Thank you to several friends on Facebook for inspiring this post!
We arrived in the Kingdom 3-weeks ago tomorrow – in the short time we’ve been here, we’ve learned a lot about what it’s like to live at Kaust. I hope to share a few of my initial reflections in this post…
The community that supports this vibrant university is very diverse. We have met people from all over Saudi and all over the world – I honestly think we’ve met people from every continent so far (well, except Antarctica of course!). One thing that’s really great about living on a compound like this is that nobody is a local, which levels the playing field a bit. Everyone has been here for 2.5 years or less, and everyone seems eager to be inclusive and willing to make new friends. Everyone here is “new” to some degree.
I’ve heard a couple of different estimates for the number of people that live in the compound/community that supports the university. I believe it’s somewhere between 3 and 5 thousand people when everyone’s here, and growing everyday. This being summertime however, many of the students and faculty are away for the summer – just as they are at many universities in the US and the UK. It’s a bit of a ghost-town around here at the moment.
So, what do you do when everyone’s out of town and the heat index is 110 F? There are many facilities here on the campus – there is a large and exquisit gym facility, a green golf course (one of the few green courses in the country), a beach, bowling, a movie theater, and water activities like snorkeling, diving, sailing, kayaking and windsurfing.. and more.
I am REALLY loving the gym’s services. In the mornings, I walk Muttley then go straight to the gym with my mom for a workout then an exercise class– and sometimes I’ll go to the pool after that too. The pool is great because it’s heated in the winter and cooled in the summer. Seriously – a chilled pool!! There are loads of exercise classes including yoga and spinning which I particularly like. Would you believe I had 4 workouts yesterday? – Dog walk, gym, pool, and yoga in the evening. I’m in endorphin heaven!
The movie theater is a bit more unique. I’m not sure if there are any other movie theaters in the Kingdom – they are a sticking point in the political atmosphere and some conservative religious groups condemn them. So, the fact that we even have a movie theater here is very exciting! They have two new movies every week for people to view – this week they’re playing Takers and Nanny McPhee. Kev and I are not big movie watchers and haven’t made it to the theater yet, but we hear it’s pretty great.
There are other facilities too. We have two supermarkets, called Tamimi, which are run by (in partnership with?) Safeway. They have a great mix of Saudi goods and imported goods from the US and the UK. One thing we’ve learned quickly though is to watch the prices. Because some products are imported, you can find vastly different prices for nearly identical items. And, if you buy Saudi items you can get a great deal! Bath mat = 1USD. Sun Screen = $20USD… go figure!
We have a community library, several iZone computer shops, a Giordano clothing shop, a Kanoo travel agent, and several restaurants (Coffee shops, cafes, restaurants, and fast food). There is also a campus dining hall that serves really great food – especially the fish!
No matter what you do here at Kaust, you are reminded that you live in a multicultural society. There is a really interesting juxtoposition of muslim cultural norms, western cultural norms, and many other cultures mixed together.
For instance, the salon and gyms are segregated – men are not invited into the women’s areas at all. There is a women-only pool and men-only hours at the mixed-pool. The houses, upon first glance, feel western. They have front yards there are no walls around the front of the house. They are not compounds intended for many family members (which is the norm in Jeddah at least) but single-family homes. You will notice however, that they are much more private than western-style houses and they do not overlook the neighbors very much.
Prayer time is announced via large loudspeakers atop the mosques 5 times each day. At those times, many restaurants and services close and workers leave their offices to pray. It’s really amazing to hear — here’s a quick clip I captured:
Women in the compound are not required to wear the abaya as they are in public areas around the rest of the country. Many women chose to wear it, and all women are requested to dress modestly. So, even in 110 F heat index – it’s long sleeves and trousers here!
Pretty much everything involves a certain sense of modesty, moderation, and respect. It’s not very nice to inadvertently offend someone, so people talk openly and honestly about what is “acceptable” behavior here on the compound. Thankfully, to want to move to a place like this, you are already likely to have a sense of adventure and appreciation of cultural norms, so pretty much everyone is on board for cultural compromise.
One of the main topics of conversation here at KAUST is about getting off campus or about getting out of the country. Many people like to go shopping or out to dinner in Jeddah (a large city 1 hour south of us), Thuwal (a fishing village with a few restaurants about 10 minutes south of us) or The King Abdullah Economic City (a new compound about 20 minutes north of us).
It’s really great to go to these places because suddenly you’re back in the middle east again. Being on campus is unique, but being off campus, you are reminded of the vibrant community that exists in the rest of the country.
Also, many people here are adventurers and enjoy traveling the world. We look forward to that part, too! Everyone raves about going to Beirut, Turkey, Egypt etc… We look forward to going to all those places and more!
Tomorrow is the start of an exciting time in the Muslim calendar – it’s the start of Ramadan! We’re really excited to experience our first Ramadan here in the Kingdom. Soon, I’ll write about that. But until then: Ramadan Mubarak!