4 Years in Saudi Arabia: Living, Learning and Growing

We are all Ambassadors

Life begins at the end of YOUR comfort zone. YOU decide. Are YOU living or dying-Since our return home from Saudi Arabia, (A place I once feared and had zero desire to move to.)  I have been facilitating a series of workshops for students – sharing what day-to-day life was like while emphasizing critical life, leadership and people skills that they will need throughout their lives.

In each workshop students are given a visual of a natural process that will happen the rest of their lives – as they decide if they have the courage to leave their comfort zones or the grit to survive when life hands them circumstances they can’t control.

Some of the questions I’ve been asked about Saudi are worth sharing:

What was the best part?

  • Living in an International Compound: Sharing life, friendship, and food with people from more than 50 nations and learning from them.
  • Riding motorcycle with men and women from all over the world and getting to experience parts of Saudi that many expats don’t get to enjoy. (Yes – My motorcycle jacket had ½ of an abaya attached to it and could be rolled up when I was on the bike and rolled down when I was off the bike. Allowing me to be respectful and safe while enjoying time on the bike with my husband.)
  • Vacationing in 11 countries besides Saudi and Bahrain in the 4 years we were there.

What was the hardest thing for you?

In order to say yes to living there I adjusted my expectations – intentionally trying not to expect things that I would expect at home. Most of the time that plan worked. Although, I never appreciated things that made life less clear, fair and efficient – I didn’t ride big waves of frustration.  There were two big exceptions in the four years that we were there:

  • The first time was when there were bombings at mosques in cities near us three weekends in a row. The company we worked for hosted a security meeting and I expected that they would recommend a security protocol for our housing compound. The company did not have any of their own staff present – sending only their subcontracted security firm – who would not provide that information without the company’s approval. So we received none of the information I expected to receive, the entire meeting felt like a giant placebo and a waste of time. And I really struggled to find a new perspective and reset my expectations.
  • The second time was this past summer when thousands of people – many who are dear friends – had their homes flooded in Louisiana.  I shared links on my Facebook page so that people could donate and support them. Not long before that, a man had been arrested and was serving time in a neighboring and much more liberal country for doing something similar. As a result, some of my neighbors in the sandbox strongly encouraged me to take my post down. As they shared their concerns, I remembered a few other situations in our location so I did as they suggested.  But I raged against the lack of clarity and the inconsistencies that caused this confusion and the need to even consider the possibility of removing the post.  Especially when my biggest desire was to support friends in need and the organizations I was recommending were vetted and trusted.

What was the biggest lesson?

  • In order to embrace our unwanted change I learned to used both my brain and my heart in balance.  Constantly seeking truth instead of urban legends and choosing love over fear.
  • As I watched the news while we lived in the sandbox, I noticed that in nearly every divisive issue in our world –  we are pushed to choose one of two sides: Total Acceptance OR Fear.
  • We were all given a Brain AND a Heart. When we intentionally BALANCE the use of both we discover a third option -that leads to wiser and more compassionate decisions and healthier relationships, workplaces, communities, and nations.

Are you glad you are home?

Yes.  I miss the people we came to know and love and I am so thankful for our time there.  At the same time I am savoring life here in a new way:

  • I fight tears when I sit in a church building – free to worship as I please.
  • I giggle like a schoolgirl when I drive my car.
  • And I am intentionally leveraging my freedom of speech at a higher level – hoping to encourage others to utilize this extraordinary freedom at a higher level and increase our ability to dialogue with and learn from each other.

 Did your values change?

Would you go again?

  • If we had it to do all over again – we would absolutely say yes!
  • We learned more about geography, world history, different cultures, different foods, and different beliefs.
  • We made amazing lifelong friends from all across the world. Which means we are more attentive to world news – deeply considering how it impacts people we know and love and the nations they call home.

What personal experiences will you cherish forever?

niqabLife in the sandbox inspired me to try to make connections with Saudi ladies when I was out of our compound:

  • Most of them covered their faces with only their eyes showing.
  • I loved smiling at them and greeting them, and  recognizing when they were smiling in return by the way that their eyes lit up and crinkled.

On more than one occasion I sat on a bench and smiled at a woman next to me and greeted her in Arabic.  Each time:

  • There was an instant warmth.
  • A conversation – in spite of language barriers.
  • I was offered some of whatever they were snacking on.
  • And as soon as there were no men in the area, each one voluntarily lifted the cloth that covered her face.
  • Brilliant, beautiful unexpected connections that make my heart overflow.

No matter where you live: You can choose to leave your comfort zone, use your brain AND your heart and reach out to others:

  • Age doesn’t matter
  • Race doesn’t matter
  • Religion doesn’t matter
  • Uniform doesn’t matter

Looking for a speaker or a facilitator for your next event?  

Beyond learning about the day-to-day realities of life in Saudi that aren’t fairly or fully captured in movies or the news – Experiences and learning’s from Saudi can be leveraged to help:

  1. People work through divisive current events
  2. Students, adults and organizations develop critical life, leadership and people skills
  3. Followers of Jesus to find Biblical responses to the news and division in our world

View Speaking Testimonials Here

Chery Gegelman



Image Credit:  Pixabay

President, Giana Consulting

Chery Gegelman is an adventurer that loves to learn. ...Deep conversations, books, travel, and daily living are all food for growth.

As a speaker, facilitator and workshop leader she creates energizing environments that reflect God's grace, tear down walls, help people to consider new perspectives, and inspire change.

Chery is the Founder of Giana Consulting and Conversation Safari's, listed as a Great Leadership Speaker by Inc., writes a recognized leadership blog and has co-authored two leadership books.

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4 thoughts on “4 Years in Saudi Arabia: Living, Learning and Growing

  1. Dear Chery,

    Wow! This is such a great article! I can see God is already using you greatly in your new assignment. You are a terrific writer and I’m certain your work will inspire many. I have sent my daughter the link to this article because she will be moving here to teach next year. I think she will glean a great perspective from your writing. Please keep in touch.