I was an accidental expatriate. Moving to Saudi Arabia was supposed to be a temporary fix. After a few months in Saudi, I would return to the U.S and pick up where I left off. It is safe to say I no longer expect to jump right back into my old life.
One of the harshest realities instilled by life abroad is that “home” marches on.
The world does not stop turning because you left. Unless you are just taking a coffee break, there isn’t anything in life you can simply drop and return to without consequence. It was foolish to think I could leave the place of my birth, live abroad, and return unchanged. Likewise, it was naive to think the place I returned to would be the same. Within the heartache, I found growth. Becoming a youthful expatriate, in a place such as Saudi has changed my outlook, character, and self irrevocably.
Here are some things I’ve learned:
In 2011, I accepted a position with a university in Riyadh with the intention of paying off my student loans and banking some cash. In the blink of an eye, the clock struck midnight January 1st, 2018, marking the completion of my sixth year in Saudi.
“Mann Tracht, Un Gott Lacht” is an old Yiddish adage meaning, “Man Plans, and God Laughs.”
We all make plans, but things change. Unless we are actively working towards our goals and revising our strategy — life will sweep us away. The unexpected is guaranteed. I’m nowhere near where I planned to be at thirty. That is not a bad thing — it’s just that the unforeseen has toppled my plans more times than I can count. My imagination just can’t compete with our Creator’s plans — and neither can yours. Don’t mourn the destruction of your plans. Build new ones. These divine diversions will lead you towards a life better than you could have never imagined.
Over the last six years, I’ve met a lot of expatriates. Some were incredibly happy to call Saudi their home. These people sprinkled love and joy like fairy dust, all the while maintaining a sunny outlook that allowed them to persevere, perhaps even thrive, in a country that is notoriously difficult. I’ve also met individuals from the other side of the fence — those that ooze misery from every pore. The miserable people are infectious and toxic, implementing social techniques reminiscent of slash and burn agriculture. These people find fault in their surroundings, never in themselves. All the blessings and privilege in the world wouldn’t be enough to quench the thirst of these emotional vampires. Beware. These creatures walk among us, and do not come with warning labels.
I’ve learned that life abroad collects loads of individuals convinced of their martyrdom– forced to work in a country that isn’t their own. They spew hatred about the local individuals, scoff at the surrounding tradition and culture, and “can’t wait to get the hell out”.
They are blind to the fact that their privileged ass can pare down their lifestyle and pack their bags.
Unbeknownst to them, millions across the globe are earning for survival, not luxury. They can’t afford to leave, no matter how much self-sacrifice is involved. They feel blessed to earn enough to support the ones they love. Why? Because the country you live in doesn’t owe you a damn thing. Stop whining and start looking around at people with real problems. And stop squirting your toxic whine juice everywhere. It burns.
Anyone that has ever set out to accomplish an errand in Saudi Arabia knows that patience is the key to not losing your mind. If you are going to be an expat, patience is a required state. Patience was also essential to get married, to make friends, to get my anxiety under control, to work things out with my family and figure out why I ran, and to find the one. These things didn’t happen overnight, nor schedule. They happened precisely when they were supposed to.
I used to writhe in the waiting. That sh#t got old.
I realized that in order to maintain some form of sanity, I would need to just let things unfold. Patience is difficult, but worth it. After going through the Saudi visa process four times, it finally dawned on me. I can either fritter away my waiting time, consumed by what happens next, or I can revel in it. View all of your time as a gift. Use it wisely.
Now before you write me off as a money-grubbing freak…let me explain. Money is just like any other resource in this world. It can be used for good deeds, charity, and kindness…or it can be used to destroy the planet. But, you knew that. Money isn’t inherently bad. It is just too often used for nefarious, or simply idiotic purposes.
Money spent is a vote for a certain life and world.
You need a lot less than what you probably have or think you need. I’ve moved out of Saudi three times, and moved within several times. Each time, I’ve misplaced or damaged too much to recall. In fact, I’ve also given away baskets of clothes, shoes, books, and other items. Because I knew I wouldn’t need it. And because it was simply too much to transport. It is normal to buy things “just in case”, it can be a comfort. But what in the hell are you doing it for? You know the expression, “You can’t take it with you when you go!” It applies to moving as well.
Of course, we all have certain non-negotiables. I need a certain amount of travel, books, lipstick, massages, and coffee to be happy . That’s about it. I don’t need fancy clothes. In fact, I will probably rewear the same two black sweaters until they shred. And then I will go to a thrift store and purchase a few more. My retail days are behind me. I’d much rather use that money towards one of my non-negotiables, or to buy some “feel good” (more on that later). Debt gives me the heebie jeebies. It is funny how many people tell me that debt is part of being an adult. And to a certain extent, they might be correct. But being in crushing debt? No way is that “part of being a grown-up”. That is the capitalistic mumbo jumbo that has normalized debt to the point that everyone is up to their ears in it. I don’t need it if I have to borrow for it.
But…you said money buys happiness!?
Well yes, I believe it can. And anyone who has ever set foot into Target knows it also buys boatloads of useless crap. But, how does that make you feel?
You can invest to make others rich, or you can invest in things that enrich your life.
Examine what brings you joy, comfort, or satisfaction. You can buy food, shelter, clean water, and education for another, or another sweater to sit in your closet for years. Get your mom, husband, child, teacher, mailman, employee, friend, a small gift to brighten their day. Spend the money on something that lasts: an experience, education, travel. Money can allow you to improve the lives of those around you. Use your money for “feel goods”. That makes me a lot happier than having that third pair of uncomfortable discounted sandals, or umpteenth pink scarf. I think it will make you happier too.
Wait…what? C’mon Kate. How can life be both short and long? Well, think about the last time you went to dinner with friends and had a conversation so lively, you almost forgot to eat. Before you knew it the restaurant was closing. You made your way back to the house during the wee hours, blushing, vibrating with energy. Happy. Then think about spending time with a friend, spouse, or relative not knowing you’d never see them again. Life is short. Now, think about the never-ending meetings you have had at work, hours of nothing accomplished, feeling drained and discouraged. The last toxic relationship you thought you would never escape. Life is long.
Life is too short to allow fear to stop you from action. To absorb other’s opinions instead of your own. To not hug and love those around you. To skip out on the opportunity. To not go for the gold, try your best, and to make the most of every moment. Want to climb that mountain? For the love of God, pour every inch of yourself into that task. Is a certain situation/relationship/job/location making you miserable? I implore you to remove your soul from the torture.
Just let go. Life is too damn long for inaction. Too damn long to spend it with someone toxic or draining. To waste activities and people that don’t feed your soul. To torture yourself for past mistakes, to not forgive, to stop learning and trying new things, to give up, to stay the same, to settle, to not save, to not build a better world. It doesn’t matter how old you are, you aren’t invincible or guaranteed tomorrow.
I struggled a lot during my time in Saudi: to learn about myself, to make peace with who I was and most importantly who I’m not, to discover what I wanted to do with my life, to take the steps to make that happen, to make the best of it, and finally to find a way out. All of it took time. Six years in fact. This is me…letting it all go.
K.T is an American revert to Islam at the age of 22. I exist mainly in what people view as contradictions. She is a corporate writer/editor by day and a novelist by night. She is a Zumba instructor, PADI certified scuba diver, Toastmaster, and coffee addict. An enthusiastic dabbler, she frequently practices yoga, kayaking, hiking, and 5 K run's. Follow her journey on ktlynn.com.