Carol Fleming is a former American diplomat, who after 20 years of service, resigned to marry her Saudi husband. In her blog, American Bedu, she shares her experiences of Saudi Arabia, and offers advice to those beginning their own journey to the country. We asked Carol to share her story.
I was an American diplomat for 20 years until I met and married my Saudi husband. After our marriage, I resigned from the U.S. foreign service and ultimately relocated with him to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia where we now make our home. As a result, I routinely cross that invisible border between East and West multiple times on a daily basis. I work in both the health care sector at King Saud bin Abdulaziz University for Health Sciences which is part of the National Guard Health Affairs and as a media consultant to Saudi Television. Additionally, I maintain a blog (http://americanbedu.com) where I write daily posts about the realities of life in Saudi Arabia with an emphasis on the customs, cultures and traditions. My blog provides a unique and candid insiders perspective. I know first hand the essential components to make a quick and successful adaptation to a new and vastly different environment and culture from the Western world. My blog includes survival tips, cultural etiquette, recreation, housing, contract negotiation, interacting with Saudis and other expats and much much more.
I have always enjoyed writing, and initially started my blog as a means to keep in touch with family and friends and share with them my experiences of life in Saudi Arabia. At their encouragement I, in turn, opened up my blog to the world in order to help sensitize and educate others who are not familiar on what it is like to live in Saudi Arabia. The global media, in my view, only provides a small slice of the actualities of daily life in Saudi Arabia and through my blog, I try to present the full picture in an unbiased manner.
I have had extensive experience as an expat and relocating to a new and unknown country. During my Foreign Service career I traveled to more than 100 countries. I have lived in India, Iraq, Pakistan and now Saudi Arabia. I have found that if you allow yourself, you can be miserable in Paradise. The essential ingredients to making a smooth transition to a totally foreign environment are advance research on where you are going; reaching out, prior to arrival, towards individuals who are already in your destined location; finding like-minded friends who also become your support group; maximizing the positive aspects of what you like and enjoy about the new location and minimizing the negative. In regards to Saudi Arabia, there will indeed be culture shock because it is unlike any other place. But it is also full of many hidden treasures and opportunities. It is not unusual for someone to come to Saudi Arabia and experience the "delayed culture shock." On arrival everything is new, fresh and exotic and a new arrival does not think so much of what is not available or missed. However, after several months, a new expat will usually begin to miss things from their home country that they took for granted; such as for women, the ability to drive, or going out to a cinema or other things as well. This is where it is essential to have that support network that has been through the same emotions and "withdrawals."
However, the longer you are in Saudi Arabia, you will find it is indeed a country of contrasts and contradictions. As you become familiar and dig into the culture, you will find that just about everything you had from a western society and culture is available in Saudi Arabia as well as so much more. In addition to my blog, any expat accepting a job in Saudi Arabia should also request membership to the yahoo newsgroup firstname.lastname@example.org which is an excellent venue for information and making friends prior to arrival in the Kingdom. Lastly, I am always happy to address individual queries and can be reached at email@example.com.
Note: Carol wrote this for us in 2008. On May 27, 2013, Carol passed away after a battle with cancer. As mentioned in the notice of her passing, "One of Carol’s last wishes was for 'American Bedu' to continue." As of June 25, 2013, the blog administrators are successfully keeping her wish alive. We hope they are able to continue.
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