Our Third KAUSTiversary!

bikes at KAUST

Three years ago today we moved to Saudi. We didn’t know what we were in for and that was part of the allure. Every time I have moved to a new country (to study in New Zealand, to live in the UK, and to live in Saudi), I have had this  very particular and hard to define sense of blankness when I boarded the plane. The sense of a blank slate and an opportunity to redefine my life. It is an incredibly liberating feeling.

Living in Saudi has changed me. It’s made me more patient and more relaxed. It’s made me much more realistic (what happened to my youthful idealism?!). It has made me live a quieter life that is much more focused on my family and close friends. It has turned me into a parent. Most scary of all, it’s turned me into an SUV driver.

I am tremendously grateful for this opportunity.

One of the frequently asked questions you hear among friends and colleagues here at KAUST is “how long do you plan to stay here”. Most people will tell you 3 years, or 5 years, or “until I’m done with my PhD”. Our answer is different. We plan to stay here as long as life is good. If Kevin’s job continues to go well, if the schools stay good for our children, if the health care stays good for our family, and if the community life continues to be vibrant, then I can certainly see us as being “lifers” like so many of our friends who grew up at Aramco have become…. (or maybe we’ll see another bright shiny object and move to another wonderful place that will change us in equally wondrous ways?)

As the university matures, I see so many positive changes in the way that it operates. I am quite active in encouraging the community to be one which I would like to stay in. I wrote a bit about this in my President’s Task Force Post. All of this really plays a big role in the being the change you want to see in the world theme that I wrote about in last year’s KAUSTiversary post.

So this year, I invite the rest of the KAUST community to join me. Join me in allowing Saudi to change you. And join me in being the change you want to see in your world!

You have to watch this: The KAUST Rap

Every year KAUST hosts a talent show for community members to show off their skills. This year, there were all sorts of talents - some musical performances, dancers, actors, and there was even a baton twirler!

The winner this year, Brit Jenkins, blew away the crowd with her KAUST-themed original performance. She started with some classical vocals, but it quickly became… well.. you’ll just have to watch to find out.

(This video has been shared with permission from the performer.)

GO BRIT!

You’re invited! Wednesday Coffee Mornings at KAUST

IRC View

View from the IRC Cafe. Photo used with permission. Courtesy JD D’Antoni.

I am a big supporter of community-driven activities – with that in mind, I want to be sure to help support a great community-driven event that happens every week here at KAUST: Wednesday Coffee Mornings at the Island Rec.

Awhile ago, some non-working ladies began meeting at the Island Recreation Center for coffee and breakfast and a beautiful view every Wednesday morning. Now, it is an established event and an excellent example for the rest of our small community.

Have you recently moved to KAUST? This is a great opportunity to get out and meet people.

You’re Invited!

The idea is simple, and everyone is invited-

What: Wednesday Morning Coffee Meetup
When: Every Wednesday morning – around 8:30 to 10:30am
Where: Island Recreation Club Cafe
Description: Come and bring a friend for Wednesday Coffee Mornings at the IRC Cafe or poolside if the weather is good.

 

What about my kids?

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My husband and son at Playland

Good news! Just yesterday it was established that the Playland facility will be open on Wednesday mornings! So, to all you stay-at-home parents of young kids out there, you can now come and enjoy a coffee with some new or familiar faces while your kids tire themselves out in the 4-story play facility.

The new Wednesday operating hours are: 8:30-12pm and 2pm-8pm.

A big thanks goes to my friends at Saudi Oger for opening the facility on Wednesday mornings, in response to the request from this group. I hope it will prove to be a worthwhile endeavor!

The KAUST President’s Task Force: Maturing a Young Community

Recently, KAUST President Jean-Lou Chameau invited community members to join a task force to help make recommendations towards improving our community. Specifically:

The President’s Task Force is your opportunity to be part of shaping future community, arts and cultural programs, events and activities at KAUST. My hope is that we can build upon our success by asking, what is missing and how can we improve?

The task force will have two simple goals:

  • To gain broad community input about community, arts and cultural events and activities to enhance the social and life experience at KAUST; and
  • To recommend ways we can improve our coordination and communication to support existing and future activities and events.

If you know anything about me, you know I was eager to jump in and get my hands dirty. So I applied and recently was asked not only to be a member of the Task Force, but to Vice-Chair it as well!

I am beyond honored.

