I have been in Saudi Arabia for about...two months. I wanted to create this blog as an alternative to the other extremely helpful School Counselor blogs out there. I do not know if this will ever be as helpful as the other blogs, like Corner on Character (incredible!), but I do hope to shed light on the life of a counselor abroad.
However, after being here for just two months, I am quickly realizing that life in Saudi, even as an expat, is literally like nothing else. The way of life here is SO incredibly different than other countries. That said, keep it in mind when reading some of my future posts. I think some of my experiences will be very specific to living in this country, and may or may not be applicable to working abroad elsewhere. At any rate, maybe this will inspire you to do something you never thought you would do. I certainly never pictured myself as a twenty-something-newlywed-outspoken woman-right out of grad school landing and taking a job in Saudi Arabia. But here I am, enjoying myself and learning so much.
This is a crossing sign on the way to our school. Women in this country must wear an Abaya whenever in public, and around men that are not family. Abayas are basically black robes, most women wear them with a matching headscarf, but it is not uncommon to see a woman with her entire face covered. I had a parent meeting with a Muslim family and the mother/wife was completely covered (with the exception of her eyes).
At first, I anticipated her covering to be a major communication barrier because of the inability to see body language and facial expressions. I was also wondering if it would simply distract me because it was something so unfamiliar to me.
How could I possibly be have an effective meeting with such a barrier?!
I was wrong about all the above. It is amazing how quickly cultural assumptions can disappear when you realize you share a common goal. We were meeting together for the same reason-to help a student/child succeed.
I never would have asked her to remove her facial coverings. Unfortunately I know people who would, or who would refuse to meet. As a Counselor (anywhere in the world), you have to meet the 'client' where they are. If I was unable to look past this woman's cultural beliefs, and request that she meet me where I am, all trust would have been gone.
I found it a covert teachable moment for myself. Since that meeting, I've come across new cultures with beliefs that I know nothing to very little about. In this international setting, you must always be openminded and ready for a 'value challenge'. What I mean by 'value challenge' is that your personal values might be challenged when you learn about an alternative perspective. It is okay to disagree-its not okay to disrespect. That is what I tell students that find themselves confused about the different cultures that surround them in the classroom.
Next time you find yourself in a cultural situation you do not understand, or are unfamiliar with
Take a step back.
Try and remember why you are there in the first place. Do you share a goal? Do you have anything in common? At least one thing?
I bet you do...
Until next time...