(MENAFN - Arab News) What is life like for expatriates in Saudi Arabia? Is it a pleasant place to live? How do they feel about the prospect of having to leave the country in the future? Arab News asked around.
Saudi Arabia is a family friendly society and most recreational places are designed for families. Unlike in other Arab countries, such as Dubai, singles have fewer options here for entertainment.
Sarfaraz Khan lives in Jeddah with his family. He really appreciates the family oriented lifestyle in the Kingdom, and finds living here peaceful and secure.
"For me Saudi Arabia is just perfect! You can take your family and go anywhere on an outing. The people are decent and all the places are suitable to take your family," he said. Khan is only worried about his family members in his country of origin. When something serious would happen to him, he wouldn't be able to be by their side as soon as he would like to be.
Jedish Nair, a non-Muslim expatriate who lives here with his family, said he really likes that Saudis are particularly friendly and thoughtful toward people who have their kids with them.
"At the airport when I stand in the queue with my wife and child, the officer will allow me to come before other expatriates who are without children, so that my child is not troubled by waiting in a long queue. I find that very touching. This would not happen in India. Whether my child is with me or not, I would have to wait my turn."
Asif Shaikh, a librarian, lives here without his family. He said that he wished there was a cultural club where Saudis and expatriates could exchange views and learn more about the others' culture.
"Apart from missing my family, the hardest thing is the lack of recreational activities. For me and my colleagues it's mostly work-home-work." The language barrier many expatriates had feared before arriving in the Kingdom turned out not to be a major obstacle. The Saudis who hired them usually speak English and are able to communicate well with them.
Mohammed Asif, who lives in Jeddah with his wife and daughter, said he and his wife worried most about their child's higher education. They feel the international schools need improvement.
"I feel the international schools are not the best that they can be. The playgrounds are very small. And many schools are just flats turned into schools," he said.
"I hope the authorities concerned will read this and improve the schools," he added.
"If you simply accept that living abroad is a temporary thing, life as an expat shouldn't be too hard," says Amjad Bashar, an Indian expat who has been living in the Kingdom for 10 years, but never considered Saudi Arabia his home.
"For me, home is India," said Bashar. "I was born and raised in India and my lifestyle has always been Indian." Getting used to a lifestyle of a different country is pretty hard. Even worse is when you have lived in a country for several years and you face the reverse culture shock of going back home.
"The lifestyle here in the Kingdom is totally different. It's the night life here and in Egypt, it's the morning life," says Sarah El-Magdy, a university student.
"Even though I am supposed to love it in Egypt, I love the lifestyle in Saudi Arabia more," said Sarah. "Women are not allowed to go out alone in this country and women do not have the freedom to drive, which are the only things I disagree with. We have to abide by cultural expectations of dress code and fewer opportunities for open social interaction."
Sarah said she has made a bigger circle of friends in the Kingdom, the majority of whom are Saudis. She said she wouldn't want to leave to her country, and if she did, she would want to come back.
After living in the Kingdom for a long time and being used to the traditions of Saudi Arabia, when these expats go back to their countries they usually stand out in a crowd.
"I've lived in Saudi Arabia my whole life and was born here too," said Rizana Rumi, a Sri Lankan expatriate who's been working as a teacher in Dammam.
Rumi has been living here for all her 24 years. Rumi said she is a foreigner to the Saudis but despite the regular vacations to her home country, she still considers Saudi Arabia home.
"I am just so used to the lifestyle in Saudi Arabia and that makes me more of a Saudi than a Sri Lankan," says Rumi. "Everything just seems odd when I visit my home country after a long time.
The weather is nicer back there compared to here but I have to admit the atmosphere and the spirituality in Saudi Arabia is far better than in my home country."