Food for Thought travel

Saudi Arabia – is change on the horizon? [one Expat teacher shares her journey]


If you weren’t happy with your quality of life for you and your family would you move to another country? A Middle Eastern country known for brutal aggression towards dissidents? My friend, Val, did and her reasoning and experience in Saudi Arabia might surprise you. 

I went to high school with Valerie – she’s gregarious, friendly (she was a cheerleader) and has an infectious smile. She’s certainly not someone I would have expected to move to Saudi Arabia. “Jeddah chose us. Saudi Arabia was not on my map for sure, South America yes, but not the Middle East. I’m a free spirit. Here, I have to wear an Abaya and it is a dry country.” 

What was the biggest motivation to leave the United States for a dictatorial and oppressive country like Saudi Arabia?

When I interviewed Valerie she shared that while she liked life in Charleston, South Carolina, it can be a tough quality of life when both husband and wife are teachers. Plus she’s always had the travel bug, having visited all seven continents and wants her children to be well traveled too. 

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Teacher classroom in Saudi Arabia AISJ school

Is it a good experience for children to live in a country like the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia?

“I believe that language is the best gift that I can give my children.  My dad was first generation American, and I wish he had taught me Czech.  If I could choose a super hero power it would be speaking all the languages of the world:)  I reiterate to my students that I wish I was more like them, speaking 2-4 different languages.  And my hope is that my girls will be multilingual one day!”

A couple monumental dates for them are August 19th and September 11th. As it turns out Val got her visa and flew to Saudi Arabia on the day that women gained independence to travel freely without a man’s permission. Yes, in 2019, women in Saudi Arabia only gained the right to travel without a man’s permission.

After setting up residency on her own in Jeddah, Valerie flew back to Charleston. Then on September 11th the entire family, her husband and two young girls flew from Washington DC to Saudi Arabia. “Flying on 9/11/ was a combination of somber juxtaposed with an enormous amount of gratitude for freedom and our country.”


L: Red Sea, R: Kids in private school in Saudi Arabia

A lot of changes are happening simultaneously to come in line with the dictatorial country’s 2030 initiative. To lessen dependence on oil and bring in tourism, they would have to become more liberal and let go of their brutal and antiquated treatment of outsiders. 

Females have come a long way, and it’s important to remember the brutal way dissidents have been treated. Of course, a country can’t reverse centuries of repression overnight. Many men still think of women as beneath them, thinking nothing of cutting in line.  Plus, there’s the whole non freedom of religion. They are a country of Islam and practicing any other religion is banned. Don’t even think about conversion to another religion as it is punishable by death in Saudi Arabia. 

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What’s it like to be a Middle Eastern country during a world wide pandemic?


AISJ private schools allow for integrated (boys and girls together) vs. public schools which separate genders.


Kids room on the compound in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

Okay, so maybe it isn’t Valerie and her family’s forever home, as she says, especially as her girls get older. But surprisingly, she still feels quite safe here, even during the COVID-19 outbreak. “It’s a country of Islam and you don’t mess with Allah. If they tell you to stay inside you do it.” I asked her about hoarding supplies and social distancing. Saudis don’t understand the hoarding mentality in America and think it is quite comical. As far as social distancing, they are exact in their 6-feet apart distancing, all patiently waiting outside Saco, the home improvement store. 


Carrier name is replaced with ‘STAY HOME’



L: Valerie on her first day teaching at Jeddah R: Al-Balad in the historic district of downtown Jeddah

Can a teacher make a bigger impact in Saudi Arabia vs. the United States?

Val and her husband Scott teach at the to AISJ school in Jeddah and her mission is to grow her students into global citizens exuding kindness and fostering inclusivity as she teaches English to seventh graders.

Jeddah means grandmother. And it is said that Eve, as an Adam and Eve, was from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. I have actually driven by her grave here. So I remind my students often that we all have the same grandmother, and so we are family:)

I want to revisit how interconnected our world is today. Every Monday, my students and I have Motivational Monday and I chose this quote early on in the school year to illustrate to pre-teenagers that their choices do in fact affect others.  How relevant is this quote now to social distancing and staying at home, which is incredibly difficult during this time in a middle school student’s social development?


Valerie at the Red Sea in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia

“Every action in our lives touches on some chord that will vibrate in eternity.” – Edwin Hubbel Chapin

“Every choice you make creates a ripple effect that touches the lives of others, sometimes many. The point here is that you stop and think about how you are showing up in the world and what kinds of ripples you are making. Are they positive or negative?” 


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About the author

Malika Bowling

Malika is the author of several books including Culinary Atlanta: Guide to the Best Restaurants, Markets, Breweries and More! and the founder of Roamilicious. She is also a Digital Marketing and Social Media Consultant. Follow us @Roamilicious on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest for the content not shared on the blog. And don't forget to subscribe to our newsletter (subscribe box below) and never miss a contest, giveaway or the latest must visit restaurant!