Confessions of a Saudi Diva: FAQ’s about Life in Saudi Arabia

Another common question or thing that people notice is my English language skills. They ask me:

How come you can speak good English? Where did you learn how to speak English? Your English language skills are excellent!

That’s why, I decided to dedicate this post about life in Saudi Arabia. Also, to answer a reader’s question about life in Saudi Arabia.

First, I must explain that in Saudi Arabia, we have three main types of schools. There are the government-owned (public) schools, the private schools (privately owned), and the International schools.

Let me give you a brief idea about each one. In the public schools, Arabic is taught as the main language. While English is only introduced in middle school (secondary grades). So, basically you have an Arabic curriculum that is taught throughout the years. Then, a very basic English level type of teaching is introduced in secondary school grades. The English is a separate subject of course. And the text books (materials used) are at a basic (beginner level). That’s why, graduates from public schools learn the basics of the English language only, and develop a simple, elementary level of English.

This applies to the majority of the country’s population. Since most citizens attend public (government) schools.

Private schools are different. I can explain about the ones that I attended in my city – Al Khobar. I attended two different private schools while growing up in Al Khobar. They were both top schools in town. We were more like a community – immersed in our own little world. It was a lovely bubble, but we were far too closed off from the rest of the population. Or at least I can speak for my personal experience. It was a nice little shell – a very comfortable one indeed. Where we only had to deal and communicate with people who shared our interests, mindsets, views of the world, and even social status. This continued for the first 18 years of my life!

What is so different about private schools? 

Many things! Firstly, we are taught English as a second language from kindergarten grade. English as a separate subject which you study throughout the school years. In each school grade, there would be three different classes for English. Each class includes a group of students based on their level of English language. There would be a number of tests to determine your level. This is also based on your English subject performance and exam results. So, you might get shifted from one class level to the other. But, most likely you will remain in the same group for the entirety of your education.

The different levels of the English language classes are: Beginner, intermediate and advanced. Luckily, I was always in the advanced class throughout my school education. Yes, I was a nerd – more about that in another post!

Text books and materials taught in the private schools’ English curriculum aren’t the same as the ones given in the public schools. In private schools, they give you the same government school ‘basic’ English text books, since we must sit those exams at the end of the year. However, in addition to those text books – which are easy peasy for us private school students – they give you extra-curricular text books, resources and activities. And that’s where our advanced English language skills come from. Get it? We learn how to write short stories, how to prepare a speech, how to brainstorm and many other essential skills.

Another reason for my advanced and fluent English skills is the home environment. Many of us Saudis have parents (or at least one parent) who studied abroad. My father studied college in Boston and he is an Americanized Saudi to say the least. Not in a very liberal way. But more in his Western way of thinking. So, he’s not into socializing like most Arabs and Saudis. He’s someone with a strong work ethic, enjoys reading and listening to classical music. And, he doesn’t get why people treat him as if he’s an Arab! 🙂  (more about that later too).

At home, I would watch American TV shows and movies, and I would read English novels and psychological thrillers (I was always crazy I guess!).

The infamous show ‘Friends’ despite being highly censored was showing on the city’s local TV station. No, not Saudi TV English station. But on Channel 33. This was Saudi Aramco’s TV station (I think). No presenters, just great American TV shows, sports and movies. I still have no idea where it broadcasted from! It was like the secret local TV station or something!

So just like the rest of the world, I would be eating caramel pop corn (that I got from the local grocery store) and watching the latest episode of ‘Friends’ or my favorite TV show back then – ‘The Wayans Brothers’. Those guys were hilarious!

The curriculum taught in private schools was all in Arabic, except for the extra English classes. It was the exact same one taught in public schools. So lots of Arabic grammar and other Arabic language subjects, and very intensive religion subjects (around six different subjects). That’s another topic for another post!

