I spent 112 days living and working in Saudi Arabia. The beginning days filled with angst and fear – worried of misstepping, costing my future; or worse – life. The middle days of my four month journey filled with wonder and surprise as I uncovered a beautiful culture and people who can be gravely misunderstood. And the end days, filled with stress and anxiety as I was threatened by my manager and locals harassing me online. It seemed that the more intrigued I was with Saudi Arabia, the more I wanted to share, yet the more people didn’t want me to. Although western media has threatened the fabric of the Kingdom – sometimes necessarily, sometimes unnecessarily – the more I wanted to share what living in Saudi was *truly* like. Yet the more light I shined on living in the Kingdom, the more I was expected to fit a narrative of “living and working here is rainbows and butterflies”. Yet the reality is, nowhere in life always rainbows and butterflies – not at home in America, and not abroad in Saudi Arabia.
This is my story and account of what it was like to live and work in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
I’m An American Who Worked in Saudi Arabia – This is What it Was *Truly* Like
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Living in Saudi Arabia – The Beginning
As I packed my luggage and set off for a truly life-changing adventure around the world – I was filled with angst and fear about living and working in a country so different from my own. After all, I knew that one wrong move could negatively impact my life forever. Having signed documentation stating, “I am fully aware of the crime of smuggling narcotics and other illegal drugs to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is punishable by the death penalty”, I knew that this was truly going to be a once in a lifetime experience.
Of course, I wasn’t so fearful that I didn’t want to live in the Kingdom. In fact, it seemed that my intrigue trumped my fear any day which is what led me to this experience. Plus, knowing that the Kingdom is trying to transform their image and doesn’t want any bad relations with America (or other western countries) gave me a (maybe false) sense of security. Could they do anything to me? Of course. Would they? Not that I’d imagine.
So those first few days and weeks in the Kingdom I tried to conform to social norms. I dressed conservatively, tried to “stay small” and not have too much of an opinion in front of men, and moved from work to home with little activity in-between. (For more, don’t miss What it’s Like Living in Saudi Arabia (from an American Perspective) for my account of one month in the Kingdom).
As I grew more comfortable…
Living in Saudi Arabia – The Middle
The middle of my journey in Saudi Arabia was amazing. I’d seemed to have shed the every day “fear” I’d felt in the beginning; now I felt lighter, free, and excited to uncover the ancient land laid out before me. I comfortably dined alone, comfortably road Ubers alone, and even comfortably traveled alone.
It seemed as though everywhere I went I was greeted with a smile and the notion that I was welcome in the country. The middle days and weeks of my journey I began to learn simple Arabic phrases, I began exploring Riyadh, I began making friends and traveling to nearby gulf countries. I got my footing at work as I trained to be charge nurse and found my voice advocating for my patients in a male-focused work place.
But of course, it wasn’t all rainbows and butterflies and of course there were downsides and consequences of me feeling more comfortable…
Living in Saudi Arabia – The End
The end of my journey in Saudi Arabia hit me like a freight train. Having expected to live in the Kingdom for 365 days, a cumulation of my words and actions as an outspoken western female, led to stress, anxiety; ultimately crashing and burning.
The once friendly locals seemed to turn on me as I shared simple facts about the Kingdom – like alcohol being illegal. And my workplace quickly turned from a safe haven to hell – with threats of prison after sharing on TikTok and Instagram that I worked 198 hours/month as a nurse in Saudi Arabia and 144 hours/month as a nurse in America. And worst of all, doctors unable to stand me advocating for my patients instead of having a “yes man” attitude.
Knowing what I know now, would I do it all over again? Would I quit my job at a prestigious hospital, sell my brand new furniture, break my lease, move my belongings into my parents house, just to move across the world to Saudi Arabia to work in a hospital that isn’t anywhere ready for westerners? To a far away country (in the most literal sense) with everything being foreign and new?
This is a question I still grapple with. At times, yes, yes I would. But at other times – you couldn’t pay me $1,000,000 to go through the agonizing journey of moving and leaving Saudi Arabia.
And that’s my truth.
If you’re moving to Saudi Arabia for a nursing job, don’t miss: How to Pack for 1-Year in Saudi Arabia
Thank you for sharing your truth. As a teacher whose worked in numerous Gulf countries (and still do), I also believe that even though places want international staff, they aren’t fully equipped for what means in reality. Sorry you were threatened for being open and factual. I went through this too when I discussed the racism and discrimination I experienced as a teacher particularly in Kuwait and the UAE. I wish you well in your next chapter. It may not have ended the way you wanted it to, but I’m sure it taught you a lot! You may find different experiences in places less conservative than KSA
Hi Aneesa, you’re 100% right. Thank you for the comment and I wish you the best of luck over there!
Kylee, you are one of the bravest women I know. Your fearlessness is something I admire so much and has helped me push my own boundaries. I’m sorry things didn’t work out in Saudi Arabia but I loved following along and can’t wait to see what’s next for you. Wishing you many beautiful and safe adventures ahead!
Omgsh Michelle this brought tears to my eyes. Thank you so much for the kind words :).
I can’t even imagine the highs and lows you’ve had through this experience. Thanks for sharing the realities of your journey!
Thanks for reading!
I’ve loved following along with your journey. Thanks for sharing such an honest account of everything. I also noticed the hostility towards you online near the end of your time there. I’m glad you’ve moved forward, I can’t wait to see what’s next for you!
Thank you so much! And I know, things got quite rough at the end…. it was a bummer.
Love this post! Thanks so much for sharing all about it. You are so strong for staying authentic and sharing your truth even when it got hard and crazy. Sorry you went through this though.
Awe, thanks for reading Chelsea!!!!
I’m so sorry to hear about your experience in Saudi. Just wanna say that you had bad luck at that hospital and with those doctors. It’s difficult to work in such an environment especially if you’re working in the NICU.
I’m a Saudi RT who graduated from Indiana University. to be honest, I was expecting the worst when I came back to Saudi, but surprisingly the hospital that I worked at had a system similar to the one I used in the US and was fully equipped with the newest devices and equipment. We also had a great relationship with the doctors there. However, during the pandemic, I had to temporarily work at one of the ministry of health hospitals where I was near losing my mind and had to quit.
What happened with the pharmacist was another level. We used to have an electronic form for claims where you can report him.
Finally, it’s different roles, different cultures, and mentality where sometimes it’s better to avoid arguments. I would explain my reasons and if they refused it, I would just ask them to officially write their request down.
Hope you have a better experience in the future in Saudi or anywhere else.
Thanks for the comment! I love to hear different perspectives, especially non-nursing :). I often wish I was at a different hospital because I think things would have turned out wayyyy differently. Also – when we filed complaints, because trust me – I did, our manager said that she thinks they are being hidden to make the hospital look better. So, so awful.