Helpful Thing #1:
My mother was an English teacher and I've been reading all of my life, throughout school I was almost always ahead of my classmates and have read just about every genre of fiction and poetry known to man. I also have a minor in History and therefore a real curiosity in the things that I am seeing, I often try and compare them to the history I've studied, and find most often that the two things don't match up...The older I get and the more time I spend out of my comfort zone, the more I feel like Orwell was writing 1984 based upon his true beliefs of what society would or already had started to become. So the most helpful thing I've ever read in terms of preparing for Saudi was: The Kastle-Franz Kafka If you can understand the Kastle, you can understand Bureaucracy, and Saudi has got some Bureaucracy.
Helpful Thing #2:
The Marine Corps
At 17 I knew everything, no I'm serious I did, I knew that I wanted to be nothing like my family, I knew that I wanted a life that meant something, I knew that I wanted to fight for those who couldn't fight for themselves. The Marine Corps found me, and I found them. I left school, and 26 days after my 18th birthday, I set off to make that happen. There were some stumbling points in my Marine Corps career (there always are), but in general the flexibility, patience and determination that they taught me have served me very well throughout the years. To know yourself, test yourself and push past all known limits is a thing that many men will never dare to entertain, physical and mental exhaustion bring up a different you, maybe stronger, quite possibly weaker. Ever seen a grown man in uniform laying on the side of a trail in the fetal position crying out of severe pain and exhaustion while his friends walk by and say "get up pussy"? You see, we all hurt, were all starving, were all tired and frustrated, we all have blisters, we have all rubbed the skin on our inner thighs off after walking 20 miles today with 20 more to go, we all have a headache from the helmet, we all have dry mouth, were all hurting...what gives you the right to give up? The answer is nothing. Nothing gives you any right, you just decided to give up, to die. That attitude is contagious and the men walking by don't want to catch it, we keep going because that's what we do, we always move, we never quit, we never die without permission. When you earn the Eagle, Globe and Anchor that you will wear in some form or another for the rest of your life, you have learned something about yourself, you know who you really are. What you'll do when the chips are down. It may not be the prettiest picture, but its real and its a starting point. Why are all Marines a band of brothers? Because we know that the other man or Woman who calls themselves Marine has also been tested, and has passed and continues to pass those tests. How tough are Marines? Tough enough. That's all you ever need to know.
How tough do you have to be to make the best out of Saudi Arabia? While work is frustrating, your wife and kids are in the US and you're not very good with the language? You have little to do one day and a months worth of work the next day. Hell you can't even get drunk once in a while while you watch the game, so how tough do you have to be to keep on going? "Tough enough son, we'll let you know when its over". Thank you to the United States Marine Corps for teaching me who I am when the chips are down. OOHRAH Marine Corps. Semper Fi and maybe more importantly here in Saudi, Semper Gumby!
**(I'm feeling generous today and will allow POG's to be included in this definition, especially since in today's world, every man is a rifleman, even if he's not a very accurate one!)
Helpful Thing #3:
Being a Firefighter
6 years Volunteer and 3 years Professional taught me that being a firefighter can often be as physically demanding as the Marine Corps, the emergent and unexpected nature of the job improves a persons ability to think on their feet, abandon current strategy and start all over again 3 or 4 times an incident. It also helps teach patience while waiting for something to happen.
Helpful Thing #4
Being a Paramedic
Quite possibly one of the most mentally taxing professions in existence. 2 years of school is supposed to prepare you for dealing with life and death, and it probably would, if it weren't for that whole "unpredictable world outside of the hospital" thing. Paramedics deal with shit, bullshit and holy shit! most every shift or rotation that they work, best of all they deal with it in that unpredictable environment called "the field". Will you work in a roadway today? Maybe in a muddy field, maybe in a luxurious house, maybe in a dilapidated trailer. Your patient may be sick, may have been shot, may have fallen two flights of stairs, may have died in their sleep, may have had a heart attack in front of their children, or may be simply without a ride to the hospital. They may require little pre-hospital care, they may also require the whole kit and caboodle. Your brain will be required to perform calculations on the fly, early in the morning, late at night, you will be forced to recall drug dosages and rules of EKG rhythm interpretation. You must perform thorough assessments and make treatment decisions based on conditions detected, medical history, prescribed medicines and protocols. In short you must think on your feet and the only consequence of error, is harm and death to your patient...no biggie! 10 years or so as a medic has taught me to think on the fly, hope for the best, prepare for the worst and settle for the mediocre, these are all invaluable traits in Saudi.
Spending most of my life in a 1st world country
Saudi's first world, but its new first world, less than 50 years ago, the area I'm currently in was sparsely populated desert. There are some backwards ass things here, or at least they seem so to me. Truth is, those of us in a first world country are so used to being babied that were damn near helpless. Hungry? Pick up the phone! Hurt? Pick up the Phone! Somebody breaking in? pick up the phone! BUT, what if the phone didn't work? What if the cops were busy? what if the ratio of paramedics to population was 6:6,000,000. Thinking like that in America gets you called a survivalist, or worse a gun nut, but it might do us all a little good to think about how to take care of ourselves if the cops, ambulance and pizza guy weren't on standby 24/7. I can easily get overwhelmed here with the magnitude of our project...Its like building a service from scratch, and the people don't even know they need the service!
A Business Education
My BA is in Business Administration with a minor in History, my MBA focus is Sustainable Business. All of my formal college training has been directed towards rejecting the status quo and pushing boundaries of performance. It has been geared towards results, chain of command, delegation of authority, and efficient business practice...yeah none of those words exist here. Sometimes it seems the only two ranks are King and Prince, or Owner and Manager. Ask any kid here what he wants to be when he grows up and he'll tell you "director or manager". If you ask the kid what those people do, he'll tell you that they drive nice cars, have lots of money and tell people what to do...I wish I was kidding but I'm not. Everybody else seems to be jockeying for the position of laziest paid employee and next in line when the manager dies, a business environment such as this is difficult to work in. The guy with the biggest hat must be in charge!
An American Public School Education
It doesn't matter if you believe in the deliberate dumbing down of America or whether you just finally opened your eyes to the truth. The American public school system is a joke of the least entertaining type. Its a system run by idiots who make 6 figure salary's and are governed by their most senior colleagues...American students know more about making a box of hamburger helper than they do about math or science, let alone foreign language and culture. How many American students that you know can speak decently with a native speaker of a different country? None that I've ever met, maybe a phrase here or there but that's about it. So how come some of my worst students here can understand English, speaking and reading with basic writing skills? Some of my best speak German and French as well. If for no better reason than to study the ways of an adversary, American students should be learning foreign languages the correct way. Think about this...most Filipinos here speak their native language, along with some decent Arabic and excellent English...hmm, 3 languages, great work ethic, willing to work for 1/4 of American workers...looks like we got some competition for hardiest workforce. In today's global economy, it will become an issue. My lack of knowledge of the Arab world started me out here on 0. I have a lot of catching up to do. Luckily, my mother did teach me to read, so I'm getting there.
So in conclusion, if any of you want to think about trying a crazy new life, don't rule out the Middle East, they're on an "all things Western" kick, and you might just get your eyes opened to a world you didn't know was here.