1) Dear Heather, you moved from your home in the USA to Saudi Arabia. It is a big and very brave thing. Can you share with us your motives and inspiration to do that? How to have the courage to do such a thing?
It’s so interesting because I have never felt brave! It was a big decision to move so far from my Family for such a long time but it just felt like what I should be doing! I’ve mentioned this a lot when we have talked previously but truthfully, for me, it is always just a matter of thinking to myself, “Okay, what’s next?” Then when an opportunity that seems a little wild but also very interesting comes along, I ask myself, “why not?” When I can’t think of any really good reason to say no, I just follow the path until some door closes. I really don’t think I would describe myself as courageous. I just don’t let myself become paralyzed by fear of the unknown.
Oh! Life in Saudi Arabia! What a thing to talk about! Truthfully, moving to a country like Saudi Arabia is such a big adjustment from living in America or from my experience in Europe. It has been really important for me to establish friendships here. These friendships have been so important, especially since I haven’t been able to leave to go home or to somewhere familiar. My friends and I have dinners together or watch movies or try to explore the country a bit. When I’m not working, I try to fill my weekends with things to do - it helps make life feel more full.
3) Can you tell us more about that country from the first hand – people, daily life, tradition, culture, language, food…?
Like I said in my last conversation with you, I love good food so I am starting there! There is so much good food in the middle east! I’m sure many of your readers are familiar with many dishes so I won’t just spend the space on a long list but oh, I certainly could! And we can’t forget to mention the Arabic coffee and fantastic teas!
Religion is so important here and faith plays a big role in how people live their lives. I know that some of the decisions and practices in Saudi is not favored in some more Westernized countries. However, you are able to understand it better when you are closer to it and you can really see how important these kinds of values are. I don’t want to get into anything controversial so I won’t. I will say that there is a lot of structure and a high degree of accountability in a lot of ways.
Women are making big strides here and it gives me a strong conviction to empower my students to chase their own dreams. Women can drive now and so many other amazing opportunities are opening. They just had the first all-female golf tournament here! There are amazing female Saudi scientists! Women are ambassadors for Saudi!
4) I bet you feel nostalgia sometime? I felt that when I moved to another city when I was 19. How do you handle it?
Oh, definitely! It is especially hard at this time of the year when there are so many holidays that aren’t celebrated in Saudi Arabia. Typically, this would be the time of year that I would be spending extra time with my family. I think last year, I really tried to just ignore and pretend like the holidays aren't happening. No surprise - that didn’t work! So this year, I am leaning into it! My friends and I are making traditional holiday foods and even decorating our apartment. I think it helps the holidays feel less lonely. It also helps that any time I miss home, I can always reach out to my family. Working out the time difference can be a challenge but my family is supportive which is really helpful!
I have been really lucky to get to know a Saudi family here who regularly invites me to be a part of their family. I feel like another family member and I always feel at home with their family. They are so happy to learn about America while I also am so happy to learn about their holidays and traditional foods. I think this really helps to have a place that does feel closer to home on this side of the world.
5) What is your suggestion to the ones who would like to do a similar thing?
Just do it! I mean really, it is that simple. It isn’t easy but it is simple! If you have a thought and you think it is just a crazy dream - chase it!! Keep knocking on doors until one swing open. The worst you can hear is “no.” You owe it to yourself to not look back at your life in 15 years wondering why you didn’t. It doesn’t matter where you are or what age you are, I know you can do it! I know it's possible because I work alongside people who are in so many different stations of life and are chasing their dreams - people with families, married people of different ages, single people of all ages. It could be you! You don’t need to feel brave or courageous. You just need to take active steps towards your goal - whatever it may be!
6) If you have something more to say or add, please feel free to write it here.
Because I know Saudi can be a polarizing country when you hear the news or read articles, I think it is worth noting that you don’t have to agree with someone to offer them respect or dignity. I think there is a lot to be learned from cultures that feel different from your own. It changes you and makes you see the world with a clearer view.