Different people own the private schools. In the second school that I attended, the owner were a couple. She was an American, he was Saudi. They owned two schools – one for boys and the other for girls. The buildings were adjacent to each other, but separates with a wall. Too many interesting stories there…

Moving on to International schools – which I wish that I had attended! As that would have saved me so much effort and time. I doubt that I would be 35 with two very diverse degrees (one of them being journalism) and still job searching and trying to build a career path had I gone to an International school as a child. But I guess everything happens for a reason. And I’m happy that I at least got the opportunity to attend an International University (at 33 years of age). Despite being late, I managed to do it in the end and I can say that I have a degree from a Western/International University. Check my About page to find out which University I’m talking about 🙂

I can’t give much insight about International schools in Saudi, since I didn’t attend one. But I assume that the teaching standards are very similar to International ones. B.t.w. Those schools are not open to everyone. So as a Saudi national, you can only attend an International school if your parents worked in Saudi Aramco or another multinational company (please correct me if I’m wrong).

Since my dad had left Saudi Aramco before I was born, then I think I wouldn’t have had the chance to attend an International school in Saudi. As they are mainly accepting Western expat nationals or expat kids in general. Unless your parents were still working in Saudi Aramco, then your chances of getting enrolled into an International school in Saudi are pretty low.

A Reader’s Questions about life in Saudi Arabia: one of my blog followers is relocating to Saudi and has some questions:

  • Can my wife keep her face open when going outside?

Riyadh is the capital of Saudi Arabia. It is more conservative than the rest of the country’s big cities. Despite having very little knowledge about the city and its residents, I can re-assure you that it’s not as strict as you may think. As long as she covers her hair properly with a head scarf, then she should be fine. This also depends on where she is. If she goes to one of the city’s big malls, she can get away with more things than she would at say a local traditional market. In order to avoid any harassment from the religious police, it is best to keep her hair fully covered at all times when she’s outside. It’s common sense really 🙂

  • If I’m not there, can she take a cab and go shopping on her own?

Absolutely. She can take a cab anytime and go do her grocery shopping or whatever errands she needs to do.

However, you must know that cabs in Saudi are not very popular. That means that she is better off going to places with you. In my whole lifetime, I can’t recall taking a cab in Saudi! we mainly rely on private drivers or our relatives (fathers, brothers, husbands) to get around. So, I would recommend she tries it once. If it creates some sort of drama or if she doesn’t feel comfortable, then she can wait for you to come back from work and run her errands then.

  • Are there parks in the city where families and kids can go to? and can the wife keep her face open there?

Saudi is not a park-friendly country! We have malls, mosques, schools, restaurants and cafes. But parks – I can’t think of a single one to be honest! Oh and in my city we have beaches 🙂

I would say she is better off trying to get to know the neighbors. The key to a happy life in Saudi Arabia is a great social circle. Life in Saudi Arabia is all about socializing indoors and spending time with family and friends. She can try to meet the neighbors – maybe take some homemade meal to them. She can try to build good relationships with the neighbors. Then, she can do activities with them. Maybe they do know of a park or playground where she can go to with the kids. But, she’s better off finding out about it from them. As there are some useful tips that she can get from them about the local neighborhood and community.

From that first introduction, maybe they can start a fruitful friendship and start doing activities together. Most people in Saudi are living their with their families. So it’s very likely that she will meet neighbors with kids. It’s also highly likely that they will be friendly and welcoming.

I hope that you found this post insightful into another element of life in Saudi Arabia and it’s society.

It’s time for me to head to my Zumba class now. In the meantime, feel free to head over to my business coaching site for tips on personal development and manifestation.


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  • Kevin says:

    What an interesting insight into education and culture in Saudi. I found in my travels to KSA that many people speak only Arabic, this explains why. Presumably most people are educated in public schools. This has been an interesting trilogy of blogs. Thank you for sharing.

    • Nada says:

      My pleasure Kevin! There will be many more posts on Saudi culture coming to the blog! So stay tuned and I look forward to hear your feedback 🙂

  • Noor Elhayat says:

    Interesting article ya Nada! Yup I get asked that Q a lot too! Except for the fact that I attended public schools too but had to work real hard on my language. I believe when one wants to achieve something, it happens! ?

    • Nada says:

      Thank you for taking the time to read and comment Noor! I’m glad to hear that you found my post interesting. It’s also great to hear about your experience being Saudi as well. I completely agree with you – everything is possible with hard work and a strong will. Keep up the positive attitude and I look forward to hearing your comments on future culture posts 🙂

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