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From Ireland to Riyadh: A Long Way to go For a Sun Tan

16 December, 2013 09:24  Erin Erin

A Long Way to Go for A Sun TanNoel Scanlon is my name, I’m from Ireland and have been in this region now for almost three years. I’m from the West of Ireland in Co. Clare and emigrated in 2011, as a result of the economic problems back home, I sadly lost my own business as a result of the post 2008 crash and burn in Ireland and came initially to work in Afghanistan in 2011, which was an amazing experience.

1. Why did you move abroad?
Economics, I lost my business after the 2008 crash and burn in Ireland, and needed to earn to support my family and repay my mortgage and other debt back home. It was never in my plan to come to the Middle East, and as I said before, I initially worked in Afghanistan for a year before being offered this position here in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

2. How do you make a living?
I work for an Irish Company here who are contracted to Mobily, who are Saudi Arabia’s largest Mobile Phone company, we work in Construction Management. My role is as Design Manager on their roll-out of Data Centres across the Kingdom, a very ambitious company that keep me more than busy. We work long hours but we do get the weekend off.

Saudi Arabia is a country that has come so far in such a short time, they have built cities, road networks, technology , education, banking, almost everything that a modern economy has in less than 50 years, which is astonishing, they continue to invest heavily in these areas, and continue to modernize their society in every way which is fascinating to watch and experience every day. They are grappling with their traditions and with their needs and also are developing their ever growing population for the future here. Having ex-pats work alongside them is a key part of that journey for them.

3. How often do you communicate with home and how?

Firstly, I’m lucky in that I get home about every eight weeks which is great to see my kids and catch up with friends, otherwise, I use e-mail, Skype, Facebook to stay in touch and I have found that the Blog has also been a great way to stay connected to home.

4. What's your favorite thing about being an expat in Riyadh?  
Learning, to come, live and work here is a great experience and helps you to grow in so many ways, to be open to the culture and new experiences teaches you so many things and opens your mind to new people and experiences.

5. What’s the worst thing about being an expat in Riyadh?
Riyadh is a big city and a large ex-pat community, however it’s sadly not a city that offers great social outlets by way of parks, theatres, bars or places to meet others. That is a real challenge here. Lots of ex-pats who live here make regular trips to neighboring Gulf States for the odd weekend and thankfully, UAE, Bahrain and Qatar are fairly accessible.

6. What do you miss most?
My boys, Daithi is now almost 12, and his brother Oisin is 8, I do get to see them fairly regularly, but its just not the same as seeing them every day, helping with homework or having fun with them or even being there when you need them also, and Skype havemt yet discovered a way of giving a hug online yet !

7. What did you do to meet people and integrate in your new home?
Firstly, I was very fortunate to be working with an Irish company so I was amongst an number of fellow countrymen, but on top of this, I got involved in some societies here in Riyadh, that meet socially and also Toastmasters and some Social Media Groups which are all super for meeting other in Riyadh. It very important to do it here as there are no real social outlets like the movies, theatre so you absolutely must build a network or you will become rather lonely.

8. What custom/ habits do you find most strange about your adopted culture?
As most know, Saudi Arabia is at the very heart of Islam, being the home of the holy cities of Mekkah & Medina. Islam is central to daily life in this country and takes some getting used to, everything from shops and businesses closing for prayer time to segregated eating for single men and families to women not driving and to lots of other things that are less well known, like Riyadh having no public transport (this is a city of 6 million), to the fact that Saudi Arabia has a massive unemployment problem among its own population, in an economy that is literally bursting right now.

9. What is a myth about your adopted country?

I had a lot of misconceptions about Saudi Arabia, and have been surprised about how modern and open its starting to become, Its certainly not as strict as you are led to believe although I do acknowledge that its much different for a woman here, in particular a single woman.

10. Is the cost of living higher or lower than the last country you lived in and how has that made a difference in your life?
Saudi Arabia is probably the lowest cost of living in the Gulf Region, everyday goods like groceries and household item are very reasonable, taxi are reasonable too. It’s a big bonus to living in the Kingdom.

11. What advice would you give other expats?
Do your research on Saudi Arabia, and the wider Gulf Region, its important to understand the country and region you are moving to, its history, culture , religion and economy. Expect things to be different, keep an open mind as you’ll surprise yourself. Get yourself some good books on the country, it will really give you a taste for life here. When you get here, mix with people, get involved in ex-pats get together and also online and meet new friends, its very important when you first move to a new country, and finally, get to know the locals, they are almost all fluent in English and actually friendly and very open about talking about their country and people, oh, and be careful on the roads, they’re completely bonkers here !!!

12. When and why did you start your blog? A Long Way to Go for A Sun Tan
I started the Blog, in my Containerised Room on a Military Base in Uruzgan, Afghanistan in July 2011, initially as a way of recording what it was like to be in that environment for the sake of my two sons back home (Daithi, 11 & Oisin, 8 ) and it grew from there, I started to write about the experiences I had there and how they affected me and also about missing home and my two sons, and I continued to write after I moved here to Riyadh, and its had a steady readership over that time, and I get a huge kick when I meet a stranger who tell me they have read the blog.

Blog LinkNoel's Blog, A Long Way to go For a Sun Tan

 
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