By Rositsa Dorovska
If you were crying prior to your move to Saudi Arabia, you’ll cry harder when you have to leave. With these wise words, I have been welcomed to the Kingdom, almost a year ago. The sentence is by one of my compound neighbours.
Though I was not really upset, my feelings were mixed for that new, yet so different chapter ahead. Like anyone, that happens to experience moving to KSA, I believe. On one side are the worries regarding the weather – the extreme heat, the sandstorms, the constant “dust in the air” forecasts. On the other side – the lack of proper information about what the real-life in KSA looks like. The mainstream media tends to cover only certain aspects of the cultural and religious specifics in this country. But they often skip the human factor. That way, they are shaping an inaccurate image of the Saudis. For the majority of the outside world, Saudis are kind of a mystery. So the easiest way for some people to explain to themselves the unknown is via clichés. Generalising a whole nation is always a bad approach.
The first cultural shock you can feel here in KSA, is that the common characteristics are totally wrong and archaic. Most of the locals you will meet, actually, will be very friendly, helpful, curious to know your biography and story. I feel so pleased every time the local people ask me about my culture and language. Saudis are usually very familiar with the history of my country and they greet me wholeheartedly. As a member of the diplomatic family, my personal goal in KSA is to elevate the image of my country, here and vice versa.
The best surprise for me, is the open-minded and strong Saudi women I meet on random occasions in my daily Saudi life. Embracing the loosening of the past strict rules that used to determine their lives, currently, there is a proactive and progressive generation of young Saudi ladies. Well educated and ambitious, they are running businesses, creating start-ups, gaining respect and moving forward to achieve their brave goals. Almost every day I have the chance to stumble upon such bright and successful stories – women professors, lawyers, managers. Not every expat, living in Saudi Arabia can make local acquaintances because some people prefer to spend their time behind the walls of the compounds. Given that some compounds are miniature cities, often it’s not very stimulating for a foreigner to explore the world behind the gates. Suddenly your project is over, you have to bid farewell to this country, and you’ll find out that you’ve never tried local food, you’ve never had a meal with or even a chat with Saudis… And that‘s a pity because the country is so vast, rich, diverse…But you cannot get to know that, without knowing the people…
Judging them from their media image or clothing is very discriminative. I had the honour to participate in a conference, organised by a local trust and The United Nations, where amongst many other interesting women, the dean of Princess Noura University spoke. And she rocked the hall, full of men and women. She was an inspiration for the audience, as she is for the students, I believe. Many of them were there – artists, young entrepreneurs… At that moment I realized, that nothing can stop the progress of this society. You will ask about the men and their opinion. Well, let me just share one personal story. A young local uber driver, made me feel ashamed when I told him that I can‘t speak Arabic, and I haven’t got a driving license as yet… But I was smiling secretly, you know. Of course, there‘s still a long way to go, but there is no way back for this population of youngsters, studying and working hard to make their dreams come true. On the foundations of their old and rich culture, they will build a new Kingdom – modern and prosperous. No change is possible, without the society involved. So I am celebrating the people of Saudi Arabia, their tribal loyalty, but their global minds and vision.