Monday, November 26, 2007

Diversity in the Kingdom

Americans in Saudi Arabia
Americans have been living in Saudi since its inception as a nation in the 1930’s. On of the reasons that adapting to a lifestyle decidedly different than our own is the construction of international schools. Currently there are 8 international schools serving students from grades k-9. There are almost 1800 students from over 50 nationalities in these schools. Their teachers are predominantly Americans (who by the way get paid between 80-95 k) with masters and doctorate degrees.

Students take traditional subjects based on U.S. State standards. A committee chooses which state has the best standards in each area, and then uses them to design the scope and sequence, exams, and instruction. They know that for high school, most likely they will be going to boarding school (like Hogwarts!) so there are up to 40 visits by boarding schools who come to Aramco to offer their services.

When these kids go on field trips, they usually leave the country and go to Kenya, Zululand, Switzerland, Italy and Madagascar. They don’t really travel within the Kingdom due to security reasons. In other words, Americans might be a target for disgruntled folks who might want to cause them harm.

For being 5000 miles away, life at Dharan Third Street Middle School on the Aramco Compound is remarkably similar to many schools in the U.S. The kids have rules they must follow, they take academic and elective classes, they visit the library, and play sports. Most students speak both Arabic and English, and some speak up to 4 and 5 languages. They sent a message of friendship to L.A. Academy students and would like to correspond with you, so get ready to be pen pals!

Sumua Al Amal School for Special Education
Although talking to American middle schoolers was a treat, the highlight of my day was visiting the Sumua Al Amal School for Special Education. This school was the product of the tireless work of the Principal, who constructed the first comprehensive Special Education in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. He explained that he was “gifted” with the birth of a special needs boy 18 years ago, but could find no one to help him get care for his child. So he decided to use his influence as an Aramco employee to build a school that serves children with many handicaps, from birth to death. We met several children who we fell in love with, because they were so innocent in their joy. These kids receive physical therapy, speech therapy, family counseling services, and financial aid if needed.

As always, the issue of the abayas came up because the school is divided into female/male sections. The teachers and staff in the female side were in a panic when they thought the men were about to enter because they were not covered up. So they rushed to but on their abayas and hijabs and most also wore the veil that covers their face.
It was the teachers' first time wearing the abayas, and I was not very comfortable. The hijab kept falling off, and I had to remember to lift it up when climbing stairs. It was very hot in one of the schools, and I was starting to feel dizzy. Perhaps, if I was used to wearing one since birth, it would not be hard to get used to. Saudi women definitely do not seem to mind it.

We have left the city of Dhahran and are now in the western coastal city of Jeddah. It reminds me of Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlan, etc. During the flight, we were required to wear the abaya (which helped out this time due to the cold!) Even the flight attendants wore a hijab, but not an abaya. The monitor that showed the flight map also had an interesting screen…it showed in which direction Mecca was, so that people could face the correct way during their prayers. I’ll tell you, the Muslims I have met in Saudi don’t just talk about their religion; they LIVE their religion.

As a student told me today: PEACE in the MIDDLE EAST!


  1. Hey Ms.Infante,

    SO WHEN THE STUDENTS GO TO A FIELDTRIP LIKE Kenya, Zululand, Switzerland, Italy and Madagascar,


  2. Hello!

    Wow! I loved reading your blog! It sounds like you are having an adventurous learning experience. We miss you at LA Academy and wish you a safe and enlightening journey. See you soon!

    Mrs. Mickey

  3. They usually go on summer vacations, so the trips usually last a couple of weeks. Parents do not go with them.