Since my arrival in 2011, I have been active in the community, trying to ensure KAUST is as inviting and livable as possible. I see the President’s Task Force as having the same goal, and I hope that my participation will have a positive impact for the group and its goals.

 

What will it accomplish?

We already have a great community here at KAUST which gives us a strong foundation to start from. We’re aiming to bring some brilliant minds  together to make things even better.

I think that The President’s Task Force has the potential to put great grassroots ideas into action. If living at KAUST has taught me one thing it is that anything is possible. I am excited for this opportunity to collaborate with our most passionate community members to create a better place for all of us to live and work. And I can’t wait to see what we come up with.

 

Maturing a young community

The “KAUST founders” moved here five years ago. Before that, KAUST was a construction site. Before that, it was sand.

In just five years, we’ve gone from faculty and staff going to work in construction helmets without any amenities at all to an established and fully functioning town. We now have pools, restaurants, sports teams, dive trips, concerts, meetups for kids, and even an annual community talent show. We’re a small town but we’re resourceful and we’re growing up fast.

I like to think that in those five years, we have moved along a continuum from a new community towards an established community. It’s no longer the case that you have to get out of KAUST to experience some culture and have a bit of fun. There is a lot to offer here – and a lot more to come.

An offer to all KAUST community members

Do you have big ideas for our small community? Share them in the comments below and I’ll do what I can to get your ideas heard.

 

 

Guest Blog Post: A day in the life of a stay-at-home mom at KAUST

Parents and kids at the KAUST beach.
Photo used with permission, courtesy Marcos Aguilar.
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A few days ago, I posted about being a non-working KAUST spouse. As I was information gathering for the post, I connected with my friend Patricia Ahicart-Vargas to ask her for feedback for my post. Her feedback was superb so I invited her to write a guest blog post describing a typical day for a stay-at-home mom here at KAUST. 

Patricia is originally from Barcelona and arrived at KAUST about 6 months ago. 

Thank you Patricia for including your voice in this space!

 

A day in my life

By Patricia Ahicart-Vargas

When my friends ask me about how I’m feeling being so far away from my family and alone the most part of the day I just smile at them and try to explain what is a “sample” day for me:

It’s 6:30am, time to start my daily routine, I need to wake up and get ready for the beginning of a new day.

To be a stay-at-home-mum could seem an easy thing but, believe me, it’s not.

Before having my breakfast I must change diapers, feed my almost 3 months old daughter, prepare my 2 years old one’s breakfast and have taken the two of them downstairs with the whole stuff I’ll need for the rest of the day ( if I want to save a trip to the upper floor).

I try to take advantage of my situation everyday, dusting and mopping at the beginning together with steam some vegetables for the lunch allows me to go out with the little ones during the morning; we go to the playground where my older one enjoys playing, meets other kids and looks at me with that smile in her face that means happiness… such a great time!

Before going back home sometimes we make a stop at the market to purchase some minor things (yes, minor… did you try to buy with 2 babies? Pushing a stroller while you’re in need of look after of another one baby and trying to carry what you’re purchasing can be just exhausting!)

Fortunately the afternoon is arriving, after more changing diapers, finish cooking, feed the tiny and give lunch to the big one it’s time to nap, for them of course, and to clean the kitchen and the bathroom or do the laundry for me; it’s also true that I use to have my moment then and take a look to the email and facebook and a little chat with my husband.

Around 3pm the next phase is already started, another round of changing diapers, feed my daughters and get them dressed up before going to pick up daddy… when I put everything into the car: babies, stroller, diaper bag with bottles, powder, wipes, change of clothes, pacifiers, toys and bottles, of course, I feel like we can just go for holidays!

We spend some family time having a walk or at some playground, maybe with friends and their kids and, just in a moment, we’re back home again (time flies when you’re enjoying).

On the third round of the day after giving another bottle for the baby we’re ready for bath time. I bath the little one and, while my husband is dressing up her, I bath the big one (we’re a good team!) and, quickly, we’re doing dinner and serving it. Time again for slightly clean the kitchen, put every toy, piece of clothing or any stuff on it’s own place and share precious time with my lovely family before the last round!

Finally the end is near…I put my 2 years old into her pajamas, take her to bed while she’s hugging her favourite doll and give her the sweetest good night kiss that I can ( I love to see her laying on bed so I’ll come after 5 minutes), change little one’s diaper and give her to daddy who’s going to give her a bottle (yes, I married the correct guy!) while I take a warm and very needed shower; everything becomes quite now.

