In July 2014, we asked one of our recruits to discuss his life as a single guy in Riyadh. Here is what he had to say.
Tell us a little bit about yourself:
I am in my early 40s and currently working in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. I have been a Registered Respiratory Therapist for 15 years and am amazed at the opportunities my career has given me.
Would you describe yourself as an Introvert or an Extrovert?
Interesting question. I would say I am somewhere in-between. Most of my friends don’t think I am an introvert; yet, sometimes I think I am. Reality is, most people here are just like me. They are here from somewhere else so everyone is very nice and easy to talk to.
Is Riyadh your first job overseas?
No. Actually, this is my second contract working in Saudi Arabia. My first contract was 13 years ago at the King Fahad National Guard Hospital in Riyadh. Currently, I am working again in Riyadh at the King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Centre. My first experience was wonderful, so when the time was right, I relocated once again for another two-year journey.
Did you have trouble at first adjusting to Riyadh?
The first time I came to Riyadh, there was some adjusting to be done. The second time around not at all. Most people that I first meet say that I seem so calm. When I tell them that this is my second time in the Kingdom, they all say that’s why you seem so comfortable. I have met a good group of friends who really are welcoming and who have helped me out along the way.
New recruits need to be open-minded to everything. This is an entirely different country in an entirely different region. You have to be flexible and be willing to learn new things. I firmly believe that any situation is made best with a positive attitude. If you are expecting things to be exactly as the way they are at home, you will have trouble. Make the best out of your experience here in Saudi and you will truly enjoy it.
Where do you live?
I currently live on the grounds of the hospital. It is probably a three-minute walk to work! Single male accommodations are newly renovated and are really nice, but small. However, single males are being relocated just less a kilometer away to a brand new apartment building. All apartments are singles, so you guys do not have to have to share. And the best news of course is that the new units are much larger. The area around the complex has everything within walking distance or just a short cab ride away. For a single guy, having multiple restaurants nearby is a plus. Eating out here in Riyadh is unbelievably cheap. There is also a huge gym just a block away. We should be moving next month (August 2014) to our new complex.
How do you get around in Riyadh?
I simply use cabs. They are very cheap, they can take you anywhere, and most of all, they are everywhere. I have never found the need to purchase a vehicle. However, I do have friends who have cars. Some people just like the freedom of driving and need to have means of traveling. Gas here is ridiculously cheap. A tankful of gas is about $10 to $12! Purchasing a car is easy, because there is always someone ending their contract and in need of selling their vehicle.
Is driving different in Riyadh?
Yes. You sometime wonder why are there lines on the road. Things are not as strict as they are back home. Cars turn left from the far right lane. You are sometimes better off not looking and simply trust your cab driver. It’s all part of the experience.
Prior to coming to Riyadh, what did you do in your spare time?
I was born and raised in Orlando, Florida. In my spare time, I like to spend time with friends and family at home, and go to the beach, downtown, and of course, the theme parks. I hike, bike, and kayak, and I am a total gym guy.
What do you do in your spare time now?
Besides the obvious gym time, you do have a lot of time for yourself here in Riyadh. I am currently concentrating on personal development. I am in my second semester of online school to attain my Bachelor’s degree in Cardiopulmonary Science. In addition, I also hope to complete another credential in my career. With so much spare time, you choose what you would like to do. All hospital employees can join the Employee Social Club and they are always planning trips and activities in and around Riyadh. There are always get-togethers at the embassies. I have been here five weeks and have been to three US embassy functions and one very nice function at the French embassy.
Can you tell me about the social scene in Riyadh?
Well, Saudi Arabia is definitely not open to dating. Restaurants have separate seating: one area for single males and one area for families. There are no public displays of affection. Hugging is also controversial. But the reality is, if you meet that special someone, well, my old roommate met someone, and they were married here at the US embassy! Now, 13 years later, they are still married and trying to come back for another contract.
Is there anything you miss from home?
Family, friends, my dog, movie theaters, and dark beer. You can easily speak with family via Skype. Skype calls are free (computer to computer) or very cheap (computer to phone) and I talk with my parents almost everyday. It helps them to know I am OK. Calls are crystal clear and have no delays. My dad always asks if I am in Orlando.
What is the main advice you would give to single man relocating to Riyadh?
Just remember this is not like home. There are no clubs, bars, and you can’t just start a conversation with a woman at a coffee shop, because she’s sitting in the completely different family section that you cannot even see. However, it is not impossible to meet women; it can be done. Make the best of the situation, and enjoy the experience, for it does reward you in many ways.
What has been your most surprising experience in Riyadh?
Prayer times close everything. All shops and restaurants close their doors for prayer. If you are in a restaurant, you can stay, but you will not be served. If you are in a shop ... depends on the shop; you may find yourself waiting outside until prayer ends, and sometimes it can be really, really hot outside. While some shops allow you to stay inside, you can't pay for anything during prayer. Prayer usually lasts from 15 to 30 minutes, and it happens five times per day. But if you just keep up with the prayer schedule, which is published in the paper, you'll do fine, arranging your schedule around prayer times.
Do you find yourself more familiar with world affairs since living in Riyadh?
My parents are originally from South America and living in the USA. My dad always watched the world news, so I grew up knowing about the world. It is interesting to hear other cultures' views of the world. You will be surprised about how others perceive things, but again, that’s what happens when people from around the world get together.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
I advise everyone to sign up for a VPN internet account. Using your internet connection here in Saudi, you sign up for a VPN and link your computer to a computer in the USA. By doing this you are using a faster connection and can surf anything on the web. Many times you wish to catch up on a local TV show, Netflix, HBO, Pandora, ESPN, Amazon, Hulu, etc., but you will get an error message that says that the content is not available outside the USA. By using a VPN, you can watch anything so you can keep yourself abreast of your favorite shows, sports, movies, etc.
Come with an open mind and you will live an experience of a lifetime. I am so thankful for the experience, the friendships I have made around the world, the different culture, the easy living, the money, and above all the travel opportunities. The world is just a quick flight away from Riyadh.
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