From Jamie's Philippines Pics

We have also had the opportunity to travel to some amazing places in China, Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam, the Philippines, and Bali. We have archived all of our travels and living experiences abroad; and if you wish, you can read about our adventures by finding the archives on the right of this page and by checking our Photo Album.

We appreciate all of our family and friends who have stayed in touch and emailed us with encouraging words throughout the year. We hope you will continue to keep us in your thoughts as we continue our adventure of living abroad teaching at an international school. For those who have stumbled upon our site, check out the "About Eric and Jamie" section on the right for more information.

Thanks for checking us out!

Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness."
- Mark Twain

"Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends."
- Maya Angelou






Skype: "ericandjamie"



Thursday, August 26, 2010

Golfing in Saudi Arabia

From Golfing in Saudi Arabia

A new colleague and neighbor of mine found a driving range and desert golf course about 30 minute drive outside the city.  He had been previously and was telling me about it, so I just had to go.

As you will see from the pictures, it really does seem as though it is out in the middle of the desert.  Well... it is.  There are some sort of warehouses around where we were and plenty of electrical lines, but for the most part, it was all sand, sand, sand.

My first impression was of the quite funny sign that told all ladies to make sure they had "male protection."  Women can play out there with no problem and even do not have to wear an abaya, but do have to wear long sleeves and pants.  No one was playing today, but my friend tells me that women do play out there.  The South Koreans who live in Saudi love to play golf.

We arrived and as you can see from the pictures, it is a small 2 shack operation, but with a solid cover for driving range balls, a small putting "brown," and even some mats thrown down so you can hit on the range.  The yardage is marked accordingly.  There is actually 18 holes on that course complete with rules and everything.  Apparently, you purchase your own little square piece of artificial turf, drive the ball down the lightly packed fairway, and then try and your ball on the finely packed "brown" (green).  Walking only.

We only hit about 50 balls each, but we will definitely go back when the weather cools down.  Not a bad rate to play either, and it will certainly be an experience.  Check out the pictures closely in the PICASA Photo Album of Golfing in Saudi Arabia Album and follow my little experience in pictures.

Welcome the Kingdom!

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Back in the USA

I had a full workday on Thursday (remember, this is like my Saturday), and Jamie also went in to get some things done in her classroom.  I was able to pretty much get everything ready, but still had to work on Friday to finalize some documents.

Thursday night, we were invited to the U.S. Consulate for a party.  This was a cool experience and needless to say, security was very tight getting into the U.S. Consulate in Saudi Arabia.  Several little checkpoints.  I guess since it is technically US soil, they were allowed to serve alcohol, but Jamie and I wondered how they even got it into the country unless they have their own landing strip.  We mingled for a few hours and met some new people and headed home.  It was a nice outing, and they said they have those gatherings about 1 time per month, but you have to be invited.

Friday was an off day for us and we were able to catch a ride to the Hyper Panda (like WalMart) for some household items.  The store was closing for the midday prayer and wouldn't open again until later in the afternoon, so we just headed home, where I worked on some school stuff.  That evening, we ordered out to Baba Habbas, a "fast food" type restaurant probably similar to KFC, except it has Arabic food.  We were introduced to Shawarma (Read about them here). Theyare delicious and pretty inexpensive, so they might become a stable in our diet.  It came with some hummus, so that made it even better.

Today was our first day of school with the kids, so since I have some Internet here at school, I thought I'd post this quickly.  Still no Internet at home.  Successful day with the students so far, and I'm sure I will be putting more up about the school in later posts.

Still no questions from anyone, so I guess I am doing a bang up job with the posts.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Back to School

On Saturday, Jamie and I went back to school.  Our work week actually runs from Saturday to Wednesday, so our weekends are Thursday and Friday, and this was our first week at our new jobs.  Jamie and I have been getting up early at 5:00 and go down to our gym to workout/run.  We have breakfast and then hop on the bus which picks us up right at our doorstep.

Since it is Ramadan and practically no one is on the roads, it only takes us about 15 minutes to get to the school.  Before going into the school, the bus has to go through the U.S. Consulate security gate.  This was an interesting process the first time we went through, but no it is just part of the whole ordeal.  We just have to stay on the bus and show our school ID.