Ok, it’s almost 11pm, it’s been a plenty of tasks day, just like everyday. Now I have some time to talk with my husband, relax and sleep. Hopefully tomorrow will be as good as today or even better.

Being a stay-at-home-mum is such a hard work, you need to set your goals, clarify your priorities, have a plan…your kids are depending on you, they need you and you must be ready for that. Sometimes it’s easier and sometimes is just like hell but, always, really, always, I’m happy. To see my daughters everyday is priceless for me and I feel very lucky for each moment that I’m able to stay with them. Of course I miss my family, a lot! but I have two wonderful babies to care about and I’ll do my best for them.

That’s the moment when I tell my friends how is a “sample” day for me here at KAUST, maybe not so different from any other mum’s day, maybe almost the same for all of those stay-at-home-mums out there and, maybe, the best days of my life.

Being a KAUST Spouse

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Desperate KAUST Wives

One of my first impressions of KAUST was being totally insulted on my first day here. I got my ID card and in big bold letters at the top it said “DEPENDENT”. As someone who considers herself quite IN-dependent, this label made me feel like I’d been slighted. I soon realized there is a (somewhat) logical explanation: As my husband is considered the primary person associated with the university, my status is officially listed as his dependent – meaning I could not be here without his affiliation. It’s not meant to insult the feminists among us, it’s just a poor use of the English language, which is just the way it goes when you operate in English in an non-English-speaking country.

I look back at that and giggle now. Sometimes us westerners get a little too easily offended.

Still, many of us prefer to refer to ourselves as “spouses” rather than “dependents”. This can be used for either male or female married dependents of KAUST employees. Kids are also considered dependents.

Many KAUST spouses choose to work at KAUST. I won’t get into that option in this post. If you are interested in learning more about those opportunities, talk to your relocation advisor or HR directly.

Others, like I did, choose to work remotely for entities outside of KAUST. Not too many people do this though, ostensibly because remote work is still a bit new to some sectors. Once I got pregnant I decided I wanted to be a stay-at-home mom for awhile.

So, what’s a non-working dependent supposed to do in the middle of the desert in Saudi Arabia?!

“Surely I’ll be bored out of my skull!” – that’s what most of the people I talk to say. And for some, this is true. But, I believe that you create your own reality. If you don’t want to be bored, you must create a life for yourself here.

Here are a few ideas on ways to start:

  • First, make sure you go to the new-spouse orientation. These are great sessions and will introduce you to a lot of information about the services at KAUST, recreation facilities, events, and where to get info about all these things. I had the pleasure to speak briefly at the last one, and really thought it was a great event for new folks to connect and learn.
  • Reach out to your spouse and see if any of his/her colleagues have non-working spouses. You can even do this before you move here to start to learn about their experience here. We’re all new at KAUST – the university is only 5 years old! So, do your best to reach out to existing community members and invite them to a cup of tea and a chance to meet them. Reaching out to people is essential to making friends and creating a tribe/community for yourself here.
  • Read my post on making friends at KAUST
  • Find your niche. Go to the KAUST Wiki and see which online and offline groups appeal to you, and join one. And, if you don’t see one that interests you, create your own!
  • Ask a lot of questions. There is a lot more going on here than is officially communicated. There are many groups that meet unofficially and the only way to find them is to make friends with someone who is participating. This is probably super frustrating for new people (I know it frustrates me to no end, as I am a communicator at heart) but it’s the way things seem to work here.
  • I understand that there will be a new program for new recruits starting soon, where you can try some of the facilities like the golf course, the gym, the library etc as a way to learn about the community and make friends.
  • Create something new! Are you super into something? Like crafting or making robots or eating Jello? There are probably other people here who like those things too. Create a group for your passion and invite people to join you!

UPDATE 19 Feb 2014: I thought of a few more things to add to this list!

  • Learn a new language. There are Arabic and English courses and courses for a few other languages as well. Here is my experience with learning Arabic (which sadly I was not too successful with!). For more information about this, talk to the folks at the Harbor Sports Club reception.
  • Be sure to take a good long look around the Facilities and Community website and Get Active. Making yourself familiar with these sites will help you get involved with all that the community has to offer (note: they are only available on KAUST compound or via VPN).
  • Join the Lens mailing list to get up-to-the-minute info on all things KAUST. To sign up, go to the main Lens page and look on the right navigation for a place to enter your email address. This is also only available on KAUST compound or via VPN.

