Saudi Arabia is not the first place one thinks of when asked what place represents gratitude, especially if one is a woman. I moved to Khobar, a large, industrial city in the Eastern Province of this controversial Kingdom, over a month ago to teach female students English as a Second Language in the Preparatory Department of Prince Mohammad Bin Fahd University. For someone who has travelled to almost every continent, I have never felt such gratitude towards, both, where I come from and for what the future will bring particularly in regards to my students’ prospects. Living in a country with such restrictions on women has made me truly realize how much I took for granted in my home country, Canada. There, I didn’t have to ask my father permission to leave the country, nor did I have to conceal the shape of my body with a long black garment or depend on a man to drive me to my desired destination. It took the loss of these freedoms for me to acknowledge and appreciate just how emancipated I am in this world compared to so many others.
Many of my students will be the first woman in their families to graduate from a post- secondary institution. The fact that I will be a contributor to their education gives me nothing but joy, pride and strength. Most of my students will go on to achieve majors in planning, business, finance or law. And I cannot help but feel hopeful knowing that their education will lead many of them to open their own business or work with an international company, allowing them to become independent, self-reliant women. And by doing so, they will pave the way for younger female generations in their country.
This place has made me primarily grateful for the fact that I have the strength to choose my own path regardless of what others think. There were many places to move to teach ESL but something drew me to this beyond- foreign land. And despite the many doubts of my friends and family back home, I proudly stuck with my decision. I will no longer rely on guidebooks or blogs to shape how I view a country or culture; already in my short month here I have witnessed many misconceptions of this country’s people and their lifestyle.
Saudi Arabia is a place of mystique, a country proud of its rich history and culture. It chooses to be exclusive to the world and I am one of the few foreigners who have the opportunity to view it first-hand. I am privileged and thankful for this. By coming here, I now know the best way to lose fear of the unfamiliar is to experience it directly. This country is much more than endless sand dunes and crowded, traditional markets. It’s a place trying to figure out how to balance embracing modernization while holding on to its conservative lifestyle in an ever-changing world.
Dalhousie UniversityI know the next two years here will be challenging and sometimes frustrating but my choice coming here was my own, at not every woman has the liberty to say that. One might assume moving to Saudi Arabia would be suppressing, isolating and even depressing, however, in my short time here its been quite the contrary: Saudi Arabia has given me the gratitude and understanding of what freedom truly means. This is something many take for granted, without even realizing it.
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