Our school is rather large and has a perimeter of about 1 mile around.  It sits directly next to the U.S. Consulate and the land is actually leased from King Faud University of Petroleum and Minerals.  The lease expires soon, so we don't know what will happen then.  Our campus actually contains 3 schools, the Dhahran Elementary and Middle School, Dhahran High School, and Dhahran British School, all operated by a non-profit organization called International Schools Group (ISG).

Jamie has a classroom in a normal high school type building while I actually have more of what looks like a mobile room, only perhaps a bit nicer than what you see in the States.  The students will have to walk from building to building for their classes and lunch, which makes it a bit different than most set ups back home.

Our schedule is pretty similar and we teach an American curriculum.  School ends at 3:30, and we really can't work past 5:00 because they close the gates to the school, and you have to go through the U.S. Consulate to get out.  Jamie and I hop back on a bus at either 3:30 or 5:00 and head back to our compound.

Lately, we've been pretty much crashing and napping or going shopping in the evenings.  We still do not have a vehicle and have to rely on others to take us around.

I received my schedule today and I will be teaching 7th grade math and science as well as one "elective."  I do not know yet, but I believe I will do either Journalism or Model United Nations as my elective.  Jamie is teaching 10th grade Modern World History and 11th grade U.S. History at the high school.

So far so good at the school, but our school implements several new software programs that takes getting used to.  These include Moodle, Skyward, Atlas Rubicon, and First Class.  All have the strengths and weaknesses is appears, but it is good to know the school pays for quality programs to help teachers with record keeping.

I haven't received any questions, so if you have any, email them my way!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Shopping Day

We didn’t really get out and about until we were picked up by a coworker and whisked around town in his car. Remember, we can’t drive yet, so we are at the mercy of others. He gave us a quick tour of the surroundings before we settled on a store called the Hyper Panda. It is very similar to a WalMart. Jamie and I had a list of household supplies that we needed to round out our settling in as well as get some groceries for the week. We were pleasantly surprised at the quality of the goods offered and even some name brands that we recognized.

This was our first time in “public,” so we experienced firsthand the women wearing their abayas and hijab. The abaya is the long sleeve black robe that women must wear whereas the hijab is the headscarf. Some women were dressed head to toe and veiled, some had an opening for their eyes, and some their head uncovered. Jamie had borrowed an abaya so she was wearing it. I’m not sure I will ever feel comfortable with this scenario, but we’ll see. More on this later I’m sure.

As we were leaving, it was time for the call to prayer. All of the stores in Saudi Arabia shut down for the call to prayer. If you are in the store at the time, they will allow you to stay and wander around, but you won’t be able to purchase anything because no one will be there to help you. We left just at the 3:15 call to prayer was beginning. The Muslims pray 5 times per day beginning just before sunrise and ending after sunset. The prayer times change constantly, so we’ll receive a schedule so we’ll know when the prayer times are. If you are outside, you know because you can hear the mosques’ loudspeakers throughout the city.

Our next stop was a hardware store similar to ACE hardware, not quite Home Depot, followed by a trip to Tamimi’s, which is the new name for a Safeway. Here, you can purchase many Western products, so we stocked up on groceries for the week. As a reminder, there are NO pork or alcohol products in Saudi Arabia AT ALL. They are illegal, and they take it seriously. There are some families that make their own beer, wine, and liquor inside the compound, and we can do whatever we want inside the walls.

What fascinated me with the grocery store was all of the men shopping. Because women can’t drive, they really do not go out as much to shop. Men conduct the business for the most part, so the stores are full of men. You do see plenty of women, but it just seemed to me the checkout lines were full of men, particularly on Friday, their holy day.

We dropped our stuff off and then rested for a few minutes before being hosted by our buddy couple that evening. We had some of their home made spirits and some traditional Ramadan snacks, fried cheese and a delicious minced chick pea and meatball. We then headed to a more traditional style Arabac restaurant where our meal consisted of flat bread served with dipping sauces of hummus, baba ganoush, tabouleh, and one other I can’t remember. Served with 2 large servings of rice as well as a family platter of various grilled vegetables, meats, and potatoes. It was very good and we’ll definitely like going back.

