|Carol is a former American diplomat who after 20 years of service resigned to marry her Saudi husband. She now resides in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia with her husband and their 3 cats. She is a strong advocate for the education and empowerment of women and readily volunteers her skills to this cause. Her book “Patriots For Hire” which is a collection of untold stories on the roles, experiences and motivations of defense contractors in Iraq has been picked up by Praeger Security International Publishing. It is expected to be released by early Spring 2008.
-Where were you born?
-In which country and city are you living now?
Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
-Are you living alone or with your family?
With my husband and our 3 cats
-How long have you been living in Saudi Arabia?
Just over one year
-What is your age?
-When did you come up with the idea of living in Saudi Arabia?
I came to Saudi Arabia due to marriage to a Saudi national.
-Was it hard to get a visa or a working permit?
Yes. Saudi Arabia in general has strict visa requirements whether due to working, visiting or marriage.
-Was it difficult for you to get medical insurance before you went there or when you first arrived?
-How do you make your living in Saudi Arabia? Do you have any type of income generated?
Presently I am working as a freelance consultant which gives me not only flexibility but variety. While at first glance it may seem difficult for women to work in Saudi Arabia, there are actually many opportunities. The key is to be flexible, creative, patient and not afraid to make your own opportunities or take chances.
-Do you speak Arabic and do you think it's important to speak the local language?
Because I am married to a Saudi and few of the women in my husband’s family speak English, it is imperative for me to learn Arabic. In general, it is always beneficial to know the language of the host country in which one is living. And yes, it is important to become familiar and respect as well as observe local customs. One may not be a diplomat but then again, in a sense, any expat is also a diplomat for they are in the eyes of host country nationals, representatives of their country.
-Do you miss home and family sometimes?
Of course I miss my family back in the States and fortunately modern technology such as internet, skype, vonage make it so much easier to maintain contact with those dear to us. And let’s face, one can be miserable in paradise if they allow themselves. The key to success in any location is mindset. Find like minded friends; create that support network; keep busy and engaged. At first blush Saudi Arabia may seem very restrictive but with a little digging, one can find many activities from golf to horseback riding to history to various exhibits and lectures. It really depends on ones interests.
-Do you have other plans for the future?
My husband is a career diplomat so while we are presently in Saudi while he completes a “home posting” there is always a possibility of moving on to yet another country. As a former (American) diplomat myself I have no objections to future travel. Both my husband and myself enjoy exposure to new countries, cultures and customs.
-What about housing, have you bought, or are you renting a home? How much do you pay for it?
We continue to maintain a house in the States but presently are living in a compound in Riyadh.
-What is the cost of living in Saudi Arabia?
The cost of living is overall relative to ones expectations and standards. I will say that the quality of life in Saudi Arabia is above that of living in Europe or North America as the working hours are shorter and more relaxed; household help is available and overall affordable.
-What do you think about the Saudis?
Saudis are very hospitable and generous. They are also private individuals. As a result there may not be as much mixing after-hours between cultures/nationalities unless like me, one happens to marry a local (Saudi).
-What are the positive and negative aspects of living in Saudi Arabia?
On the negative side (for some) Saudi Arabia is very conservative in that women cannot drive; women must wear an abaya (long black robe) over their clothes; in some circumstances it is prudent for a woman to cover her hair as well. There are no public movie theatres; segregation on the local environment remains in effect in most places. One will not find any public clubs or dances in the Kingdom. For some individuals depending on their lifestyle and interests those aspects could be negative.
On the positive side one can live well and much easier and for less than in many other places; people will bond quickly and become friends; there is much to explore and discover about Arabia; this is an excellent environment for a family. The Saudis love and cherish children of all ages.
-Do you have any tips for our readers about living in Saudi Arabia?
Do as much advance research and preparation as possible. No matter how prepared you believe you are there will still be culture shock and even delayed culture shock. Maintain a positive attitude and outlook.
-Do you have any favorite Web sites or blogs about Saudi Arabia?
Of course I want to start with my own blog: http://delhi4cats.wordpress.com
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/expatsinsaudiarabia: Five stars – probably best newsgroup all around with high volumn of activity, ground truths, insights and pertinent info about the Kingdom
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Saudi_Wives: While initially oriented for women married to Saudis it has a number of expat women who are married and living in the Kingdom. Excellent group for networking and learning about real life in the Kingdom
http://xrdarabia.org/blog/index.php: Excellent blog about Saudi Arabia written by a retired U.S. foreign service officer who served two diplomatic postings in Riyadh. Great site for insights, information and group truths.
http://saudijeans.blogspot.com: Blog written by a male Saudi student which provides unique perspectives and insights about the Kingdom.