Susie of Arabia is an American expat living in Saudi Arabia. We got in touch with her as we were curious about her life style and how she was coping with cultural issues in her host country.
Can you explain us who you are, where you come from and describe your expat life?
I am an American woman who has been married to a wonderful Saudi man for over 40 years. We met while attending university in Arizona in 1977. My husband got his US citizenship and promised me that we would never ever move to Saudi Arabia, but after 9/11 happened, he began to feel less comfortable living in the US. So in 2007 our family moved to his hometown of Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Our son was 14 and I was in my mid 50s.
Over the years, I have really grown to love my life here, although the first few years after we came I couldn’t imagine ever feeling this way. Transportation was my biggest problem because until June 2018, women were not permitted to drive in this country. Transportation is not an issue any more. My biggest complaint would be the heat – I have lived in hot climates my entire life and I much prefer cooler weather.
I have a very full life here and can be as busy as I choose to be. There are many social events and activities to participate in. We enjoy going out on a boat on the Red Sea – while my husband fishes, I snorkel around some of the most beautiful coral reefs in the world. Jeddah has a very diverse community and I have many friends from other countries. One of the best things is that I feel very safe here, much safer than when I visit the US.
How did you reach KSA, what are the main challenges you/westerners are facing living in Saudi Arabia?
Before we moved here, my son and I had never stepped foot in Saudi Arabia, not even to visit. So there was quite a bit of culture shock when we first arrived. The culture, the customs, the dress, the language, even their way of thinking is just all so different from what we were used to in the US. An important piece of advice when traveling to other countries is to not expect things to be the same as where you came from. Every country has their own ways of doing things.
Regarding the language, I have taken Arabic lessons but I am no where near fluent. It’s a very difficult language to learn, especially for someone older like me. Another challenge is that it is very much a man’s world here. When we lived in the US, I handled a lot of the problems at home, like getting things repaired – but here, my husband must take care of all that stuff. And actually I don’t mind at all.
Are your friends mostly expatriates? do you have a lot of local contact and is it easy as a foreigner to mix into Saudi culture and people?
Most of my friends here are expats. Many are Western women who are also married to Saudi men, and the rest are Western women who have come here to work. One of the difficult things about that is that I have seen many friends come and go as their working contracts are up. This has become very hard on me because I miss them so much.
It’s not that easy to get to know Saudi women just because it has been such a closed society for so long. Of course I know my husband’s family members – I am closest with his only sister and her daughters. I’ve also made friends with several Saudi women through the Arabic classes I take. The Saudi people are very warm and welcoming.
Suzie Of Arabia…your name is linked to your own blog. How did you get the idea of starting this adventure?
Right before we moved to Saudi Arabia, I decided to start a blog about my adventures here so I could let my family and friends know that I was doing fine and to educate them about what life is really like here. Prior to that, I had no idea what a blog even was. A friend of mine called me “Susie of Arabia,” and it just stuck and became the name of my blog. I am well known locally around the community and many people who are thinking of moving to this country write to me ahead of time for information.
In a few words what is your advice to the expat women who are a little bit scared about relocating to KSA due to culture restrictions ?
There is nothing to be afraid of! Don’t believe everything you have heard or read about a place – especially the bad stuff, because that’s the only stuff that gets publicized about some places. It’s not all bad! There are plenty of good things to love about this place.
If you are flexible and have an open mind and heart, moving to another country can change your life in many wonderful ways. I will be forever grateful that we moved to Saudi Arabia because it changed my life in positive ways I could have never imagined. I’ve seen things and experienced things that I would have never seen otherwise. I’ve made wonderful friends from all over the world because of it. Most of the expats that I know here feel the same way as I do and those who have already left miss it terribly. It is the adventure of a lifetime!
Photos credit to Susie of Arabia