Culture Shock, Growing Pains, and Why Life is Better With a Good Pair of Sandals

Reality has hit in the last little while.

I live in Saudi Arabia.

A phrase I never thought I’d hear myself utter is now becoming part of my everyday vocabulary.  Now that the honeymoon phase is starting to die out and the novelty is fading, reality has hit hard.  No this isn’t just a vacation – this is real life.  The goods, the bads, and every crazy thing in between.  Here’s what’s been going on:

No Touching


It took a little longer to hit us than I anticipated, but culture shock is really starting to take its toll on our family, mostly our kids.  Everywhere we go, people want to touch them and pinch their cheeks which they are NOT okay with – red-headed freckled kids kind of stand out, you know!  I’m getting good at telling people no, and especially not pushing my kids into just being polite and going with it.  I figure if we were on vacation for a week that’s one thing, but as far as an everyday occurrence goes, we’ll politely say “NO!”

What Did You Say???


The language barrier is really hard, especially on the older kids.  They are at a school where everyone is speaking english, but it’s not American english and that’s really hard for a kid.  When you can’t understand some of your teachers or the kids at recess…well, it’s often more than they can take.  Lot of tears have been shed over this frustration.  I understand pieces of it (like when someone comes to fix something and I can barely communicate with them), but I know it’s much harder for them than for me.  It’s something we can’t fix (especially for our kids), so we learn how to cope and hopefully listen better.

For Women…

Our daughter Chloe is also constantly full of questions about why things are the way that they are for women here.  Why do women have to wear the abaya?  Why can’t girls drive?  Why can’t girls go into some resturaunts?  I really didn’t think that she would pick up on so much so quickly, but she’s really noticing the differences in the gender roles and expectations quite a bit.  We’re trying to keep our answers simple for her (“women wear the abaya because they believe it’s important to be really really modest”), but it will be interesting to see how this shapes her as she grows up.  In the meantime, we’re working equally hard to raise all of our kids to be polite and respectful of everyone regardless of their gender or race.

Getting Some Structure

We’re also learning the importance of structure (again) for our kids.  Back at home, we had our routines – life was structured and predictible.  We went on lots of wild adventures, but we always returned to our schedules.  Here, we’re finding a whole new normal.  Not only with a new country and culture, but throw the baby in the mix and things are often anything but predictable.  Our kids are also going from very structured schools to schools that are much more flexible and open.  With all of this, we’re seeing a side of our kids that we are trying to quickly irradicate.  It has been the hardest on our oldest, Mason, who thrives on structure, so school especially has been a battle.  Many days have more tears than not and leave us all exhausted an exasperated at the end of the day.  It’s hard, and we’re working our best to find our new normal.  Finding new friends, figuring out new school and work expectations, and settling into our groove have been our focus.

Getting Better…

All-in-all, it’s been the little things that have been making all these bigger things seem okay.  It started with these sandals I was testing out from Sanuk.  The sandals that made something miserable (walking to the store with 4 kids in 100 degree heat) into something that was at least comfortable.

From there, it was all the other little things that helped us turn some of these lemons into lemonade.

Celebrating Easter over the weekend, and eating tons of chocolate.  

Video chats with family and friends.  

Finally getting our iqamas and our first shipment of stuff from home (wahoo, the baby no longer sleeps in a drawer).  

Family dinners on the patio.

 Jumping on the trampoline.  

Walks on the beach.

 Watching sunsets over the ocean from our roof.  

Familiar flowers.  


 Good sandals.

Yes, life is definetly better with a good pair of sandals!


Read my full review of the Sanuk Yoga Sling and Girls I’m Game coming soon!


  • Sara says:

    Thanks for sharing the highs and the lows of living abroad. I appreciate your willingness to share and be honest especially when things are tough. We hope and pray that you are sustained and strengthened as you continue to adjust to life abroad. Helping the kids learn that they can do hard things is an empowering life lesson.
    I am glad to hear you enjoyed some good chocolate on Easter. I have thought of you as I have eaten Cadbury mini eggs this year and wished I could send you some without them being a melted blob by the time they arrived.
    Love and miss you guys, Sara

  • Judy saunders says:

    So nice to hear from you !

  • E B says:

    Oh, I feel some of your pain. Sorry, Jess. We haven’t moved abroad, but we’ve moved, and fairly often. Just moving and changing things up with new communities and regional cultures is hard on kids. I can’t stand the thought of my kids adjusting to life overseas! Maybe I’ll stay stateside after all. Good luck as you continue to get used to many changes in your lives! I hope Andrew is around enough to help ease the adjustments for all involved. Having less of Daddy around makes for an even more difficult adjustment I know from sad experience.

    Love the sandals – you rock ’em!

  • Audra says:

    Sending virtual positive vibes for your family and the kiddos!

  • Lisa says:

    Hi! I am looking for a way to email the author if possible? I’m writing a research paper for my English 1102 class and was wondering if I could ask you some questions! Thanks!

  • I am now in love with this article <3

  • retal says:

    Very good information…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

four + = 13