Natasha Rock is a Saint Lucian who has been living in the UK for many years. Her passion for teaching led her to an opportunity to teach in Saudi Arabia. There was a lot to consider since Saudi Arabia is not known to be the most favorable place for women. Still, Natasha decided to take a leap of faith and follow her own compass. She shares her story with me about her journey.
Lovee: Thank you Natasha for sharing your story with us. I was very intrigued to learn more about your story particularly because of the destination. It’s one thing to move to another country, but it’s an entirely different story to move to a country where women are known to be oppressed and marginalized. How did the opportunity to move to Saudi Arabia come about?
Natasha: Thank you for inviting me to share my story. I am still in amazement that you thought I was an example for others to let their compass take the lead. The opportunity to work in Saudi Arabia actually came about twice. My former lecturer on both occasions was the one who suggested that I apply for the job. The first time , 2010, I had just completed my teaching certification and at that point mentally, I was over teaching. (smiles) Still unsure what career path to take. Then in 2014, agencies were recruiting so I applied without a word to my family and friends just in case someone reminded me of the many reasons why I should not apply. As already it was playing on my mind. Once the interview process was over and I got accepted for the job I told everyone, then I knew there was no turning back.
Lovee: I love that you listened to your own voice and did not seek the permission or approval of others. So many people make that mistake and allow others fears and insecurities to change the trajectory of their lives. What were your initial fears before moving?
Natasha: When I am embarking on new ventures I try to rid my mind of any fear. I read online forums with comments from expatriates who live or had lived in Saudi Arabia, they were all so negative! I remember my mother suggesting not reading the comments as they would only discourage me and that everyone’s journey is not the same, and that I should go and make my own judgement..
Lovee: Yes indeed! Your mother is a very wise lady. No two journeys are the same, so what may be a horrific experience for one person could be a magical experience for someone else. It’s important that we follow our own intuition and compass. What gave you the courage to face your fears and take that leap of faith?
Natasha: My family and closest friends were my biggest support system as well as the hunger for adventure and career fulfillment.
Lovee: It’s great that you had the support and blessings of your family and friends. It does make a difference and help in having a smooth transition. And who doesn’t like a great adventure? In the words of Helen Keller, “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all!” You were born and raised in Saint Lucia and moved to the UK at sixteen, but had you ever made a big move like this before?
Natasha: No, this was my very first!
Lovee: WOW! Impressive. What was the journey like to Saudi Arabia?
Natasha: The journey was like any other. I remember clearly thinking to myself at what point do I wear the abaya ( loose over –garment that has to be worn by women in Saudi Arabia).
Everyone was dressed like a westerner for the most part of the journey.I met a newly married Saudi couple on the airplane, they were returning from their honey moon in Cairo, they were tremendously friendly or can also be that they saw the worry drawn all over my face. They told me when to put the abaya on. Once the airplane landed, and I was getting ready to get off, I looked around, every single woman looked different, they were fully covered with abayas, Niqabs and Hijabs. This was when I knew they were very respectful of their culture and religion.
Lovee: This must have been a huge culture shock, but you handled it with such grace. Once you arrived, what were some of the things which surprised you?
Natasha: All I kept thinking was this is not anything like what people in the western world think it is. Women are very happy here, they are highly respected and they do not seem to be burdened with cruelty or unjust impositions. The religious edict reigns over the country and it has to be respected by all residents. Praying five times a day is obligatory to all Muslims so your day would revolve around the prayer times as shops and businesses are closed during the prayer. This is definitely a gradual adjustment.
Lovee: Interesting, that’s definitely not the impression we get from the media. Which is why I always encourage others to travel, and try to see the world through the lens of their own vision, not television. It can definitely help in alleviating ignorance and bigotry. Was it easy to adapt/adjust to your new culture?
Natasha: It was very easy to adapt to my new lifestyle. I had no choice I was thrown straight into work.I think for several reasons this was best. For instance, I avoided focusing on the differences between my new culture and my home culture, which would only result in me becoming overly stressed and turning insignificant issues into huge catastrophes.
Lovee: Great attitude. What are your responsibilities in your role, and what is a typical day like for you?
Natasha: I teach for four hours a day. I have office hours for students wanting help to drop in and see me. I administer and grade papers, attend academic coordinator meetings, attend professional development symposiums.
Lovee: And what are some of your daily challenges?
