After 10 years in the UK as a cost/commercial manager in the oil & gas industry, I was ready for a change. I worked in Dubai for an enjoyable 18 months, joined by my wife Lucy when our daughter was just four weeks old. We then moved to Istanbul, but our stay was cut short due to the political situation at the time. I found myself back in the UK in 2016 and I joined Faithful+Gould in Warrington.
I loved the business but not the country! Lucy was especially keen to return to the Middle East, even though we were expecting our second baby. Faithful+Gould were open to discussion, even though I’d only been with them for a short time. I’d put my hand up at the right time—we’d won the GPT major telecoms project in KSA and people were needed.
So I joined the team in Riyadh, then a few weeks later I returned to the UK for the birth of our son. It’s accepted that people have commitments back home, and there’s flexibility if you need to travel at short notice. I stayed at home for two weeks, and shortly afterwards Lucy and the kids joined me in KSA.
When I had first arrived, I was met at the airport and taken to the villa that Faithful+Gould had arranged for me. It was close to the site where I’m based, with most of my project colleagues as neighbours. My first impression was surprise that I could move about so freely. I’d imagined being mainly at work or on the compound, but it didn’t feel so different from Dubai. I got a car, although lots of people don’t bother.
To be fair, the social scene is different from Dubai, and you have to seek out your entertainment. But the restaurants are good, and there’s plenty of socialising on the compounds and in people’s homes, as well as formal British Embassy events. There’s a welcoming atmosphere and people make an effort to make friends—you become surrogate families, as you’re far from home, and close bonds are formed.
When I started work, it did feel different. There are a lot of local contractors and subcontractors in KSA, decision-making can be a lengthier process, and there are new cultural working norms to get to grips with. GPT is an interesting project that will transfer the National Guard’s communications network.
We’ve moved to a new compound as our original one was bachelor-focused and didn’t have much happening for families. Lucy got stuck into the coffee morning circuit on maternity leave and checked out the best places for families to live. Our operations department can also advise, if necessary.
We’re now in a great family-orientated location, near school. The compound feels like a village, and older children are safe to go about on their bikes on their own. There’s children’s swimming, ballet, gymnastics and art lessons all happening on-site, together with a big park nearby.
We’ve recently added a dog to our family and we enjoy walks on the diplomatic quarter’s walking track. This is a neighbourhood where the embassies are located, alongside lush green parks, and women need not wear abayas here. Other leisure activities are centred around the malls and there’s plenty of soft play and children’s stuff.
My favourite leisure pursuits are cycling and triathlon and there are clubs here. When cycling, I was surprised to find green valleys, mountains and farms, just 10-15 km outside Riyadh. In the summer I have to be content with the treadmill and indoor bike. The compounds have gyms, there are golf courses, and Faithful+Gould has a 7-a-side football team, playing in a league.
Travel has been a great opportunity during our time in the Middle East. We’ve been to Sri Lanka, Thailand, Vietnam, Cyprus and Oman, and we’re headed to Turkey next. We’ve met up with our UK family in Thailand as a convenient point, and also in Dubai, which is an easy trip. They’ve not come to KSA yet, but visitor visas are easier now, so it’s a definite possibility.
Lucy’s back at work, as a primary school teacher, and it’s a good career move for her. We’re really pleased that we’re both able to develop our careers here. Our daughter attends the same British curriculum school, while our Sri Lankan nanny looks after our son.
My expectations were quite low when I came here, and they’ve been completely exceeded. In the two years we’ve been in KSA, we’ve certainly seen changes as the country has become more liberal, and it’s an exciting time to be here. We feel settled and comfortable and in no hurry to return to the UK!