Category Archives: Update

Ha’il, Saudi Arabia

Since the 28th of August, 2012, I have been living and working in the city of Ha’il, Ha’il Province, Saudi Arabia. Working for the Saudi company, Al-Khaleej Training & Education, I teach English to students of the Preparatory Year at the University of Ha’il.

Saudi Arabia Map Ha'il

Off to Ha’il!

It’s official – I have been assigned a position at the university project in Ha’il and will be moving this Tuesday (28th August). I will be teaching at the University of Ha’il, where their academic year is about to begin. I have organised for a van to take me and my things, including all of my furniture. I couldn’t well leave behind my nice hardwood desk, lazyboi chair and grandfather clock, could I? It’s going to be a bit of a mission because this stuff is heavy, but it’ll definitely be worth the effort.

I will be staying, at least initially, at the compound provided for the teachers by the company. I have no idea what the compound is like and how it compares to the one in Sakaka – hopefully it’s nice and large, with a swimming pool, like the compound in Tabuk, but I’m not getting my hopes up! In any case, I’ll have the option again to move into town and get my own apartment. So we’ll see what happens – I shall keep you updated on the move!

Moving soon…

The company I work for is concluding its contract with Al-Jouf University and so all teachers based in Sakaka, including myself, will be transferred to other projects within Saudi Arabia. The move is set to come at the end of this month, in time to begin elsewhere from September. It’s not certain yet where everyone will be placed. There is a good chance I may be posted in Riyadh, but apparently most of the native English speakers will be transferred to a project based in Ha’il, a city  about 300km south-east of Sakaka. I have marked Ha’il red on the following map:

Saudi Arabia Map Ha'il

I shall be sure to keep you posted on any new developments!

Sakaka, Saudi Arabia

I’m currently living in Sakaka, where I’ve been based since September 9th, 2011, working as an English teacher at Al-Jouf University. My first four months here I stayed at the compound provided for the teachers by our company, Al-Khaleej Education & Training. It’s located about 25-30 minutes away by bus from the city centre and although comfortable, the compound’s isolation was not ideal, especially when wanting to practise my Arabic with locals. So I decided to move and since February 2012 I have been living in my own apartment downtown, close to the university campus and city centre. You can read more about moving into my new place here.

I’m set to move again soon, however, as our company’s contract with Al-Jouf University has expired and all employees are being transferred to other projects within Saudi Arabia.

Map of Saudi Arabia

Off to Al-Jouf!

After much waiting at the hotel for news, I finally had a meeting with the company yesterday and was told where I am being sent… I’m going to be teaching in Sakaka, Al-Jouf.

It’s a small city in the northern part of Saudi Arabia, close to the borders of Jordan and Iraq. Teachers are housed in a residential complex reserved for expats, which is generally referred to as a ‘compound’ (don’t worry – nothing to do with concentration camps!). In fact, apparently it’s quite luxurious, with a villa for every two teachers, and each villa has its own swimming pool! I’ll be sure to post some photos once I have arrived.

Al-Jouf is a ‘university project’, as opposed to the ‘centre’ in Riyadh, which means I will be teaching university students around 18-21 years old. Apparently the work hours are very good there, with only one shift a day instead of two like at the centre here in Riyadh.

Several other teachers here at the hotel will also be going to Al-Jouf. So we’ll be traveling up together, scheduled to fly on Saturday (although – having seen the organisation here, it could be any day!). The company still hasn’t taken me to have the medical done. One teacher already left for Al-Jouf a couple days ago, before having his medical, so I may end up just having it done over there instead.

Also, during my meeting with the company yesterday, they were very happy to give an advance on the salary, which most teachers request for their first month in the country.

Since my last post, I’ve managed to meet several more teachers, some of which have been working here for up to two years already. It’s been very helpful to hear about their experience working with Al-Khaleej and to get lots of useful advice before setting out for Al-Jouf. It’s encouraging to discover that many of them have decided to continue working in Saudi Arabia and will be renewing their contract with Al-Khaleej. On the whole, it seems as though their experience has been very positive.

Now I just have to see what it’s like for myself!

!ان شاء الله خير

Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

Here’s the update you’ve all been waiting for… I’ve finally arrived in Saudi Arabia! It’s been a very long day of traveling and needless to say I’m pretty exhausted. Although it’s already approaching 2:00am local time (midnight in London) and I’m shattered, I decided I’d stay up a bit longer and update my blog to let all of you know I have arrived safely. Even though I have only just arrived, I’ve already had some very interesting experiences, and I’m sure they will be the first of many more to come.

Starting in Cardiff, my journey took three flights in total, first to Amsterdam, then to Dammam (in Saudi Arabia), and finally to Riyadh. To and from Amsterdam I was on Royal Dutch Airlines and then Saudi Arabian Airlines to Riyadh. There was a very noticeable difference between the airlines. There was, of course, no alcohol on the Saudi Arabian Airlines flight. Moreover, however, I noticed the air hostess assisted in seating each passenger so as to segregate single men from the women. In the row of three adjacent to me, for example, a male passenger was asked to move from the window to the aisle in order to allow a woman to sit by the window, with her husband acting as a buffer between her and the male passenger.

The next remarkable thing was when the overhead TVs played the usual safety video and then – a prayer for the safety of the flight! Can you imagine something like that on an airline in America? The video explained that this particular prayer was said to have been used by Mohammed when embarking on a journey. The equivalent would be if, on United Airlines for instance, they presented the safety video and then… “And now a prayer to Jesus for a safe flight…” Pretty hard to imagine, but clearly over here this sort of thing is taken for granted.

I was pleased not to have encountered any issues getting through immigration. It was just a twenty-minute wait or so. Then, before stamping my passport and letting me on through, they scanned my fingerprints and also took a photo for their records.

