Saudi Arabia: Understanding the Saudi Home-Stay

photo of Saudi Students from Oregon State with their host family (google images)

Part of the experience that is offered to the Saudi student who is studying abroad in a foreign country is the opportunity to participate and live in a “home stay.”  A home-stay allows the student to live with a family while he (or she) has English language training or other academic studies.

The home-stay is a great opportunity for the Saudi student to gain greater insights and have a richer experience in the host country.

However, in fairness to both the Saudi student and the home-stay family, there do need to be expectations and an understanding.  The Saudi student should know what can be expected from the home –stay family.  Will meals be provided and if so, are there set times or can the student “eat on demand?”  Does the student have carte blanche kitchen privileges?  Is the student expected to clean up in the kitchen after meals?  Is the student allowed to smoke in the house?  Who does the student’s laundry?  Are laundry privileges included?

These may seem like simple questions yet remember that many of the Saudi students are not familiar with how households may run outside of Saudi Arabia.  Most of the young students have likely come from families which have domestic help.  As a result, they have no clue about preparing or cleaning up after meals, doing laundry or having to maintain cleanliness of their own room.  Like a young child, they may need to be shown and trained on simple chores such as changing sheets and making up a bed.

In some Saudi homes the bathrooms are not as typical as in the Western world.  Some may not have a typical Western toilet but a simple “two stepper” instead.  Many Saudi washrooms come equipped with either a bidet or a small hose attached near to the toilet.  Because it is not typical for a Saudi home to naturally have toilet paper, the individual cleanses themselves with the assistance of the bidet or hose.  The student may not understand if using toilet paper how much is too much to throw in the toilet.  Other Saudi bathrooms may not have a bathtub with shower.  There may simply be a shower head in one corner of the bathroom with no separation and the water flows freely on the floor to a central area with a drain.

To help avoid costly misunderstandings the home-stay family may want to have small signs posted in the bathroom or laundry room with do’s and do not’s.

By the same token, to make the Saudi feel more at home and comfortable, a home-stay family may want to equip the student’s room with a prayer rug and a Quran.  Any local Islamic Center, mosque or the Saudi Embassy’s Department of Islamic Affairs can assist and advise.  If the Saudi will take meals with the family then be cognizant that he or she should not eat any pork products or consume alcohol.  There will be exceptions to these rules since it is a fact that some students like to experiment with freedoms not found in Saudi Arabia.

The home-stay family should be prepared to answer many questions about life in the host country.  The questions can range from food to politics to religion to sex depending on how comfortable the student is with the host-family.  It’s pretty common for students to want to know why Western families choose not to have domestic help.

Saudis do value family and place the mother at the top.  Treating a Saudi student like a cherished and valued member of a home-stay family can be the start of a relationship that will last a lifetime.


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