Being a KAUST Spouse

By | February 1, 2014

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.

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.