Natasha: Honestly, I do not think I encounter any daily challenges. I do however, hate not being able to just freely walk outside sometimes. Women are not often seen walking the streets, you get driven everywhere because women are not allowed to drive. It also because sidewalks and pedestrian crossing are not popular in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. (Not much of challenge anyone would admit)
Lovee: Not being able to walk around freely ,something that you are used to doing is a challenge in itself, but you have such a great attitude towards it. Shows that you have an open mind and is truly willing to assimilate into a culture different from your own. That’s admirable. It must be difficult being away from family and everything that you’re familiar with. How do you cope?
Natasha: It was one of the hardest parts about this journey. Saudi Arabia can become a very lonely place especially if you are familiar with always having people around. Suddenly, I was all alone and most expatriates did not seem approachable. That feeling was over by the end of the first semester. I smiled and approached people with warmth, you then realize they are just not sure if you want to be approached. I have met some of the most wonderful people in Saudi Arabia, learning so much about a variety of cultures and lifestyles. I also remained friends with the young couple I met on the airplane, they introduced me to their friends and families. So I have created a family away from home. I am so grateful.
Lovee: That’s wonderful. I think one of the great benefits of traveling is the wonderful people you meet along the way. Often times, they are strangers who become family. What are some of the misconceptions about Saudi Arabia?
Natasha: The misunderstanding of the status of women. I have met some of the most educated and talented women in this country. I think they will be the driving force behind the country in the future. This misconception is steadily changing. The country is also stigmatized for being violent and unsafe. Not once have I feared for my life being in Saudi Arabia.
Lovee: Powerful statement about women being the driving force behind the country in the future. I love your optimism and your ability to see the best in things. What is the most important lesson you’ve learned living in Saudi Arabia?
Natasha: To be appreciative of different cultures. I have also learnt a lot about myself. There is so much free time here you are able to better self evaluate and set goals.
Lovee: Time alone in solitude, spent listening to our inner voice and thoughts is one of the greatest gifts we can give to ourselves. This is how we grow and realize our strength and power. We definitely learn a lot about ourselves and others when we step outside of our comfort zone. You’ve been in Saudi Arabia for two years now, is it beginning to feel like home? Do you plan on staying for a few more years?
Natasha: It does feel like home now, but I believe in moving forward. I have appreciated all what this amazing country has to offer me, but my journey has just started. I plan to remain for two more academic semesters and venture off to somewhere else.
Lovee: I love that! A true viking spirit. Would you recommend women who are interested in teaching abroad to consider Saudi Arabia?
Natasha: Definitely. The students are greedy for knowledge. I look forward to my lectures every day. You are able provide an insight on various ideas of the western world that some may never experience. As for a personal stand point, you can achieve life perspective, a lot of the time we take our daily lives for granted, being away from the norm you will learn so much about yourself. You can also use this adventure to focus on your future goals, have an effective thought process. It is an enriching experience.
Lovee: Great perspective. Hopefully others will be inspired by your story to take that leap of faith.I know you’ve been doing a bit of traveling and have set a personal goal for yourself to visit the seven wonders of the world. You recently visited Petra in Jordan. How was that experience for you?
Natasha: It was such an experience to witness in its enormity the city that was forgotten by world. The city is veiled in mystery represented by the grandeur of its temples and tombs. I met with Bedouins that were so keen to share their daily lives with me. Makes you question if you are thankful enough for what you have after witnessing people living in such simplicity.
Lovee: Sounds fascinating. I’m now encouraged to visit one day. You’ve come a far way from home. Did you ever imagine that the little girl from Saint Lucia, a tiny island in the Caribbean would be traveling the world and living in Saudi Arabia?
Natasha: I knew that I wanted to be a teacher just never knew it would be in unusual surroundings.
Lovee: The world is indeed our oyster. What advice would you give to young women who are afraid to take that leap of faith, and step outside of their comfort zone?
Natasha: If you feel comfortable with the usual then where is the space for growth? There will always be the “what if” questions to obstruct us. That change can be of significance to your individuality , your mind-set and your values, do not be fraught with regrets and limitations. Let bravery guide you.
Lovee: Great advice! I am very inspired by your courage and faith to venture into the unknown and define your own life. You’ve already broken barriers and proved the power of possibility. You are an inspiration to girls and women to believe in themselves and to have the courage/faith to leap into the unknown and define their own lives. May God continue to bless and guide you as you continue on your journey.
Natasha: Thank you Lovee!