British Expat Living in Saudi Arabia - Interview With Martin

Published: 5 Jun at 9 AM
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Filed: Interviews,Saudi Arabia
Martin is an expat from United Kingdom currently teaching, and exploring, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. He teaches preparatory year programme (PYP) students in the Northern provinces of Saudi. He is making the best of a challenging environment by pioneering sand boarding in the rural North, grabbing opportunities to travel, trying to smile when anger or frustration strikes, and focusing on financial goals that will fund his next steps. Martin's expat blog is called A Season in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (see listing here)

Meet Martin - British expat in Saudi Arabia
Meet Martin - British expat in Saudi Arabia

Here's the interview with Martin...

Where are you originally from?
Norfolk, United Kingdom.

In which country and city are you living now?
The Northern province of Al Jawf, Saudi Arabia.

How long have you lived here and how long are you planning to stay?
I have been here for 10 months, I have 1 month left to go. This is my first year in Saudi Arabia. Although I am not going to return here next school year, I intend to work in KSA again down the line.

Why did you move and what do you do?
I moved here primarily to make money. However, far more so than most ex-pats in the Kingdom, I also came here to experience a uniquely closed country not open to non-Islamic based tourism.

I am a teacher, employed by a recruiter to teach 18 or 19 year olds for the countrywide PYP University programme.

Did you bring family with you?

Pioneering sand boarding on a huge dune near Haql.
Pioneering sand boarding on a huge dune near Haql.
How did you find the transition to living in a foreign country?
Before working here I was teaching in the Philippines. I thrive working or living in foreign lands, so the transition from Philippines to Saudi Arabia was fairly easy. I was genuinely excited to arrive in KSA, and ongoing interest in exploring Arabia has helped me to maintain reasonably positivity across a fairly challenging year.

Was it easy making friends and meeting people; do you mainly socialise with other expats?
It has been very easy meeting people here in KSA. I socialise with anyone, locals and expats alike. Saudis are generally very hospitable, especially Bedouins. I have accepted invites into Arab tents at the edge of Al Nafud desert for dinner banquets thrown seemingly in my honour. Students have taken me out to shisha smoking sessions. For travel outside the city and day to day living my close friends are fellow teachers from England and America.

What are the best things to do in the area; anything to recommend to future expats?
Sakakah is extremely isolated. You have to make your own life here or it will become very dull. The greatest blessing for me has been the existence of large sand dunes close to the university campus. As a land locked surfer, I quickly researched the sport of sand boarding and sourced necessary materials to make a board. I found a carpenter to assemble a viable board. Within two months I was riding dunes every weekend. I have shared the sports with fellow teachers, kids who live at the edge of the desert, random Arabs who just turn up and ask for a go.

Saudi Arabia is an incredible country to explore. Gasoline is ridiculously cheap allowing lengthy, cheap road trips from desert to coast. Highlights for me include Mada'in Saleh, Al Ula, and Jeddah. However, highest praise reserved for the rarely visited coastal town of Haql up on the North West border with Jordan. Haql is a stunning town set on a hill overlooking the Red Sea and the Egyptian coast.

Wandering around Sakakah with sand board under arm.
Wandering around Sakakah with sand board under arm.
What do you enjoy most about living here?
Living in a country where totally unique experiences are possible. I love the food here too, it's so cheap to eat out and the variety of cuisines on offer in Sakakah include Egyptian, Indian, Sudanese, American, Italian and Saudi.

How does the cost of living compare to home?
My package here includes accommodation, electricity, water, medical, dental and travel. Eating out is cheap. Supermarkets are also cheap, unless you want to eat American or British products which are expensive. Overall costs here are much cheaper than England and saving a large percentage of your salary is possible.

What negatives, if any, are there to living here?
Main negative is the complete segregation of males and females and the atmosphere this creates. The male students tend to be immature, the presence of some bright girls in the classroom would kerb their antics. Walking around in a city where women are mostly hiding behind huge walls is depressing. When you do see a woman they are covered head to toe in black. Sakakah is a conservative town, women are invisible here.

If you could pick one piece of advice to anyone moving here, what would it be?
Do plenty of research before you go, especially reading blogs because they tend to offer a real insight into living here. Don't come if you intend to impose the American or British flag upon the Arabian landscape. It won't work. Remember you are a guest here, appreciate the opportunity to see KSA up close and personal.

Riding a challenging wave in the Philippines.
Riding a challenging wave in the Philippines.
What has been the hardest aspect to your expat experience so far?
Definitely the hardest aspect has been the psychologically draining life of a teacher here. The teaching curriculem itself is easy, but coping with large classes of indifferent students and difficult to understand management decision making has taken its toll.

What are your top 5 expat tips for anyone following in your footsteps?
1. Travel around the country.
2. Travel to neighbouring countries, where possible.
3. Be open and sociable as much as possible. Accept invites from random people, it will lead to unique experiences.
4. Focus on financial goals to endure the inevitable low times.
5. Try to laugh more than cry.

The beautiful Mada'in Saleh near Al Ula, KSA.
The beautiful Mada'in Saleh near Al Ula, KSA.
Tell us a bit about your own expat blog.
It's called "A Season in KSA: life is about seasons, you can live more than one". The blog begins in the Philippines to show context. After ejection from Asia and recruitment for an ESL teaching post, it follows a land locked surfer's journey from Riyadh to Sakakah in the Northern provinces. It also details periodic travel around the country, from Jeddah in the South to Haql in the far North.

Read it if you want to know more about general life in KSA, and in particular the life of an ESL teacher. The film and photograph gallery contains a wide range of images of the country and a nicely edited movie about Saudi life.

How can you be contacted for further advice to future expats coming to your area?
Via the blog comments.

Martin blogs at which we recommend a quick visit if you haven't been already. A Season in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has an listing here so add a review if you like! If you appreciated this interview with Martin, please also drop him a quick comment below.
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Comments » There is 1 comment

ICAL TEFL wrote 5 years ago:

Ironic! It was reported this morning that English teachers are to be removed from their jobs in state schools in SA to allow for local teachers to step in...

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