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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - Heidi Green, a psychology student at King Saud University, says coming to Saudi Arabia ‘was the right thing’
JEDDAH: Heidi Green is loving her new life in Saudi Arabia, far away from her American roots. Effortlessly conversing in fluent Arabic, she seems to be adapting quite well in Riyadh.
Green has been living in Riyadh for almost two years. Since arriving, she has always been complimentary about her experiences in the Kingdom.
The move from the US to Riyadh was not an instant decision. She had been applying for jobs in Saudi Arabia since 2014 and had no idea about Saudi Vision 2030.
She told Arab News: “I feel lucky I was guided here.” She also believes that her life has turned around and she is enjoying every minute of it.
“I was born in Utah, grew up in Las Vegas, and lived most of my adult life in Hawaii and the Washington D.C. area, and now am achieving my long-time goal by living in Riyadh,” she added.
Speaking in high spirits from her home in Riyadh about how her journey began, she said: “Americans live here but don’t often assimilate to the culture. My journey started by learning Arabic and making Saudi friends in the US. I went to cultural events and sometimes interpreted into Sign Language for deaf students. My love for Saudi Arabia grew during that time.”
Green is an American Sign Language interpreter who interprets between English and ASL, as well as Arabic and ASL. She is also proficient in Saudi Sign Language.
When Green told her family she was moving to Saudi Arabia, they were not shocked, but worried that she was going to a country considered by Americans to be deeply conservative.
“I (had) talked about Saudi Arabia for years, so it was not a surprise for them, but they expressed their fear. The unknown always has an element of fear. Some tried to convince me against it. I told them I would either go to Saudi Arabia or die trying, so they knew I was determined. I felt strongly it was the right thing for me,” she said.
I always show people the positive aspects of Saudi Arabia, although there’s no need to prove anything because people will learn and see for themselves what Saudi Arabia is all about as it continues to make a global impact.
Heidi Green, American student in KSA
Green wanted to come to the Kingdom not only to discover a new culture but also to pursue a master’s degree. She is now studying psychology at King Saud University.
“I studied psychology in America and Britain, but I want to see psychology in Saudi Arabia because I see that society is healthy and beautiful here.”
Speaking about the significance of pursuing further education in the Kingdom’s cultural context, she said: “The field of psychology uses methods historically rooted from one culture. As a result, our understanding of ‘disorders’ and how they are categorized is flawed, and misdiagnoses is a problem. Improvement will come from multicultural perspectives.
“I wanted to understand psychology from a collectivist culture. I was fascinated by Saudi families and the psychological impacts of societal values. Also, through my career I research psychological well-being at work. Saudi Arabia is a great place to explore that topic because of transformation.”
Going to a foreign country may be challenging mainly due to the cultural differences, but for Green, getting to know Saudi culture has opened doors to a new and exciting experience. She said that she “was eager to show respect for the culture,” as she “didn’t want to assume my way was right, I wanted to hear other perspectives.”
“As I became part of the community, I was thinking about things I never considered before, like, should I cover my hair at work? How much should I socialize with men? Is it OK to show my face on social media?”
Explaining the impact this cultural exchange had on her, she said: “I learned a lot that way. It transformed me positively. Assimilation into a new society with new rules helps you learn about yourself. You must analyze and understand values deeply, and bargain with yourself how much you will or will not change, as a result of learning. In that process I became stronger and found that I could be myself here and was accepted.”
Settling into Saudi society and adapting to her new life was aided by her ability to speak almost fluently in Arabic, which she learned through watching Saudi shows before coming to the Kingdom. She watched “Khawatir” and read the book “40” by the documentary show’s host Ahmed Al-Shugairi. To learn Najdi dialect, she watched “Masameer County” and Telfaz11 comedies.
“Comedy is a great language learning tool,” Green said. “It exaggerates things, so you see nuances and culturally shared experiences. I grew to love the culture from these shows. I am inspired by their creators who paved the way for the film industry emerging in Saudi Arabia now. As it grows, there will likely be more people like me who love Saudi Arabia and want to learn Arabic because storytelling is powerful.”
Living in the Kingdom, Green is open to new experiences and exploring the country through the people. “I’ve talked to random people from Makkah to Qassim to Hafr Al-Batin. Once a driver took me to his camel farm and I met his family. Other times I’ve met sheikhs, CEOs, and actors. I have also sat in the homes of many Saudi families, and families from nearby countries. I love learning about tribe histories and traditions. I found many opportunities by simply talking to people with genuine interest. Knowing Arabic helps, too,” she said.
Green is often asked whether she feels safe in Saudi Arabia. “Safety is something I value. When I travel, I miss Saudi Arabia, and when I’m back, it feels like coming home because it’s safe. I feel if I had an emergency, the people, neighbors, and systems around me would help,” she said.
Commenting on how Saudis are building on Vision 2030, she said: “I admire Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for delivering on promises, supporting women, and making Saudi dreams happen. Saudi Arabia has improved life for its citizens and shown social responsibility to the world through green initiatives, international aid, and diplomacy efforts.”
After having lived in Riyadh for several years, Green realizes that many assumptions people make about Saudi Arabia are wrong.
“Most misconceptions are dissolving, which is great. I always show people the positive aspects of Saudi Arabia, although there’s no need to prove anything because people will learn and see for themselves what Saudi Arabia is all about as it continues to make a global impact.”
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