Stores are open during Ramadan at night, sometimes as late as 3 or 4 in the morning, so we then went to “Ladies Street” to purchase Jamie an abaya. There are several stores pretty much identical that sell abayas anywhere from $25 to $100. I’m sure the wealthier Saudi families have fancier ones though. Jamie settled on one for about $30 and received a good deal.
Not many pictures yet because I haven’t been really taking any. We also aren’t really quite sure about the customs of taking pictures in public and it might be hit or miss. We are going to try though. We have the 2 videos of the compound if you haven’t seen those, but we have been so busy with actually buying things that we haven’t really taken any pictures. We also won’t have Internet in our villa for probably more than a month, so I’ll be posting either at school or borrowing Internet at someone else’s villa.

Tomorrow, we start school and we are very excited. I’m actually typing this at 4:00 am because I can’ t really sleep. You all will read this several days after it all happened, but I am trying to go ahead and write so it will be fresh in my mind.

First Day of School

Our work week actually begins on Saturdays, so while most of the world is taking a weekend those days, we will be going to work. Our work week goes from Saturday through Wednesday, so the Muslims have Thursday and Friday (holy day) as their “weekend.”

We woke up early and worked out and caught the bus to school. The drive takes about 20 minutes, but then you have to go through the security at the U.S. Consulate. Our school is actually right next to the U.S. Consulate, so security is tight with what we were told were brand new, more powerful machine guns.

After meeting administration, we were taken to the local hospital to receive our medical exams necessary for our all important Iqamas (green card). It was easy enough and the school was excited we were able to complete it so early in the process. We still won’t receive our Iqamas until after Ramadan anyway, but it was nice to get it out of the way.

Jamie and I then split up into our respective schools and had the typical first day of school stuff to do. We saw our classrooms and toured around the school a bit. It is an older school built in the 1960s, so the most of the buildings have that style, but are well kept and clean.
We left promptly at 3:30. We have to vacate the school at 5:00 anyway, so there won’t be any late nights working at the school. We then immediately fell asleep because of sheer exhaustion, but as I type this, Jamie is preparing a wonderful meal of grouper, rice, and steamed veggies. We’ll relax tonight and hit the grind again tomorrow.

Yes, It is HOT!

Jamie and I actually woke early and then proceeded out for a quick tour of the compound. See our COMPOUND TOUR Video for all of the details. I haven’t seen the weather the last few days for here, but it is as hot as they say it is. You can walk about 20 steps and already be sweating.

After returning, we went straight to unpacking and settling all of our belongings. We then made a list of the necessary items we’ll need to completely settle in and really just relaxed the remainder of the day.

Jamie and I, more so me, will have to wait for our residency visas to process before we can pretty much do anything. We can’t set up our Internet, purchase a car, drive a car, set up our bank account, or leave and re-enter the country until we receive our Iqama. The Iqama is pretty much like a “green card” and allows us to fully work in the Kingdom. Until then, we have a letter that serves this purpose, but you still can’t do any of the above without it.
This can be a bit frustrating because we are at the mercy of others for rides to the store, but everyone has been very helpful at offering their services, so we feel that we’ll be just fine for the month. A bus will take us back and forth to work until we can finally purchase a car. For Jamie, it is illegal for her to drive, so that won’t be an issue for her anyway.
We enjoyed the rest of the day and ordered some lamb and chicken curry for delivery for dinner. We were able visit another villa and Skype with our parents to fill them in on most of these details.

Tomorrow, Friday, is a very slow day in the Kingdom as it is their holy day, similar to Sunday for most of the Western world. However, there are a few larger stores that are open, so we’ll venture out with our buddy couple to buy some much needed supplies for our villa.
Shoot me some questions via email or comments. I’ll try and get them onto the blog at some point in time. I think it would be a good way to answer some questions if I in fact have the answers.

Welcome to the Kingdom!

Jamie and I finalized our packing today and crammed everything into 13 bags. My parents drove down; and along with Jamie’s parents, we headed down the airport. We had hoped for a discount on our excess baggage, but we didn’t receive it. That took some time as we had to wait for supervisors, but we finally checked out bags and only had 2 overweight. The cost was more than what I had wanted, but we had budgeted correctly for it. Our school provides a shipping allowance anyway, so it is all good.

We had dinner at Houlihans before saying our difficult goodbyes to our family. Our KLM flight took us through Amsterdam where we had a 2 hour layover. There, we actually met some families with whom we will be working. The Schiphol airport in Amsterdam is different because you actually go through security at the gate. That and all of the women are much taller.
Our two flights were good and we arrived at 9:00 pm in Saudi Arabia. Customs was a breeze and we worried about all of our stuff for no reason. We did have 1 bag that didn’t make, but hopefully we’ll receive it in a few days.

