Have you ever wondered what life would be like in another country? Meet expat, Rushana from Cape Town, South Africa, currently living in Riyadh, better known as @expat_that_ on Instagram. She has traveled to several countries, and takes everyone along with her on her amazing adventures. In this interview, Rushana talks about her experience in moving to a new country. She tells us about what life is like as a foreigner, and so much more!
“Growing up during the apartheid era, I never imagined that I would ever leave the shores of South Africa, but here I am, 24 years later and still representing. My name is Rushana, and I hail from what locals commonly call the ‘Mother city,’ Cape Town.”
SO, TELL US, WHERE ARE YOU ORIGINALLY FROM – WHERE WERE YOU BORN?
I’m from South Africa and was born in Cape Town.
IN WHICH COUNTRY AND CITY ARE YOU CURRENTLY LIVING IN NOW AND FOR HOW LONG?
I’m currently living in Riyadh, the capital city of Saudi Arabia, for 24 years now, Algamdulilah.
ARE YOU WORKING IN RIYADH, IF SO WHAT ARE YOU DOING?
Yes, I work in molecular imaging at a hospital.
WHAT WAS IT LIKE MOVING AND HOW DID YOU FIND THE EXPERIENCE OF SETTLING IN AND MAKING IT HOME?
Seems like a lifetime ago—a mixture of fear and excitement when I left the shores of South Africa. In contrast, Saudi Arabia is a very conservative Islamic country with strict rules/regulations and penalties if you fail to comply. I befriended fellow South Africans who made the transition easier. At the time, I was an awkward and shy 25-year-old who grew up in the apartheid era and was never exposed to the outside world. Fast forward, and 24 years later, so much has changed. I consider it my home and would happily live here for the rest of my life if I was allowed to. Sadly, you can never become a citizen of Saudi Arabia, no matter how long you reside here.
TELL US ABOUT LIFE IN RIYADH – WHAT IS IT REALLY LIKE FOR FOREIGNERS?
It can be challenging at times, and people have varying experiences that range from “the best decision of my life” to the “worst experience ever.” As long as you respect the culture and follow the rules, you’re okay. Ultimately, it depends on your frame of mind and adaptive ability.
CAN YOU DESCRIBE RIYADH IN THREE WORDS?
Sandstorms, Food, Love!
WHAT ARE THE BEST THINGS TO DO IN THE AREA YOU LIVING IN; ANYTHING TO RECOMMEND TO FUTURE EXPATS?
There’s not much to do outdoors during the summer months, with temperatures soaring well above 40°. Perfect for poolside lounging and swimming. You could visit coastal cities like Jeddah or Al Khobar with its incredible marine life. I recommend taking a diving course. The sea-life is phenomenal, and the Red Sea temperatures remain relatively constant throughout the year. Nighttime activities include quad biking in the desert or shopping in the souks. Winter is perfect for hiking and camping, a firm favorite with locals and expats alike.
WHAT ARE THE MOST SIGNIFICANT ADJUSTMENTS YOU HAD TO MAKE WHEN SETTLING INTO EXPAT LIFE IN SAUDI? DID YOU EXPERIENCE ANY PARTICULAR ELEMENTS OF CULTURE SHOCK? AND IF SO, WHAT WAS IT.
The first six months were the most difficult and the pain associated with separation from my family. My support structure was suddenly absent, and communication wasn’t as easy as it is today. As a Muslim, it was easier to adapt, so the culture shock wasn’t as bad, although the concept of “always” wearing an abaya (black cloak) when going out in public took some time to get used to.
HOW WOULD YOU RATE THE HEALTHCARE AND PUBLIC TRANSPORT SYSTEM IN SAUDI VS. THAT OF SOUTH AFRICA?
Access to healthcare is much better compared to South Africa. However, depending on where you live, this could vary. Bigger cities usually have better healthcare facilities compared to smaller ones. Public hospitals are generally better equipped than back home. Makes you wonder what South Africans tax payer’s money is REALLY being used for. Conversely, public transport infrastructure is not well established, although the new metro-rail project will change that.
WAS IT EASY TO MAKE FRIENDS AND SOCIALIZE?
Yes, it was. It’s like an unspoken warmth and camaraderie between expats that makes it easy to socialize.
HOW DOES THE COST OF LIVING IN SAUDI COMPARE TO SOUTH AFRICA?
It can either be expensive or cost-effective, depending on what your spending habits are or rather your needs-versus-your-wants. Although the Rand is weaker than the Riyal, you can live comfortably. The tax was non-existent until 2 years ago when they started with 5% on all goods. The pandemic didn’t help either, and just this month (July), it went up to 15%, so the cost of living will definitely be impacted.
DO YOU HAVE ANY ADVICE FOR ANYONE WANTING TO MOVE TO SAUDI WITH THEIR FAMILY.
Go for it! If you have your family with you – it’s already a huge plus! You will never grow unless you venture outside of your comfort zone.