What’s your name?
What brought you to Saudi Arabia and is this your first time in the country?
I had traveled for work in the Middle East before, but had not been to Saudi Arabia until I visited my university here a few months prior to my employment. I came here to join the faculty of King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals.
For many people looking to move to Saudi Arabia getting a job is a top priority. What ways can they find a job there?
Since I was recruited for my position, I’m probably not best suited to comment on this. I’ve seen employment ads on the internet on expat sites.
How would you compare the workplace in Saudi Arabia versus what you’ve experienced as an employee in America?
I spent 30 years in academia in the US prior to joining the faculty here. The university runs very similarly to US universities. However, processes are much slower owing to a denser bureaucracy. Everything needs multiple signatures and slow and careful review at each step. However, I was never under the illusion that things would be as efficient here as in the U.S.
What kind of industries or occupations would an American most likely land a job if they were looking to work in Saudi Arabia?
Health care sector, English teachers (most English-instructed universities have a pre-freshman preparatory year that includes intensive English), finance/accounting, HR, engineering, and engineering management.
Can you describe the housing situation and the process of finding a place to stay?
I have the good fortune of having on-campus housing supplied for me at no cost (utilities and maintenance are included). It’s in a gated compound. Most US expats live in some type of gated compound. Having said that, I would feel very safe in KSA even if I was not living in a gated compound.
Have you had any difficulty getting access to healthcare and finding a good doctor and dentist?
We have good medical insurance provided for us, but I haven’t had to use it. There is a clinic on campus where I can have check-ups or routine visits, and where I can get prescription refills. There are many medical centers here in the Eastern Province. Should I need care, I assume I’ll be able to find what I need.
What’s it like for a single guy there?
I have a very good social life here. I’ve been going to Thursday post-work happy hours at the US Consulate next door to my university. I’ve met a great group of people through that. I also have friends and former students in Saudi Aramco (also next door to my university) and I commonly go to friends’ houses or to events in Aramco camp. I have the good fortune of being able to travel in the region (e.g., Dubai), and every so often I drive over the causeway to Bahrain. Life seems more “normal” in those places and it makes for a nice diversion; but really, I’m quite happy and socially fulfilled here in KSA.
What kind of perception of America, and Americans, do the locals that you’ve met have?
America and Americans are highly respected here in Saudi. I hate to say it, but white male privilege is a real thing here. Having a blue passport is good.
If you had friends planning to spend only 24 hours in Saudi Arabia, what would you suggest that they see or do?
That would vary greatly depending on individual tastes, and also on the time of year. The Eastern Province is very urban with excellent shopping opportunities, if that’s your thing. Name a high-end retail store/chain and they’re likely present in one of the malls here. I would urge friends to get out to the countryside to see the desert. Maybe rent a 4×4 and go “dune bashing” or contact a tour agency and do an overnight in a Bedouin camp and ride a camel. Doing just about anything outdoors from May through October is not recommended; the temperatures will simply be prohibitive for outdoor enjoyment. For the rest of the year, the weather can be lovely and comfortable day and night. If you’re more adventuresome, go snorkeling or fishing in the Gulf, or rent and ride ATVs in the dunes. Twenty-four hours is not enough time to begin to appreciate the Kingdom.
See more beautiful photos of Saudi Arabia on John’s blog.