Mari in Jeddah
Why did you decide to apply for a post in Saudi Arabia and Jeddah?
I was thinking about going abroad while studying and I felt like now was a good time as I had had few years of working experience in Finland. First, I was thinking about going to Australia, but the process would have been a bit harder, so I turned my head towards the Middle East. That seemed interesting as I had never been before and I was looking for something totally different.
Do you still remember the recruitment process? Can you tell something about that?
The process was relatively long, if one compares it to switching a job in Finland. This was due to the amount of needed paperwork. I got lots of help from Profco, which I am glad about. Perhaps the only hard part during the process was to gather all the medical documents. Everything else went quite easily. I just had to be prepared to call many calls and visit many places to get the papers. However, everything went in schedule.
Were National Guard and Jeddah what you expected them to be?
I was doing pretty broad research before arriving here. I read a lot of blogs and asked many Finnish nurses about living in Saudi Arabia so I was quite aware of what was to come. Keeping that in mind, everything was more or less what I was expecting. No matter how well one tries to prepare, it will be sort of a shock, how different everything will be when working in a truly multicultural environment. It is not always enough that one can speak English, but one also has to understand several different accents. It is mandatory to give yourself time to learn and adjust to the new surroundings. As a Finn I was used to be willing to learn everything in a week and be able to control everything fast, but here it takes a little longer!
How was the meet and greet organized in Jeddah?
It was organized really well. There were staff waiting for me at the airport, almost right after I jumped out of the plane. They helped me through the customs and took me to my apartment. It was a really pleasant start.
What are your apartment and your compound like?
The apartment is really nice! I am living in perhaps the best compound of the National Guard in Jeddah. These apartments were built for the local university students so these are well equipped. The apartments are new, spacious and classy. However, as we now are not in Finland, everything doesn't necessarily work quite as well. Though, if something breaks, there will be someone to fix it. All in all the apartment is really good. The compound is inside the hospital area. The hospital is located some way of the city center, next to a highway towards Mecca. When it comes to working, the location is good. Depending on the weather, I can either walk or take the transportation provided by the hospital to work. There are daily trips to some of the malls, or the beaches so the distance is not a problem. One can also use the taxis.
What are your experiences on the local culture and people?
I think what one feels about the culture is depending a lot about one's personal expectations. Everything is surely very different compared to home. I personally have been very positive about everything right from the start and I have had no problems whatsoever. Maybe I need to think a little about what I can do or not so that I won't provoke the locals. However, I have been able to be myself freely here! The locals are quite curious towards Western people. But in a friendly way! They might stare a bit while I am walking outside, but everyone has been really friendly and welcoming. They take great pride in their own culture and language and appreciate if someone knows even few words of their language. At work, I have mostly local patients that come from outside Jeddah so they don't necessarily see expats that often. They might seem rude in the beginning, but certainly don't mean it that way with their behavior. It is just one of these cultural differences!
How do you communicate with you patients?
The patients coming from Jeddah speak English at least a little. The ones coming from outside the town don't really speak English. From the beginning I felt like I needed to learn Arabic. There are Clinic secretaries that are from Saudi Arabia and they help translate the conversations, but because the work is a little hectic from time to time there is not always time for that. Therefore I thought to myself that I want to learn the language. Now I have learned enough Arabic to be able to do basic interviews with the patients myself. It is easy because I hear and use the language all the time, so the learning is fast. I have been learning practically by asking someone how to say this and that in Arabic. Then I just write it down and try to learn it. My accent probably sounds horrific, but the patients appreciate me trying a lot!
What can one do on their spare time in Jeddah?
The top thing to me is the Red Sea right next to us. I enjoy diving a lot and the opportunities to do it here are exceptional. They have beautiful beaches here as well. Of course one has to pay to enter them as they are private beaches, but as the pay here is better, it is no problem. At the beach one can walk around in bikinis or in shorts and t-shirts normally! During the free time it is almost impossible not to meet the other expats and therefore one will get contacts fairly quickly and easily. There are also many parties and other events at the compounds or at the embassies. I have mostly been really busy during my time here as there are so many things to do. Time does fly by quickly! The shopping opportunities here are really good. The malls are massive and one can barely see everything in one night. My favorite is perhaps the Al Shalaam Mall. It is really big, well equipped and really clean. There are lots of clothes and other stuff available in Jeddah.
What can you tell about the restaurants in Jeddah?
Lots of restaurants available! There are the normal fast food restaurants such as Mc Donald's and Burger King. Then there are also expensive, fine dining places and pretty much everything in between those too. There is no doubt everyone will find something to eat. The food is a big deal here and also the locals enjoy spending time eating!
I know many people go to Middle East to earn money. Are you getting paid more than you did in Finland?
The pay is better here, yes. The amount money that is left to use is, however, considerably bigger than in Finland due to the salary being tax free and due to the housing being complimentary. I haven't really been saving my money and that was not my priority when arriving here. Mostly my money goes to diving, traveling and shopping.
Have you traveled a lot?
I haven't had the time to travel that much yet. I went to Abu Dhabi for four days and now I am going to Lebanon for a week before going back to Finland for two weeks. In the beginning life is pretty busy in work so there is no time to travel. But once it gets started it will get easier. The holidays need to be planned well beforehand because one needs to ask the hospital for a permission to leave. During national holidays one can travel easier without needing a separate permission. The places close, such as Africa, other Middle East countries, India and Sri Lanka are easy to reach and pretty cheap to travel to. The chances for traveling are very decent in here.
Are you happy with deciding to go to Jeddah?
I like Jeddah a lot. Compared to other Saudi Arabian cities, this is a bit different and probably the most liberal. Living here is enjoyable for women too. I barely ever need to cover my hair. Man and a woman can walk together, if they clearly are not locals. Women can't drive a car in Saudi Arabia but that doesn't bother me. In fact, after seeing the traffic, I don't even think I would drive even if I was allowed. Generally speaking I am really happy with the place! Sometimes it is really hard as everything is so different, but never have I thought of packing my stuff and leaving. I have had some amazing friends in here and lived through really fun moments! I have been thinking now that I am going to Finland for a holiday that I will probably miss this place a lot and that it will be nice to come back after few weeks!
What would you say to a nurse wondering whether to leave to Jeddah or not?
It is definitely worth a try, if one is prepared to change one's attitudes and life style. This is, after all, such an amazing experience. If I was to give some sort of an advice, it would be to learn about the ways of the country and the about the culture beforehand. It will make the start easier. Also I would advise everyone to study the terminology in English! I found out about myself that I had problems with easy words in the beginning. If possible, one should get their Abaya before coming here! Without it, one can't really go outside the hospital area. I was lucky to have a roommate who borrowed me her Abaya so that I could go and buy my own.