Thursday, 27 August 2015

Looking For Schools in Saudi Arabia

One of the searches that expat parents do before they leave their country of origin to relocate to Saudi Arabia, is to find schools, and preferably good ones, for their children.  It used to be a daunting task because not much information was out there.  Your best bet was to become a serial expat forum member asking loads of questions that had been asked before and being sent to numerous links for answers hidden in their depths if you could be bothered scrolling that far.  The other day I came across Kurrasa.   Kurrasa has made the job of finding schools in Saudi so much easier.  Not only does the site provide a comprehensive list of all schools in Riyadh, Jeddah, Dammam and other cities in Saudi Arabia, they are also working on providing a wealth of information about each school

Kurrassa lets you know the grades taught at each school, their location and contact details, whether the school is an international or national school, and a co-ed or single sex school.  You can delve further into each school and find out mission statements, admission policies, school facilities, school fee costs and, for most, photographs.

The most important part of the site for parents though, is its parents review segment.  The site is still relatively new on the Saudi information scene so the reviews are in the throes of being built up, but I think it's still possible to get an idea of the running of the school from the information currently available.  The reviews would be aided by a star system if there weren't a few minor glitches to the set up.

The site also offers a section for potential teachers to provide their CV's and, from what I could tell, this is one of the drawbacks of the site at the moment in that, those looking for work are putting messages regarding their intention to teach in the parent review segment.  The other people messing up the star rating system are parents with questions who, instead of contacting the schools directly, are posting their queries on the website review area.  It appears that, in order to complete your message, you have to offer a star rating.  This means a number of schools are receiving single star ratings possibly where they shouldn't be.  So if you use the site, read the reviews carefully to weed out the schools suffering a low star rating because teachers looking for work are using the wrong section, (and, quite frankly, the inability to read and correctly use a  website would make me immediately cross them off my 'potential teacher' list), or parents with queries are doing the same.  Despite this minor, though irritating drawback, (I think it's irritating),  I can see the Kurrasa website very quickly becoming a valuable resource for parents searching for schools.

Of course the quality of education available in this new and foreign land is just one of the concerns confronting expat parents intending to uplift their offspring and move them overseas.  A number of other considerations are just as important especially if you have children who are not that excited, or are perhaps nervous, about the move and have a few ideas of their own about what is important regarding their schooling.

The language in which the classes will be instructed can be a major issue.  Your child may be less than happy to be sent to an English speaking school when they aren't very good at the language.  I know one family whose older son is at a French school while their younger daughter is at the American School because their son did not want to have to learn English to complete his senior years.
If you are looking for a specific curriculum, such as American, British, French or even Australian, Indian, Filipion or Pakistani, that will influence, and in some cases limit, your choice of school.  And if you don't find a school with a similar curriculum to that at home, your children run the risk of being bored or feeling overwhelmed.  We found this an issue when we first moved overseas to Australia.  Our daughters spent the first year repeating work they already knew because of the difference in curriculum between New Zealand and Australia.  On the one hand the class work was quite boring for them, on the other they could spend more time being social and still get good grades.

Whether or not all subjects are available in the school is especially important if any of the children are in higher levels and doing specialist subjects because they are looking at admission into specific international Universities further down the track.  In such cases, I always think its a good idea to talk to the school and the teacher of the subject, to make sure what you're getting is exactly what is required.

The cost of the school fees is important to know up front for your budgeting purposes because, contrary to popular opinion not everybody who comes here is on a megabuck contract and schooling, especially at international schools, can be expensive.  Make sure to ask the school about additional costs like uniform, textbooks and extra-curricular activities as well.   Some companies are happy to make school registration a part of your employment package.  It always pays to ask if your company is one of those.

What sort of after school activities are offered is a question parents often don't think to ask.  If your kids like to keep themselves busy and active with sports or chess clubs they may be disappointed with what is available here.  Unlike western countries, Saudi Arabia doesn't have a lot of out of school clubs for children to join - this is especially the case for girls.  So, if your daughter is a budding waterpolo player she may have to find some other recreational activity while here - unless she starts her own girls waterpolo competition.