I then picked up my luggage from the baggage claim. On Royal Dutch Airlines I was only allowed one check-in bag, weighing no more than 23kg (50.5 lb). I just barely made it under the limit, that is, after removing all of my books and carrying them in a separate plastic bag! There was no problem, however, in carrying these on the plane in addition to my laptop bag.

Next was the meet and greet and thankfully a member of staff from Al-Khaleej was waiting there for me as promised, holding up a sign with my name on it – just like in the movies. After a prompt “assalumu alaykum!” (peace be upon you) and an enthusiastic shaking of hands, he introduced himself; “Hello, I am Osama…”

He was of course very welcoming and I was not surprised at all to receive such warm hospitality, which Arabs are particularly known for, and which I have experienced many times across the Arab World. So far, coming back to the Arab World hasn’t been too much of a culture shock; rather, it feels like I’ve returned to my home away from home! I look forward to getting more settled in over the coming months. I still don’t know where I will be based more permanently, but will apparently find out on Monday, when I am meeting up with another member of staff from Al-Khaleej who is involved in the placement process.

In the meantime, I’ve been told that I will likely be based in Riyadh at least until Monday. With it being Eid (at the end of Ramadan), things are rather slow at the moment. On the plus side, it means I will have some time to chill out here at the hotel for a while and also get to know some of the other new arrivals who are coming in this week. Apparently there are already a few other teachers here in the hotel. I’ll have to look out for them tomorrow – I have a feeling they will be pretty easy to spot!

It’s a pretty decent hotel – with large rooms and much needed air-conditioning (albeit very loud). Yes – as expected, it’s very very hot over here! So much so, in fact, that at some restaurants where they have outdoor seating, there is piping overhead that sprays a mist of water over the guests to keep them (relatively) cool. After checking into the hotel, Osama took me to one such place, called “House of Shawerma”, where we picked up a couple chicken shawermas (wraps made with cuttings from the giant turning meats you see at kebab shops). I was very hungry – I just hope eating shawerma on an empty stomach doesn’t prove to be a bad choice! I also picked up some water and soft drinks for the fridge in my hotel room. As I write this, there is a 2 ¼ litre bottle of Mountain Dew by my bedside – am I in heaven?

I will keep you updated as things progress over the next week!

Flight Date on the Calendar!

My flight to Saudi Arabia has finally been confirmed… for the 1st of September. So, with the start of a new month comes the beginning of a new adventure! In exactly one week, I shall be landing in the sandy kingdom… arriving in Dammam, then catching a short flight to Riyadh.

I’ve been informed that a member of staff  from Al-Khaleej will be there for the meet and greet, and will take me to my hotel – all expenses paid. I expect I’ll be in Riyadh a couple days or so, while things are sorted out and arrangements are made for me to move to a more permanent location. As of yet, I still don’t know which city I will be based in, but I should find out within the next week, if not the next few days.

While in Riyadh, one of the things I will be doing is having another medical, even though I already had one a couple months ago for the visa application. Apparently it’s mandatory, either for working in Saudi Arabia or for obtaining a residency permit (“Iqaama”) – or both. I stumbled upon some details about the medical in a blog I’ve been reading written by another expat, who has been working for Al-Khaleej for over 6 months now. He said the medical not only requires a blood and urine sample, but also a stool sample! So I can’t say I’m looking forward to that!

I’ve also heard some very positive things about Al-Khaleej and, in particular, about getting its employees paid and on time. In fact, I read that the company begins the salary-month right from the first week we’re in the country, even if we haven’t started teaching. It’s nice to know a little bit about what I’m getting myself into and so far everything seems very positive.

I shall be sure to keep you updated on where exactly I am heading after Riyadh. Watch this space!

Vis-à-Vis my Visa…

I began the snail-paced Saudi visa process all the way back on the 18th of May, 2011… Now, after three long months of gathering documents, playing email tennis and waiting around, I have finally received my visa!

Fortunately it’s come just in time for the start of the new academic year. I don’t have a flight date just yet, but it’s currently being organised by Al-Khaleej, the Saudi Arabian company I will be working for. They will also be paying for my flights, which is rather nice! I was informed that it would most likely be after Eid Al-Fitr  (the festival at the end of Ramadan). So I’m expecting to leave some time early September. I’ve requested to fly out of Cardiff Airport, but if this isn’t possible, I will be flying out of London.

I will keep you posted!

Cardiff, Wales

I’m currently based in Cardiff, Wales!

Flag of Wales

My brother Gordon and his family have kindly let me stay at their place as I wait to move back to the Arab world.

I’m treating this time between jobs as an extended vacation and am enjoying the opportunity to spend time with my family based here in the UK.

It’s been especially great to be able to spend so much time with my little nieces here in Cardiff and to see them grow up so quickly! It’s also been a pleasure to see Gordon at work at St. David’s Lutheran Church and to get to know members of the congregation there. I’ve enjoyed getting involved in some of their church events, including their recent 50th anniversary celebration.

As well as babysitting and relaxing with the family, I’m also spending my time reading and doing some language work. In particular, I’ve been practising my Arabic, but have also begun reading up on Turkish and Urdu, both of which I am very interested in and plan to explore in more depth.

I also enjoy updating my new blog and preparing for my upcoming adventure in Saudi Arabia… click here to learn more!

Saudi Arabia!

Flag of Saudi Arabia

Next stop… Saudi Arabia!

I have been offered a position as an English Language Instructor with a Saudi Arabian company called Al-Khaleej Training & Education. I expect to start some time in July, but my arrival date is still uncertain. I’m still in the middle of a lengthy visa process and the recent addition of an extra month-long procedure hasn’t helped in speeding up the process! Fortunately the company in Saudi Arabia understands the situation and will still hold the job for me while I work through the extra red tape.