I Moved to Saudi Arabia When I Was 13 [ESSAY]


I peered out the window of my school bus, the chattering of students now just white noise in the background, seeing only a tumble weed making its way across the desert.

Its destination?

Wherever the wind decided to blow that day.

I then searched for the lone tree, a palm tree surrounded by nothing but sand, isolated from its neighbors. This marked the halfway point to school, as if “she” had decided to uproot from “her” “home” and embark on a journey, and yet not making it to the end; as she left too early and didn’t think to bring all the provisions or think about the consequences of the journey. Every day I stared at the palm tree, trying to make sense of why it grew alone there.

Living in Orem, Utah, a  medium-sized town in a state that must be looked up, everything was quite ordinary.  The industry was all over the place: the biggest employers from Orem were Utah Valley University and a company called FG Xpress, which created a pain-relief patch of some sort.

Since second grade I had been hanging out with the same Elementary school friends at Holy Spirit Catholic School. One day over dinner, my father asked my brother and me what we thought of moving to Saudi Arabia for 5 years. Immediately thinking of an adventure, I was “gung ho.” for his idea. Little did I know how different the living conditions would be from my previous thirteen years.

Whereas in Idaho a child can be free of worry, having everything done for him/her while his/her parents do all the thinking in Saudi, I had to constantly be responsible and alert to my surroundings. I had to keep track of my passport, and make sure I didn’t get lost through customs in order to get into Saudi Arabia. I had to pay attention to wearing long sleeved clothes (and an Abaya when I was able to purchase one), as well as not glance at the staring men, the superior sex in their country. I was forced to be extra prudent where I put my belongings.  But being nervous in this new country, I also experienced awe, listening to the strange, harsh Arabic, and seeing the signs with the scribbles and dots. This broadened the world for me. I had to pop the bubble I had been absorbed in.

I soon became immersed in a new sport: badminton. Three boys and three girls from our team were chosen to attend a tournament at a nearby school outside the military-style compound of Dhahran, where I resided.  We would have to board a bus with our ID cards.  This was a new idea for me, because at the time, I couldn’t drive, not even in Idaho.  I remember an armed guard who boarded the bus, looked around, and forced everyone to display their ID cards. My new friend had forgotten hers, and would have gotten in trouble had I not passed mine to her in the nick of time. It proved to me the dangers of the world.

On the other hand, I was immersed in a new culture; the meats weren’t beef or pork, but camel.  King Abdullah was sovereign over his country, his four wives at his side.

Now, as I arrive at school and look at my classmates, the “other side of the world” doesn’t seem as far anymore. I see diversity; those from Canada, Texas, Egypt, Asia; everyone with a different story, but everyone on an adventure. If a critical situation arises, I am better able to deal with it maturely. Now, major accidents are car accidents and everyone can walk anywhere and cross state borders without an official ID.   If I hadn’t gone to Saudi Arabia, I would have stayed a tumble weed, flying around, without a destination.

But now I have a story to tell.

The palm tree may be isolated, but she is ready to embark on another journey, and this time she is ready for what really lies in the desert ahead.

-Julie is a recent high school grad from Orem, UT

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