This is a commonly asked question when a family man chooses to take a position in the Kingdom, particularly if he is coming from a Western country and environment. A lot on the success of adjustment will depend on the individual and her mindset. After all, if we allow ourselves we can be miserable in Paradise.
First of all, before coming to the Kingdom all family members should make research of Saudi Arabia their family project. When it comes to relocating to a new and diverse environment like the Kingdom there is no such thing as information overload. Even in spite of how well prepared one may believe themselves to be there will still be culture shock. Also find out who in your area or company or region has lived in Saudi Arabia before. Ask them for their top 5 tips and advise.
Culture shock can come in varying degrees and equally important, it can come at different times. There will be the initial culture shock of being exposed to a new environment and culture. In this phase one will most notice the “exoticism” and how different life and customs are compared to the West. Because one is still new the initial culture shock may not be felt as deeply as what I call the delayed culture shock. The delayed culture shock kicks in after one has been in the Kingdom for several weeks or several months and a person may not have fully settled down yet. This is also when one will feel homesickness as well as perhaps frustration by the differences which to some may be viewed as limiting – the inability for a woman to drive; the items or activities that are not available in the Kingdom (cinemas, concerts, greater choices of social activities, limited English language book selection to name a few). If a person is having the delayed culture shock and at the same time does not yet have a local support network in place, this can be a tough time. Partners should be cognizant of these indicators and factors and will need to be very supportive of one another.
So how can a spouse (and yes, it’s usually the wife) easily adjust to the Kingdom? Well, in addition to the advance research, join newsgroups, interest groups and forums which will allow one to “virtually” meet other like-minded individuals already in the Kingdom. Additionally many companies which sponsor Westerners to the Kingdom also offer services to help families adjust and get settled. On arrival, get involved. Go out and make friends, join clubs, volunteer and be busy. But be careful, it is also easily to find oneself over-committed if not careful. Global Watchers Arabia is one company located in Riyadh which will provide relocation services to include identifying housing, advise and guidance on acclimatizing to Riyadh, tours of Riyadh, etc. (www.globalwatchersarabia.com)
The environment one lives in also makes a significant difference. A couple should discuss in advance which environment is best suited to them such as making a residence in a Western compound or living independently in a villa or apartment. The Western compound will naturally house other westerners as well as having facilities that are unlikely easily available or accessible on the local environment. In addition to having a variety of activities, western compounds usually provide notices of other western-oriented activities elsewhere too. If living in an environment similar to the USA, UK or Canada or elsewhere in the West is critical to happiness and peace of mind then a western compound would likely be best.
In the local environment houses are separated by high walls and locked gates. There may be little control over who lives next door to you. You have to rely on local vendors and workers for any maintenance and may have to contend with language barriers.
Typically due to the iqama process, the man will arrive in the Kingdom ahead of his family. Prior to his wife’s arrival have a working mobile ready for her. Make sure internet is available as well as satellite tv. These actions will help prevent a feeling of isolation. If in the event the stove dials are all in Centrigrade and she is used to Fahrenheit, have a conversion chart handy. Both of you will appreciate the results of that small gesture…trust me, this is experience talking on that one!
Because women cannot drive, for some men, they will need to acquire extra patience as they become a defacto driver. If you can afford it, get your wife a driver. This helps prevent the feeling of isolation and allows her to feel independent. Until a driver is an option, identify in advance a safe and reliable taxi service she can call upon to be able to get around. There are a number of “private taxis” in which the driver has a solid reputation, has been in the Kingdom for a period of time, speaks Arabic and English, has a safe and unmarked vehicle with tinted windows in the back and accustomed to transporting western women. One may pay up to 10 per cent more for these services as compared to a public taxi but when viewing safety, security and sense of well-being, should one put a price on these factors?
This is some initial food for thought and just touches the iceberg. In addition for the wife adjusting, don’t overlook that the husband will have his own adjustments as well. If he is working with Saudi nationals and other third-country-nationals he will have his own professional adjustments to go through too. Communication, support and partnership are crucial elements for success for all families relocating to the Kingdom.