Saudi Arabia covers most of the Arabian Peninsula and, next to Algeria, is the largest Arab state. Although it has a population of about 27 million people, at least 8 million are expatriates working temporarily in the country. Saudi Arabia has the world's second largest oil reserves (after Venezuela).
Saudi Arabia is situated in the Arabian Peninsula, north of Yemen. Its desert climate features high temperatures (up to 54 degrees Celsius) throughout the day which drop dramatically at night.
Class and Hierarchy
Saudi Arabian culture is quite hierarchical which means there will be many levels of authority in any organization. You may find students from the Middle East pushing to speak to someone in authority as they may think customer service people and teachers do not have much organizational power and, therefore, may not be expected to be able to solve the problem at hand.
Religion and Government
Saudi Arabia has a long history of strong tribal leadership followed by forced allegiance to the great Islamic empires in Baghdad, Cairo, and Istanbul. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was established in 1932 after the House of Saud and Bedouin tribal leaders united to throw over the Ottoman Empire. It is an absolute monarchy; a king governs the country for an unlimited term and the selection of the next king follows a hereditary line of succession. The King, with the help of a council, appoints ministers and dignitaries either from within the royal family or other qualified citizens.
Many Muslims make pilgrimages to the cities of Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia as it is home to the two holiest sites in Islam. The Koran (the holy book of Muslims) and the Sunnah (the practices of the Prophet Mohamed) are the constitution of the country. Almost 100% of the population is Muslim.
Historically, there have been many interactions between the Arab-speaking world and English speaking peoples. English has borrowed many words from Arabic including admiral, algebra, algorithm, caliber, candy, coffee, cotton, jar, orange, sugar, syrup, talisman, and zero.
Social Interaction and Values
You may have noticed that a female student is sometimes accompanied by her husband when she comes to register or seek assistance and that her husband does much of the talking for her. Don't try to ignore him and talk only to her; this would be rude in any culture! Be happy she is coming to enroll and welcome the chance to greet newcomers to our college. Be a good ambassador for Canadian education, even if you are surprised by the gender roles. Changes in gender expectations took generations in Canada, so be patient and welcoming.
Have you seen women wearing full burka and niqab at the college? These women may be from Saudi Arabia. A burka is a full length cloak covering the body from head to foot and wrist. A niqab is a veil covering all but the eyes. While most Muslims agree that the Koran requires women and men to dress modestly, the form of Islam in Saudi Arabia is very conservative. Don't shake hands with a Saudi woman if you are a man. But, if you are female and become friends with a female Saudi student you will see that the clothes under the burka can be very fashionable and the hairstyle very modern. The rule is that women cannot be seen or touched by men other than husband or family, but in a female-only situation, the socializing is very open.
Hospitality and sharing food is an important part of Saudi life. Try to get a chance to share a meal with a group of Saudi students. The food is so good! Offer your own hospitality in return. Try to get an opportunity to discover what a diverse and interesting world we live in.
Communicating criticism or bad news is not usually done directly. If you have to tell a colleague from Saudi Arabia that you can't make a meeting or don't like their idea, apologize and give an excuse first. To directly criticize or disappoint is considered uncouth.
Deadlines have far less meaning in Saudi culture than in Canada. Being flexible about time is a way of life. Insha'Allah meaning 'God willing' is a phrase you might hear in reply to suggesting a meeting.
Education at all levels is free in Saudi Arabia and many international students studying at Conestoga are on a Saudi government scholarship.