From USA to KSA - Expat Interview With Andrea

Published: 8 Jan at 1 PM
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Filed: Interviews,Saudi Arabia
Andrea, a Christian and Sohail a Muslim share their positive and negative thoughts on their new life in KSA. Their blog, From USA to KSA (see listing here), gives you a glimpse into what life in Saudi Arabia is like for an American family of five. Saudi Arabia is a place that she never dreamed of living in! As a young, child, Andrea grew up on a Navy base in Spain, where her father was stationed. She learned to enjoy and appreciate other cultures as a result. It was always Andrea's goal to teach overseas and carry on the "living overseas" tradition. While in college, she spent a summer in Almaty, Kazakhstan, volunteering at a few Universities. After college, her first teaching job was in Taipei, Taiwan. After that, she got engaged and married to Sohail and then lived in Houston, Texas, for the next 12 years. Three children later, they moved to Saudi Arabia!

Here I am shopping for Christmas presents (perfumes) in Al Balad, near Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
Here I am shopping for Christmas presents (perfumes) in Al Balad, near Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

Here's the interview with Andrea...

Where are you originally from?
Houston, Texas, USA

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

How long have you lived here and how long are you planning to stay?
My children and I have been here for 6 months. We joined my husband 8 months after my husband arrived here. Only God knows how long we will live here!

This is me (in my abaya) deep in the historical ruins in Yanbu, Saudi Arabia.
This is me (in my abaya) deep in the historical ruins in Yanbu, Saudi Arabia.
Why did you move and what do you do?
My husband's job brought us here. He also grew up here as a child. I grew up overseas as a child as well. We wanted to immerse our children in other cultures as well and because his family still lives here, we chose Saudi Arabia! I also took a job as a Curriculum Designer with an Education based business.

Did you bring family with you?
Yes. Three Children.

How did you find the transition to living in a foreign country?
During the first month, we all enjoyed it and had no issues at all. Everything was so new and different and exciting. We all felt like we were on vacation! We arrived in June and although my husband and I were working, the kids were able to stay with our in-laws and they loved all of the attention they received. When school started for them in September, things changed a bit. My ten year old had difficulty with school and how different it was from the US (teachers, students, teaching styles, school environment & activities). Unfortunately, the international school that we chose, did not live up to our expectations. This is when culture shock for each of us began. Seeing my children unhappy has been really hard.

More shopping!
More shopping!
Was it easy making friends and meeting people; do you mainly socialise with other expats?
To be quite honest, no. I am not one of those extremely social people who organizes events and invites people over to my home. However, I have made several friends who I adore. I met them through local facebook groups (Susie of Arabia) and websites such as this one (as well as Internations). They are also moms and expats, so we share a bond in that sense.

What are the best things to do in the area; anything to recommend to future expats?
My favorite place to visit is Al Balad. It is also called Old Jeddah. It has such beautiful architecture and reminds me of down-town areas in small towns in the southern US. It is vibrant with colors and charming dilapidated buildings-which people still live in. It is so simple and quiet there. Several times, my husband and I parked the car and walked around taking pictures. Our picture taking didn't seem to bother anyone and a few children waved and posed for pictures! I also like to go to the newly renovated Corniche beach area. It is the cleanest public place in Jeddah, I believe! It is a nice place to walk and there are several newer playgrounds for the children. But, beware-trying to find a parkins space is dreadful!

What do you enjoy most about living here?
I love that my husbands side of the family live here. My children love being with thier aunt, uncle and grandparents on the weekends! I cannot imagine living here without them!

How does the cost of living compare to home?
Back home in the USA, school is free. In Saudi Arabia, public school is free-but English is only taught starting in grade 4. So, most foreigners choose an International school. These have a hefty tuition fee, along with the cost of books, uniforms, registration and testing fees! The cost of housing seems to be equivalent to that of suburban Houston. The most expensive thing about life in Jeddah, is the cost of eating out. Most Restaraunts are double of what we paid in the US. For example, a $40 meal for 5 in the US at TGI Fridays, costs about $80 here.

A camel walked right past me in Al Balad. What a treat!
A camel walked right past me in Al Balad. What a treat!
What negatives, if any, are there to living here?
First of all, I believe that every negative can be turned into a positive. Some of them I am still trying to figure out how to transform! The first negative is the lack of being able to freely enjoy the outdoors. It is extremely hot, so many people stay indoors during the day time. Next, one negative is the lack of having a neighborhood and yard. I miss being able to go for a stroll and let my kids ride their bikes around the neighborhood. My family lives in an apartment, not a compound, like many Westerners. So, we do not have a swimming pool, a playground nearby or sidewalks for the kids to safely play outside. This has been a really hard adjustment. However, I let the kids ride in an empty parking lot that is nearby our apartment.

If you could pick one piece of advice to anyone moving here, what would it be?
Pray about it. Make sure your positives will out weigh the negatives.

What has been the hardest aspect to your expat experience so far?
Seeing my two older children, emotional struggles in school.

Me and my little one in Al Balad. The black abaya is required to be worn outside here-always!
Me and my little one in Al Balad. The black abaya is required to be worn outside here-always!
When you finally return home, how do you think you'll cope with repatriation?
Hmmm....I haven't even thought about it, as we haven't even been here a year, yet.

What are your top expat tips for anyone following in your footsteps?
  1. Read EVERY blog you can find and every online resource possible before coming here. I should have done this more. I didn't realize how many expats faced such common hardships. Had I known this, I would have felt better informed about what to expect here.
  2. Go on the Saudi Embassy websites and educate yourself about the slow and lengthy visa and iqama process.
  3. Understand that Saudi Arabia is unlike any other country in the world. Most everything you hear about life here, is true.

Tell us a bit about your own expat blog.
I originally created this blog for my husband and I to communicate. He moved here first, with his job, while I finished up my contract in the US. As he looked for housing for us, he posted the vidoes and added pictures of what we should expect before we arrived. Then, I used the blog to simply track the order of events prior to moving here. Now, my husband and I both write for our blog. I take pictures with my iPhone and he takes pictures with his fancy Canon camera!

How can you be contacted for further advice to future expats coming to your area?
Find me on facebook at our Facebook Page: fromUSAtoKSA. You can also find me on LinkedIn.

Andrea blogs at which we recommend a quick visit if you haven't been already. From USA to KSA has an listing here so add a review if you like! If you appreciated this interview with Andrea, please also drop her a quick comment below.
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