Another consideration is location of the school from where you live.  The traffic in Riyadh at busy times can be horrendous.  Having to get your child up in the wee small hours just so they get to school on time is stressful for everybody.   If you live in a compound, especially one that is a fair distance from the school, compound management may not be happy to provide a bus run to your school of choice across town.  In this case you will have to sort out transportation yourself.  As women can't drive that job is left to Dad or a driver.

The larger international schools offer education from Pre-school through to Grade 12.  Having your younger children attend the same institution as the older ones can be an issue if you live a fair distance away.  A number of families on our compound found that the mothers were constantly in the compound vehicle taking children to, and retrieving them from, school.  This is because school hours for younger children end a few hours earlier than for their older siblings.  The parents made the decision, and I can understand why, not to leave the collection of any of the children solely to the driver.  So mothers, who are not allowed to drive in Riyadh, and tired youngsters would make the trek each afternoon back to school to pick up the older children.

Those are just a few of the things parents have to consider when it comes to the schooling issue for children in Saudi Arabia.  If you want to know more about your school of choice I suggest you contact the school directly as early as possible to ask all your questions.

As there are a large number of expats here, demand for the more popular schools is high, so I also think you should apply to register your child as soon as possible.  I understand the registration fee is non-refundable in most cases.  Best of luck in your search for schools in Saudi Arabia.

Ka Kite,

Monday, 3 August 2015

Optical Adventure in Riyadh

Reading Run Fat Bitch Runby Ruth Field

It had become glaringly apparent a few years back that my eyesight was not quite as good as it used to be.  The  first indication that I may require optical accessories was when I kept getting headaches while at work some years ago. The idea of having to wear glasses horrified me, largely because for a gal who usually has 20/20 vision, glasses means only one thing - I'm getting old?  So I quit that job and all was good till I eventually got another role that required me to look at computer screens a lot.  Of course the headaches came back.  This time, however, I kidded myself that the wearing of glasses while looking at computer screens was not an age related thing - it was a technology issue.

"I can honestly say I love getting older. Then again, I never put my glasses on before looking in the mirror." 
Cherie Lunghi  - Read more at Brainy Quote

Eventually I had to get glasses and they were a very funky, modern looking pair because I wasn't over the hill just yet.  Things ticked along quite well for quite some time till I misplaced my glasses somewhere and they decided to stay misplaced.  A new pair of spectacles was required.  So off I went to the nearest spec place in Riyadh.  One of those little shops along the road that I've always thought just ever so slightly questionable.  But it was close to home and Hubster was happy to walk up there with me (mostly, I discovered afterwards, because there was a shoe shop nearby that he likes).

The shop guy said, 'yes, I can test your eyes', and directed me to a back room with a rather antiquated looking piece of eye testing apparatus.  After the test he declares, 'There is nothing wrong with your eyesight'. 'Do you want to buy these very expensive sunglasses?'

A few weeks later (because I am an avid supporter of procrastination) the taxi I was in screeched to a halt outside Eye World on Tahalia St.  It seemed a good idea to stop there given we were driving past.  Up the stairs I went into a shop floor loaded with the latest fashion, and somewhat expensive, eye wear frames.  However, Eye World isn't just about frames.  Oh no.  You can get eye corrective surgery on the floors above, so the gentleman who came to serve me said.  And you can get an eye test.

So in I went and met a man of Arab extraction with a bit of a mumble and a very heavy accent that required asking him to repeat himself for my comprehension.  He sat me down behind the very modern looking eye testing apparatus.  For those of you who've never had an eye test with the latest modern gadgets, this machine houses a number of lens of varying sizes, thicknesses and strengths and to find the one right for your eyes, they swap them around and ask for feedback on whether or not you can see the pretty picture at the end clearly, through one or both eyes.  Once behind the machine Mr Ophthalmologist said...

...I  don't know what he said. Between his mumble and heavy accent and my not being able to see his lips move because my eyes were staring through a very hazy lens that was in the machine, I couldn't understand him.  So I said, 'What did you say?'

And down dropped another lens.

He mumbled something else...
'No, no wait, I didn't hear you,  What did you say?'

And down dropped another lens.

