Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Sweden, Saudi Arabia, and how it all meshes together

I'm a bit obsessed with projects. When planning what to pack for our stay in Riyadh, I brought all my scrapbook supplies and a goal to complete my 2007 scrapbook album. 2007 was a banner year in my life. In one year, we visited 11 countries. I've already made 3 albums highlighting different events in 2007--my husband's PhD graduation, our exciting European vacation, and a weekend trip to Amsterdam I took with my friend, Laurel, in honor of our 30th birthdays. (Now, THAT is the way to celebrate turning 30--TRAVEL!!!) We spent 6 weeks in the Middle East at the beginning of the year. And, it was our last year in Sweden.
Here I am, 5 years later, finishing up scrapbooking that amazing year, focusing on all that Sweden meant to me and what I learned from that experience. It's kind of funny to do that in yet another country, having another expat experience.
Before we moved to Riyadh, I corresponded with some ex-pat American women about living in Saudi Arabia. I mentioned to them that I had lived in Sweden for 5 1/2 years, meaning that I had developed some skills that I thought would be useful. I knew that it would be different. I didn't expect Riyadh to be Sweden or the U.S. Most of them ignored my experience and thought it wouldn't be helpful.
But they were wrong. It has been helpful. I think that living in Sweden taught me to be open and surrender to the experience. I know a few ex-pat women, in whatever country they happen to be in, that hold so tightly to where they came from that they never learn to appreciate or even enjoy where they are. They are so intent on finding chocolate chips to make chocolate chip cookies, that they miss trying out Princess cake (a Swedish cake--really worth trying). That's why I try the foreign foods or explore different places. I don't need to always have American food to feel American. I know who I am and where I came from. But I don't mind growing and expanding with knowledge and experiences from other places. I know where I can adapt and what things I need to have to keep me connected to my roots. I hope that I am wise enough to see that what I've gained from living in different countries only expands who and what I am.

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  1. I agree. I think living in a country and being open to its culture is soooo good for us! When I was in Western Samoa, doing the 1st world country things seemed so silly (fancy hotel, swimming pools). If you're going to live in a country, why don't you actually experience it? Live like the locals live. Although that's really the only place I've really lived outside the U.S., before we had kids and we'd be on vacation in another part of the country, we'd try and do what the locals did -- go to church, volunteer at the church farm... it was fun. We did go to Mexico and stayed at a resort once, so that made it hard to experience real life. The closest we got to real life was walking neighborhoods and shopping at the little local stores.

    When we don't take our own culture so seriously, we realize that others' cultures are just as valid as our own, just different. It gives me more tolerance even for "different" people in our own culture. Who's to define culture, and what is generally correct behavior anyway?

  2. I am so glad you embrace it! That is what I would do.

  3. You are a very open minded person, Tiffany, and that way you can truly call any place home. Home is where our hearts are, and they should be where we are right now.

  4. I admire that you are so open to new things and new ideas. I would be one of those women trying to find chocolate chips. But it's fine because my husband won't ever be transferred overseas with his job.

  5. I like your attitude, that will help you a lot here :)
    As for those women, I would say you should seek some more open-minded friends here ;) Because OF COURSE you having lived in Sweden helped tons!! Just because it's not an Arab country doesn't mean you didn't have to adapt to a different lifestyle. I've lived in U.S and Finland among other countries, and now Saudi doesn't seem so bad to me, as it does to some who never left their home countries before.

    I urge you to venture out of your compound often and get to know some local ladies, they are (mostly) awesome!