Irish Expat In Saudi Arabia - Expat Interview With Noel

Published: 21 Nov at 1 PM
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Filed: Interviews,Saudi Arabia
Noel Scanlon is from Co. Clare in the West of Ireland, grew up in East Clare in a rural background, studied at Limerick Institute of Technology in Ireland and also at VIA University in Denmark, worked for many years in Ireland in Architecture and Business including running his own business for 8 years, made the big jump to work in Afghanistan in 2011 working for a Danish company as a Project Manager, as a direct result of the worsening economic conditions at home, that led on to a position here in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia with an Irish Company, married and a Dad to two wonderful boys.......so here I am, A Long Way to go for a Sun Tan...... (see listing here)

A Long Way to Go for a Sun Tan

Here's the interview with Noel...


Where are you originally from?
Ireland- West of the country close to the city of Limerick

In which country and city are you living now?
Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

How long have you lived here and how long are you planning to stay?
I moved to Riyadh in May 2012, and I will be here for at least one year and possibly longer

Why did you move and what do you do?
I work as a Project Manager in Riyadh for an Irish Consultancy here, my background is in Architecture and Business, I first moved abroad to work in July 2011, initially to Afghanistan and then to Saudi Arabia in May 2012. It is well known how the global credit crisis has affected my home country and I am one of many who have moved abroad to work after working for 17 years back home including running my own business for 8 years, my family remain back home in Ireland for the moment.

A Long Way to Go for a Sun TanDid you bring family with you?
No, not yet, Afghanistan clearly wasn’t an option, and I’m waiting to see how things develop here first, I’m reluctant to uproot my sons yet as they are 7 and 10 years old and very settled in their surroundings and given it early days yet in my ex-pat life.

How did you find the transition to living in a foreign country?
Preparation is key to moving abroad, it is a challenge, the climate initially is very severe in Riyadh, reaching over 50 degrees here in summer and the cultural and social norms are very different from home which takes some time to get used to, language isn’t really an issue as English is the language of business here and most younger Saudi’s are fluent, and I’ve been doing my bit to learn a few words of Arabic. Saudi Arabia is well known as a conservative society which it is of course but there are also many changes occurring in this rapidly evolving country which is very interesting also.

Was it easy making friends and meeting people; do you mainly socialise with other expats?
I’m fortunate in that I work with a group of other Irish professionals here in Riyadh, so we are very much together in our new experiences here , we work AS Consultants to a Saudi company so I also work with Saudi’s on a daily basis and they are a friendly people, there are also many other nationalities working here in Riyadh form other Arab countries, India, Pakistan, Philipines, US and Europe. you need to make an effort to connect with people to create a network here but its very open and people are very willing to allow to join their groups and get involved, there are various social and sporting activities organized through ex-pat groups and societies and similar networks are developing all the time also, the key is you must seek out these people and not be a stranger…

A Long Way to Go for a Sun TanWhat are the best things to do in the area; anything to recommend to future expats?
Being a relatively conservative society, again, you must seek out activities, I have tried Desert Walks, Quad Biking and have also attended social events through the diplomatic agencies, Riyadh is well served with many large shopping malls which have everything you could ask for, and the Al Batha district of Riyadh is great for Souks and markets and is a hive of activity on Friday’s, air travel is relatively straight forward and reasonably affordable so its possible to go to places like Dubai, Doha, Manama the odd time to explore other Middle Eastern cities close by, and indeed have a beer as of course that’s not possible here in the Kingdom.

What do you enjoy most about living here?
Having never planned to even visit this country, I see it as a great opportunity to broaden ones’ horizons and learn more about this ancient land, watching the economically progress here which is at odds with a lot of the world right now is all very interesting.

How does the cost of living compare to home?
Its substantially lower in items like food and eating out, clothing is a little lower and of course famously, petrol is essentially cheaper than water here, it is also a tax free state so the cost of living is a very clear benefit to living in this country.

What negatives, if any, are there to living here?
Saudi society as I mentioned earlier is a conservative one , that doesn’t facilitate certain things we would consider normal in the wets such as Cinema’s, concerts, art galleries etc. so there is a lack of this sort of thing here which is a drawback, also the heat can become so sever is the summer that one spend a lot of time indoors.

A Long Way to Go for a Sun TanIf you could pick one piece of advice to anyone moving here, what would it be?
Do your research, find out about the culture and social norms as that will help you adapt in the early days and will help you to remember that its you that has to adapt to Saudi culture, rather than the other way around….

What has been the hardest aspect to your expat experience so far?
Being away from family and friends for long periods is tough, modern technology like Skype etc. is great but its doesn’t replace the intimacy of hugging your kids or meeting a friend for a beer or a coffee.

When you finally return home, how do you think you'll cope with repatriation?
I love Ireland, my home country, and I look forward to returning, it is rich in its people and culture but is currently going through tough economic times which I’m sure in time will improve and will allow people like me and others to return home.

What are your top 5 expat tips for anyone following in your footsteps?
  1. Drink lots of water
  2. Do your research, find out about the culture and social norms as that will help you adapt in the early days
  3. remember that its you that has to adapt to Saudi culture, rather than the other way around….
  4. Be open to new experiences and meeting new people, Saudi’s are friendly people and Riyadh has many different nationalities living here, an open mind will get you places and win you many friends….
  5. Learn to be patient, work and life operate at a different pace here and decisions are made in a different way, but patience will really help you….
  6. Learn some Arabic and ask Saudi’s about their country and culture, they are very proud of it and like to that people take a genuine interest…


A Long Way to Go for a Sun TanTell us a bit about your own expat blog.
In my first Month in Afghanistan back in July 2011, it occurred to me that I really needed to record the experience, primarily for the benefit of my family and friends so they could get a sense of what it was like working in a challenging environment, and also as a very useful tool to stay connected to existing colleagues and indeed make new friends, it got great feedback in my time there and was published a few times also, so when I moved to Riyadh, I was encouraged to continue with the blog and write about the experiences of living here so it developed from there….

How can you be contacted for further advice to future expats coming to your area?
Follow the Blog (see below), Twitter - @Noel_Scanlon or E-Mail - noel{at}noelscanlon{dot}com
Noel blogs at http://longwaytogoforasuntan.blogspot.com/ which we recommend a quick visit if you haven't been already. A Long Way to Go for a Sun Tan has an ExpatsBlog.com listing here so add a review if you like! If you appreciated this interview with Noel, please also drop him a quick comment below.
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Comments » There is 1 comment

Colette Hamel wrote 5 months ago:

Noel, A lovely article and so well articulated. Great practical advise. I just moved here two weeks ago to be with my husband. I think you are right one has to embrace the cultural change and learn from it. Take Care, Colette

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