I took my head out of the machine and said, "I don't know what you're saying?"  And two things were quite obvious in the glance that he returned to me - one, he was very focused on the job at hand and two, it was going to be one of those days.  Days when lots of communication in a cross cultural exchange is going to be lost in translation.  On those days I really need to learn to talk more slowly.

He simply said 'Go back '. (With a 'Why are you not focusing on the task at hand?' querying look on his face).

My jaw set and one of those sighs escaped my lips (you know, those 'Sure, fine, this is going to be one of those days' kind of sighs.)   I returned to the hazy lenses, this time determined not to respond till I was absolutely, fairly certain what he was saying.  It was a long slow process because it took a while to tune in my ears.
I had the beginnings of a headache by the end of it.
He seemed quite happy with the result.

Photo credit: Not my photo.

Once out of the chair Mr Ophthalmologist was walking away and talking.  I have no clue what he's saying because I've turned off my tuned in ear - my brain needed a rest.  He turns and hands me a packet.  A square, slimy, foil wrapped, squishy packet.  I look at it and wonder to myself, 'Why have you handed me a condom packet?'  Because seriously, the only small, square, foil wrapped, squishy packets I have ever seen like this in my life, are condoms.
I say, 'What the heck is this for?'
He says, 'Blah, blah...eyes...reading, blah...Put it in.

It turns out the squishy pack is a contact lens.
Really, it feels just like condoms.  (Me and scientists in Australia must be on the same wavelength because in 2014 Wollongong University got funding to make condoms out of contact lens material).

'Put it in', says Mr O.
'', I say.
'Just put it in your eye', he says.

Obviously Mr Opthomologist had not bothered to read the extensive paperwork I filled out before the eye test which at no point said, 'I wear contacts'.

I have no idea how to put a blessed contact in.
I look at the tiny thing on the end of my finger, I lean forward and look in the mirror at my eye and go....nope, can't do it.  He was a bit exasperated at my lack of contact wearing knowledge.  'I've never worn contacts before', I say looking at him innocently with raised, contact atop, finger.  Can you do it?'  In this land of Man Must Not Touch Woman, Mr Opthamologist had to go and get a nurse to put the contact in my eye.

The instant that thing hit my eyeball water started gushing down my cheeks and my eye went into spastic blinking.  Gush, gush, blink blink.

'Just wait, it will be ok', the nurse says.
'Really?'  Blink, blink, tears streaming.

Blink, spastic rapid blink.  Gushing tear drop waterfalls.
I can't flaming see and feel around for the tissues noted previously on the shelf.
Wipe the tears off my cheek but they won't stop coming out my eye.

I blinked and cried so much the contact moved and I could feel it dropped down off my eyeball.
'Take this thing out,' I say.  Of course, by this time the nurse had left he room.
'Just pinch it out', he says.
At this point I'm thinking less than complementary thoughts about Mr Opthomologist.  For goodness sake, if I don't know how to put this thing in, ya really think I know how to take it out!

I close my eye, holding the tissue on to it trying to ebb the teary flow, and look at him out of one eye like Stuart the Minion, which, though the grandchildren may think it hilarious, I'm fairly certain is not a flattering look for me...

'Where's the nurse', I say.
The nurse is busy and Mr Opthomologist still doesn't want to come near me.
So I have to wait, tissue in hand, eye closed and contact feeling like it's down around my cheekbones, till the nurse could come take the contact out.

Thank goodness for that.
Suffice to say, I will never be trying contacts again!  That doesn't mean contacts are bad.  I know a number of my friends and family swear by their contacts - reading contacts, one day contacts, colored contacts and so forth, but given my eyes water with the application of eyeliner or mascara on the extremely rare occasions I feel I ought to try self-beautification of that sort, it is no wonder that a full assault on my eye ball by a contact lens caused the reaction it did.

Once I'd managed to compose myself and collected the piece of paper regarding the results of my eye test, I was certain things would be plain sailing from here on.  I forgot though, I was living in Riyadh. All those tears for my new glasses was just the beginning of my "Get New Glasses" optical excitement as I traipsed Riyadh from EyeWorld, to Magrabi and other random places for specs so I could see.  But we'll leave the rest of the story for another day.

Ka Kite,

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