London to Jeddah - Expat Interview With Christina

Published: 17 Nov at 9 AM
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Filed: Interviews,Saudi Arabia
Christina Berta is a British author, freelance journalist & translator who recently published her first novel, 'The Journey', set in her former hometown of Brussels. She is fluent in French and Italian and enjoys learning about new cultures. Although her expat lifestyle has enabled her to live and work in a number of European cities, she has been looking for something more challenging...and a warmer climate! Therefore, after spending twelve years in Belgium, she took the brave decision last year to leave Europe and relocate to Saudi Arabia with her family. She is married to a Dutchman and has two children.

Christina

Here's the interview with Christina...


Where are you originally from?
I was born in London, England, of an Italian mother and Hungarian father.

In which country and city are you living now? How long have you lived here and how long are you planning to stay?
For the past year I have been living in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. I plan to stay here for 2-3 years.

Why did you move and what do you do?
I moved to the Middle East because my husband is working out here.

Did you bring family with you?
My husband came over to Jeddah first as his employment contract required him to start working in February 2011. It was only once he was in the country that he could then apply for me and the children to join him. The entire procedure was fraught with problems and it wasn’t until nine months later that we were finally able to move to Jeddah and be a family again.

ChristinaHow did you find the transition to living in a foreign country?
I am no stranger to expat life, having lived and worked in Paris, Milan, Budapest and Brussels. However, life in Saudi Arabia is so utterly different to anything I have ever experienced before that it has been a real culture shock. Despite this, we were well prepared for the transition (having done a great deal of research prior to our move) and I feel that we settled in remarkably well – possibly because we had been waiting so long to get here in the first place!

Was it easy making friends and meeting people; do you mainly socialise with other expats?
We practically had a ready-made group of friends from the start, essentially made up of my husband’s colleagues and their families who also live on the same compound. As time went on, however, we got to know some of the other parents from school and from other social activities, and forged close friendships with a number of other families. Most of our friends are expats, although on occasion we also mix with Saudi colleagues and their families.

ChristinaWhat are the best things to do in the area; anything to recommend to future expats?
Activities are somewhat limited due to the fact that there are no cinemas or nightclubs and many events are male or female only. Despite this, Jeddah has many restaurants offering a wide variety of cuisine and eating out is a popular pastime. Being located on the Red Sea coast, Jeddah is not far from a number of private beaches where women can sunbathe freely. Additionally, some of the best snorkelling and diving is to be had in the region. For the more adventurous, there are plenty of opportunities to visit the desert.

What do you enjoy most about living here?
It has to be the weather. Jeddah is warm and sunny all year round. Even winter temperatures don’t fall much below 23 degrees Celsius on a cold day!

How does the cost of living compare to home?
The cost of living is generally lower here. Accommodation is provided by my husband’s employer and salaries are tax free.

ChristinaWhat negatives, if any, are there to living here?
Saudi Arabia is a very restricted country, particularly for women, and movement is controlled, with residents being required to obtain an exit/re-entry visa every time they wish to leave the country. Prayer times are strictly observed and shops are required to close during these times each day, often making it very difficult to get things done.

If you could pick one piece of advice to anyone moving here, what would it be?
Do your research before coming here.

What has been the hardest aspect to your expat experience so far?
Things that might seem straightforward at home will not necessarily be so here due to the many restrictions in place. For instance, I cannot go outside of the compound in which I live without wearing my abaya and I cannot drive as women are prohibited from doing so. However, we were well aware of this before we decided to move here so the biggest issue for me and the children was to find a driver in order that we would be able to get around freely without having to rely on taxis, etc. Once we had done this, things became a lot easier.

What are your top 5 expat tips for anyone following in your footsteps?
  1. Try and find out as much as you can about the region beforehand.
  2. Join expat forums so that you can contact people living in the area for advice.
  3. Register on the British Embassy’s site for the registration of British Nationals Overseas (www.locate.fco.gov.uk/locateportal/) so that you can be reached in the event of an emergency.
  4. Allow extra time to get things done.
  5. Carry a list of prayer times with you when you go out (or download a prayer time app).


ChristinaTell us a bit about your own expat blog.
My blog – Christina’s blog at cberta1.wordpress.com (see below) – is about living, writing and travelling in the Middle East. It contains details about my recently published work and includes updates on my travels in the region.

How can you be contacted for further advice to future expats coming to your area?
I can be reached via my blog cberta1.wordpress.com, Twitter @ChristinaBerta or Facebook Fan Page www.facebook.com/AuthorChristinaBertaSBPRA

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Comments » There are 2 comments

Ove Garpeman wrote 1 year ago:

I can only agree on to do thorough research before one relocates. Spend 2 years in Jeddah in the mid-90's (before the Internet....) and knew basically nothing. These 2 years were brilliant with plenty of excellent diving in the Red Sea, desert trips, fine food (which i will miss forever), eternal sunshine, new friends from allover the world. The worst parts in this country are already forgotten, alhamdulilla ;-) Enjoy it !!!!

Alastair Rosie wrote 1 year ago:

Not doing research prior to moving from Australia to Britain was probably my biggest mistake, but you learn from them, hopefully! Not sure if I could handle a hotter climate, I was relieved to leave the heat behind and buy a jacket or two, layer upon layer upon layer! Nice interview:-)

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