Update May 2014:

I guess most of my points above are fairly obvious, but perhaps there are some tidbits of help in there.

I also think it’s important to recognize is that we are a small and welcoming community. It must be much harder to be non-working in the big city where you are easily anonymous and forgotten. Here, you run into the same people multiple times in one day. If you are positive and friendly, I think it’s probably hard NOT to make a few friends along the way!

Some people are not ones to “join in”. I really encourage you to drop your preconceived notions about this kind of thing though. There is a lot to do here, and there are a lot of great people to meet. It is up to you to find them.

For me, it took a bit of time, but I now have the most amazing group of friends here. I’m taking care of my child. I am active in my community. I’m studying online to become a doula. I’m writing on my blog. And I am never bored. In fact, even without a job, I’m as busy and fulfilled as I’ve ever been.

 

 

 

How to Help After Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda

News of possibly the strongest storm ever to make landfall has been dominating the news for the last week or so. Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda smashed into the Philippines on November 7 causing widespread devastation. And this, just a few weeks after a major earthquake hit the same area.  I have been deeply affected by the images coming out of the country and am sure many of my readers have too.

There are quite a few Filipinos who live and work here at KAUST. Most have been walking around in a state of shock since the event. Some have lost their homes. Some have lost their loved ones. Some… and this may be the hardest… still haven’t heard anything. My heart breaks just thinking of it.

Photo Courtesy Philippine Red Cross

You can help

Locals know best, so I have been talking to different people from the Philippines over the last few days to see how they suggest we can help. Unfortunately there are loads of scammers out there taking advantage of disasters like this – I’m sharing my findings here so you know about some safe places to donate.

Side note: In case you don’t know, I have years of experience working with international NGOs and have also worked specifically in disaster relief.

Financial Donations

Some say: donate directly. If you know someone who has lost a home or a loved one, they are probably looking for money to rebuild. This is a very good way to help – a direct donation means 100% of the money will go to someone in need – as long as you trust the person you are giving to.

If you want to make a financial donation but don’t know someone personally affected, or prefer to go through official channels, here are three organizations that my Filipino friends suggested:

Sagip Kapamilya Foundation – A friend of mine told me that the local charity Sagip Kapamilya is the best place to donate. It’s run by a local Filipino media outlet and I’m told the name roughly translates as “Save Our Family”. Their mission is to provide food and non-food relief to affected communities of disasters, as well as engage in rehabilitation and disaster risk reduction projects.

The Philippines Red Cross – The Red Cross is one of the major players in international disaster relief and is always a sure way to make your contribution count. My friend Shai Coggins – a Filipino herself and also NGO Expert – outlines her reasons for donating to them in this blog post. I’m also a bit partial to them as I used to work for the American Red Cross and know firsthand the good work they do.

Catholic Relief Services was also recommended.

 

In-Kind

At KAUST
For those of you who live at KAUST, there is a collection being organized for items that can help people rebuild their lives. Do you have extra clothes or blankets? Extra food with a long shelf-life? Extra basic household items? My friend Zaldy is collecting relief goods that will be sent thru the Sagip Kapamilya Foundation which I mentioned above. You can contact him at 0551315694 or 0561273491 to arrange a pick-up of your in-kind donation here at KAUST.

UPDATE Nov 13, 2013: CatIan Montiano is also collecting in-kind donations and is specifically seeking clothes for children and adults (used but clean), blankets, and other things that can be useful for evacuees. You can contact her at 8082792/8026772/0544700260 or catherine[dot]montiano[at]kaust.edu.sa.

Outside KAUST
For those of you outside KAUST, you can also make an in-kind donation via the Sagip Kapamilya Foundation. Send your items to Sagip Kapamilya Warehouse #13 Examiner St. West Triangle Quezon City, Philippines.

Please help if you can. Even a small donation can make a big difference. 

Community Pride: 3 Years of CommBuild

In 2010, Amy Sample Ward had an idea to start an online group for community organizers working on social benefit projects. I soon became an active member and even took the lead organizing role (aka “cat herding”) for a time. 3 years later, this community is well-established and making great strides in helping strengthen communities all around the world.

I encourage you to take a moment to read the 3 year anniversary post by Julia Smith (which I am honored to be quoted in). And if you’re interested in learning more about this community here’s a bit more info on the group and how to get involved.