Usmani: "Life in Riyadh is quite structured"

Expat interviews
  • Usmani in Riyadh
Published on 2013-12-19 at 00:00
Usmani grew up and lived during 40 years in a metropolitan city of Pakistan. Invited to work for a university as a consultant for Quality Assurance in higher education, he left his home country to settle in Riyadh with his family...

How was the moving process?

The moving process was quite stunning as I was coming to Riyadh with family (wife and 3 kids) and it was my first relocation out of country for a job purpose. The flight got 8 hours late so the person responsible to pick us was not there. Coming out of airport with a load of luggage and family and finding no one standing with a flag except taxi drivers put me in an "auto" mode. I immediately decided to take a cab and reach to any hotel as my 6 years old son had started crying due to chaos around.
Finally, we reached to a hotel decided by the taxi driver. He was so good to us that he not only dropped us but helped us book a good room as well because the man at reception knew only local language. He also helped me buy a local Mobile Sim card to begin my life at Riyadh. The night also proved to be uncomfortable as we did not know what to do next. Any-way, the next morning, I left my family in the hotel and reached my university where I was employed. They immediately provided me details of hotel and told me to take a cab and shift to official hotel. I returned, took my family and reached to the hotel provided. They allocated a family suite to us having two rooms, sitting area with dining table. Thus we took a sigh of relief and started looking for a house.
Moving process was not pleasant at that time but looking back to that time, I smile and whisper " it was really thrilling." Moving to a completely new place, not knowing the local language, not knowing even the employer, not knowing the context and starting a family life is like a "rebirth". Now I am settled and having a great time.

Did you have to apply for a visa to be able to stay in Riyadh with your family?

My visa and the visa for my family were issued one month before we travel. Even the tickets were emailed to us in advance.

How did you find a job in Riyadh?

I was the speaker in one of the conferences in Singapore where the Dean of the university attended my session. After returning home, they sent me an offer of employment which I accepted.

Did you face some difficulties to adapt to your host country (language, culture, do's and don'ts)?

Language and culture are the two barriers in Riyadh. If you are not familiar with the local language, you might find yourself speechless in many occasions. Other than the work context, life around is dominated by the local Arabic language. The culture is also different but since Riyadh is a multinational city, you will find your own fellows around if you are from a country which has immigrants in Riyadh. It is best to study the culture and do's and don'ts of the country before coming here as Riyadh is a city with certain values and they expect foreigners to respect that.

What surprised you the most in Riyadh?

What surprised me most was the driving. It is quite careless and you have to take measures to assure your safety. You would find drivers with high speed careless of the line and indicators. That is why, every after two days, you would find two or more cars with accidents. However, if you are careful, you can have safe trip as the roads are big and smooth.

Is it easy to make friends in Riyadh?

Making local friends in Riyadh is very difficult due to language issues. If you know Arabic, you can make as many friends as you want as most of them have good nature and are simple in relations. However, if you find people from your home country around, you would immediately be part of a big team with a series of fun activities.

How did your kids live the change of environment?

They did not like it at the beginning as they could not make friends. However, gradually, they got used to it. The most surprising thing is that my two young kids play with two Arabic speaking children and manage to convey their messages easily.

Could you please share with us something you like about Riyadh and something you don't like?

The city is great as it offers all the comfort of life to its residents including big parks, malls and picnic spots. However, what I dislike most is the schooling facilities. The international schools enjoying good reputation are expensive and those with average ratings and moderate fee have a load of books on the shoulders of children.

A common belief about Saudi Arabia which wasn't right:

People think that Saudi society is a closed door society with rigid practices. This is not correct at all. Once you reach here, you find variety and freedom to spend your life within society norms.

Tell us more about your day-to-day life in Riyadh:

Life in Riyadh is quite structured and offers residents to explore as much as they can. For some, it is a dry city as they want city to explore them. BUT for those who love to find pleasure in the tiniest objects/activities in life are always happy here.
Big shopping malls to dessert safari and from small play ground to big family parks. There is a big range for entertainment in which one can bring variety. I take my family to malls where kids find the fully equipped play area and we get engaged in shopping. Some time we visit picnic spots, prepare bar-b-q and have great fun.

What do you miss the most from Pakistan, your home country?

I miss my job and my friends in Pakistan. No matter how good you earn and live, at times you feel like being all alone having no one around to sooth you, to share simple joys of life. Those who have been here for years often develop affiliation but I believe that it is never a substitute of your own country.

Which advice would you give to people wishing to live in Riyadh?

If you receive any offer from Riyadh or even from KSA, try to negotiate as much as possible. Secondly, if you are used to living a life of fun, you might not find a similar context here. If you are coming with family, make sure that your company covers accommodation and school fee as both are expensive here.
Never get accommodation first and admission of children later. First chose a school and then get accommodation around if you have option for that. Learn some basic expression of Arabic to begin a happy life in Riyadh.

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