We were met by our superintendent, high school principal, middle school principal, and others as they helped us load our bags into a bus before we loaded onto another bus. The drive to our compound was about 45 minutes and we were showed some of the sites around the area despite it being dark. Al Khobar, the name of the city in which we will live, is actually very modern with many western restaurants and stores. More on this I’m sure in later blog posts.

Today is the first day of Ramadan, the holiest holiday for Islam. Muslims fast from dawn to dusk and it is actually illegal for anyone to be caught eating or drinking in public. Most stores do not open until after sunset, so the whole country somewhat shuts down. Jamie was wearing long sleeves and pants when she arrived, but will purchase an abaya in a few days.

We arrived at our compound and were pleasantly surprised at the surroundings. We enter through a large electronic gate, but the inside of the compound looks somewhat like a nice retirement community you might see in Florida. The huge difference is that our gate is guarded by Saudi National Guard reserves with machine guns ready at a moment’s notice as well as a large concrete wall with barbed wire surrounding the compound. Makes me feel safe. I don’t want this to sound bad, because the villas are VERY nice.

On our compound, we have a pool, tennis courts, basketball courts, a recreational center with ping pong, pool, foosball, air hockey, a small library, a TV room, and a nice little gym.
Our villa is 3 stories, but Jamie and I will occupy the 2nd and 3rd stories as well as the rooftop. There is a single female that lives in the 1st floor. Please see the VIDEO of our villa tour for detailed information as I believe it will be better than me typing everything out.

Our school provides all of this as part of our package; so needless to say, we were shocked at the size of the place as well as what was furnished for us. We didn’t really unpack this night, but were visited by several families offering help over the next few days. I will speak more of this tomorrow, but I hope this first blog post lets you know of our tiring yet exciting first evening in The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Packing for Saudi Arabia


The sign above was in my hometown of Calhoun, Tennessee. A nice gesture to wish us luck on our next adventure.

Jamie and I have spent the last 2 days packing. As of now, we'll have about 11 bags total that we'll take the airport for our trip. We had decided not to ship anything and just simply pay for the excess baggage fee at the airport. We hope this will be a good strategy, but I think if we had to do it over again, we'd have shipped these bags ahead of time. Oh well...

We have been saying our goodbyes to family and friends, which is always hard to do. Most of them are excited for us on this new journey, but I feel that some just can't quite understand why we'd want to move to Saudi Arabia of all places.

I'll remind my readers that Jamie and I attended a job fair in Bangkok, Thailand last January where we interviewed for seveal jobs in several countries, including China. ISG in Saudi Arabia offered us a job, we felt very comfortable with them and the package they were offering, so we decided to getive it a shot.

I do hope that everyone will keep checkig the blog for updates especially when we do arrive in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, our new home.
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Tuesday, August 3, 2010

1 Week Remaining!

Jamie and I have had a great summer, but our next adventure is just around the corner as we move to Saudi Arabia in just one week. This summer has been busy as we have bounced around from Cartersville, Myrtle Beach, Tennessee, South Georgia, and St. George's Island visiting family and friends. We now have just one week to finalize appointments and finish packing before we fly out on evening of August 10th.

The visa process for going to Saudi Arabia was tedious as the medical forms took over one month to complete. The Saudi Arabian embassy in Washington DC was very particular with our documents and everything had to be just right. It took us a couple of mailings, but we are now approved with a 90 day work visa. Once we arrive in Dhahran, our school will help secure us a full one year work visa. Unfortunately, this process runs into our 1st vacation, so we'll have to stay in Saudi Arabia for the duration of our first school break. Can you say, "Desert Vacation!"

To refresh everyone's memory, Jamie will be teaching high school social studies, specifically Modern European History and AP United States Government. She is very excited about the latter as it is a subject that we both enjoy teaching. I will be teaching 7th grade Math and Science.

We have found out quite a bit of information about our compound and the city in which we will live, but I'll save those details for when we actually arrive in Saudi. There is no shortage of Internet, so I should be up and running with Internet immediately, and I'll do my best to post regularly and often. I am betting that many people will be wondering what it is like to live in The Kingdom.

As you can see, I have revamped the blog site with an all new look and name change. This officially closes the book on the China blog. I just used a template design and then fiddled a little with the html code. I hope you like it and hope you can give me some feedback.

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