impact learning in our classroom but also make us very marketable to future employers.
5) Our Respective Schools and School District
With the hire of a new superintendent four years ago, our district and school has really seen some major changes and will continue to do so for years to come. Both mine and Jamie’s schools have had their challenges in the last few years, but new leadership at the top has really made a difference. Our campus is cleaner and nicer looking, there is an increased importance in safety, technology, infrastructure, human resources, and budgeting. A new superintendent is coming in the Fall of 2017, so let’s hope he can keep up the positive momentum as our campus builds a new school to move into in 2020.
This seems a bit low on the list, but the sad reality is that despite all of these amazing things on this list, friends will come and go in an international lifestyle. Leaving your home country for the first time, you’ll start losing ties to those friends the longer you stay overseas. It is only natural. However especially in a place like Saudi, you’ll find many other like minded people (who else would move here?), so developing friendships sometimes happens overnight. We’ve said goodbye to many good friends but others have also come in not as a replacement but a wonderful addition into our lives. It will hit our children the hardest when we leave here next year. They’ve grown up with some of the kids on the compound, and this is truly “home” for them. Kids are resilient, and we are confident they will make new friends at our next location. Social media will ensure we can maintain close ties with everyone.
Again, with the exception of mid May through mid September, the weather in Saudi is amazing. The weather also allows for a lot of lifestyle activities described above on the compound. You get used to the heat, and you are able to get in a few extra months of pool time.
We’ve come to enjoy middle eastern food quite a bit. Not only shawarma, but other foods like mixed grills and the amazing breads and cold appetizers you can get here. Our kids love the India food here as well as the Filipino bread downtown. There has been an influx of big name western restaurants that have moved in the area such as 5 Guys, Red Lobster, and The Butcher Shop. Chik-fil-A will obviously never be here and there still isn’t a Zaxby’s, but Raisin Cane’s is coming next month.
Again, this seems very low on the list, but traveling is just simply now a part of our lives. Our three and five year old boys have been to eight and 14 countries respectively. I had to retire my 10 year old passport with over 35 countries stamped, James is already on his secon passport, and Jamie will renew next year. Saudi is a fine place for traveling to not only the middle east but zipping back to southeast Asia, Africa, or to Europe. Flight costs have risen steadily, but you can still find some good deals. Our only issue is now we pay for 4 tickets instead of 2 which hurts the overall budget and limits our traveling.
10) Leaving Saudi Arabia
This used to be my #1 reason because I always though that the best thing about living here was any time you were able to leave. Saudi can be tough to live in with inefficiency, terrible and dangerous driving, extreme temperatures, sexism, racism, the inability to immerse yourself with the culture, and a wide variety of other things that can make you frustrated.
However, Saudi has been very good to us since we moved here in 2010. Summarizing this list, we’ve paid off debt, both of our children were born and raised here, we’ve had wonderful childcare every day (for free) at our school, and we’ve met some wonderful people along the way that we hope to stay in touch with for years to come. So when we finally do leave for the final time in June 2018, it’ll be very bittersweet.