30 lessons from 30 days in Saudi Arabia

It might be slightly more than 30 days that I’ve been here. It might even be slightly less. The title wouldn’t work as well if if the numbers didn’t match, though, so who’s counting anyway?

  1. The winter in Saudi Arabia feels like “California weather.” Some of the mornings might be chilly, but otherwise it feels great.
  2. Saudi culture doesn’t value education the same way we do in the west.
  3. Most teachers are just here for the money and suggesting that I’m here for any other reason doesn’t always get a good reaction.
  4. Saudi students feel very polite, at the ones I’ve encountered. They just like to weasel. “But teacher, only one minute late… give discount?”
  5. We don’t need Arabic at all here. The people we interact with in town are from all over, not necessarily Arabic speaking countries. There’s even less of a need for Arabic here than Korean in Korea, so learning it is even more of a challenge.
  6. People, maybe guys especially, are going to find a way around prohibitions, whatever those prohibitions may be.
  7. It’s like the wild west out here. Anything goes, and trying to make sense of it can just lead to more frustration.
  8. Teaching a class of 38 isn’t as bad as I thought. It’s still possible, with practice, even if it’s not that efficient.
  9. High school grads in Saudi feel more like Middle School boys elsewhere, just in how they act in class and what they expect.
  10. Prayer at set times five times a day really makes you think about prayer, just the logistics of it even.
  11. It’s not as hard to get a job in Saudi Arabia as I thought. While there are certainly guys here who are way more qualified than I am, both in terms of education and experience, there are also guys here who don’t have as much experience or education as I thought everyone would be required to have.
  12. Food in Saudi is cheap compared to America, especially good Indian and Pakistani food.
  13. I knew gas would be cheap too, but it still blows my mind that it’s literally cheaper than bottled water.
  14. It’s a good idea to have other projects to work on while you’re teaching here.
  15. Rumors spread like foxes with torches tied to their tails. Such is the nature of living in such a “compound” environment.
  16. I like living next to people. I didn’t know if I would, but I do.
  17. The best part about eating in instead of going out is that I don’t have to walk as far and I can eat whenever I want (instead of waiting for a break between prayer).
  18. Some people don’t want us (as in, westerns) here. That said, some people are very welcoming.
  19. There feels like there’s a wall between Saudis and us. It feels like we can’t mingle with them, even when they’re friendly.
  20. Saudis really do want to get to know you a little before getting to business. They’ll ask how you’re doing, where you’re from, and other questions before ever getting to why they came to talk to you.
  21. People in this part of the world don’t shake hands with firm hand shakes, which kind of throws westerners off.
  22. Living in a culture where women are (almost) always covered from head to toe in public really does make me want to stare at women. When a woman walks by in a grocery store with her hair showing, I’m automatically like, “Whoa, what’s she doing?”
  23. Sometimes, the air pollution colors the sun to look like a huge, cool blue moon as it begins to go down in the evening.
  24. Work is pretty easy. The hard part about this job is… well, there really isn’t a hard part besides just living in Saudi Arabia.
  25. People in Saudi call it the KSA or the Kingdom far more than anyone I’d known before moving here.
  26. Yes, I feel safe. Just because I’m American, I have this tendency to think people in the Middle East might be scary. After a few days here and a few nights walking along through the city, I feel comfortable, probably statistically safer than if I were in a comparable city in America.
  27. The real danger in Saudi Arabia is that a car will hit you. They drive fast and recklessly. I’ve seen a number of bad accidents, most likely the result of someone going too fast, drifting for fun, or just getting impatient and trying to squeeze between other cars.
  28. I knew I’d be in a wonderful location for traveling further from here, but it still feels like the world opens up. Africa is just to my west, Asia to my east, Europe isn’t far northeast, and the rest of the Middle East is almost within driving distance.
  29. Living in this culture with such an ancient heritage makes me want to learn more about how it developed. I’ve watched a number of documentaries about Arabia, Egypt, even India. The confluence of cultures is fascinating, even more so when you’re walking through the middle of it.
  30. It gets easier. I didn’t feel as unsure this time. I didn’t feel as new. I didn’t feel awkward walking around in a foreign countries. It gets easier to move abroad.