Where do I belong?

Where do I belong?

Long-time expats preparing to return home face an identity crisis


By Suaad Khan


Saudi Gazette

THE Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has been home to expatriates for many years. Due to the upcoming taxes that will be implemented soon and the ongoing economic crisis, many company employees risk losing jobs and face the prospect of going back to their countries.

The fear of not knowing what is waiting them back home as wells as the pain of being separated from close ones in their efforts to make ends meet has many going through an identity crisis. Most expats consider Saudi Arabia more of a homeland than their own countries and the fear of looming Saudization threatens their homelike comfort and job security.

Leena Khan, a Pakistani dental student who is currently living in Riyadh, said one of her greatest fears, when returning home is “community etiquette. Every community has different social etiquette and I think I’m not as aware of Pakistan’s as compared to here.”

She added, “Fitting in not knowing certain places that people are familiar with or not sharing experiences the nation as a whole experienced is going to be a problem.”

Khan is also worried about the discomfort of frequent power-cuts in her area. She believes the lack of familiarity with the education system and the language barrier can prove to be another obstacle. “As someone who was put into an education system in Riyadh that did not have Urdu as a subject, one of my biggest concerns is my inability to read and write, and to some extent speak the language.“

Another Pakistani and an Effat graduate, Eisha Khan, expressed concerns about the different lifestyle, education and job opportunities back home.

She however said it did not worry her too much since “so many friends have left because of the situation in Jeddah.”

She said she was “mentally prepared” to live in Pakistan if the need came. She also said people are different in Pakistan and “kids who have lived in Jeddah cannot fit easily with Pakistani kids, since they think differently in terms of being street-smart.” Concerns aside, her unconditional love for Pakistan was eminent when she prayed that her nation became secure enough for Pakistanis living abroad to return and live there. “I still love Pakistan. It’s my identity, and I hope for a better future Insha Allah.”

Fariha Khayyam, an Indian MBA holder, lived most of her life in Riyadh. She shared her concerns of going back to India. “The lack of attention given to safety in India is most worrying for me. Being brought up in a secure environment has left me more naïve than my peers who grew up in a comparatively open environment back home.”

She said the level of protection women enjoy in the Kingdom is very high compared to what they have in India.

Khayyam pointed out the difference in lifestyle and cleanliness but what matters for her above all is the closeness to the holy city of Makkah.

Khalid Abdul-Ghaffar, a 58-year-old Pakistani national, stated, “For a man who is born and raised in Saudi Arabia, it’s a culture-shock to move to Pakistan. Being born and brought up in Saudi, we never figured we will be going back to Pakistan for good.”

He also mentioned his struggle to move by adding, “It’s hard to move to Pakistan at close to the retiring age of 59 with nothing saved, no property in my name, not knowing where to settle and not knowing what the future holds for me. Basically I feel I am being kicked out of my home country and forced to move to a foreign land.”

Due to the tribulations Syria is currently being struck with, Hiba Emad, a 24-year old Syrian, cannot imagine leaving the Kingdom and returning home. She said Syrians have been living in a civil war zone for the past six years. She was quick to point out that ”there’s difficulty in job opportunities. The salaries are decreasing and the people are different.”

Ruba Zafar, 22, is a Pakistani, who was born and raised in Makkah, and had to move to Pakistan a few months ago. In a telephone interview, she told Saudi Gazette, “The things that I was worried about most were the change in lifestyle, if I’d be able to fit in and will I miss Makkah too much. But now, I don’t have those fears any longer. The life here isn’t too bad, if you’re mentally prepared. I fit in fine. People here think I’m cool and funny. I do miss life there, honestly, but I feel like I’m here for a reason and as long as you feel shifting here is for something special, important, or something you like, it’ll be good.”

However, an Indian living in Jeddah who chose to remain anonymous has a different view. She said, “I’ve lived here all my life but I go to India every summer, so I’m used to it. Since Hyderabad is a metropolis, it’s pretty cool. I love the weather, my extended family and freedom (to drive, etc.) there.”

Wanting to clarify her opinion further, she added that living in a Muslim-dominant region is more comfortable for her and that “no place is going to feel like home unless I live there for as long as I’ve lived in Jeddah — 24 years.”


  1. Sad but we must accept the reality. Saudi is for Saudis. We must prepare ourselves anytime because there is no assurance. Sad yes, because there is no forever in this world. Reality speaks. Thank you very much the kingdom has so much to give, they’re trying their very best to hold on to their expats until they could. Parting-ways are hard and painful. Our memories either good or bad in the kingdom will remain in our hearts. Saudi Arabia is a truly friend…

  2. We should be thankful to Saudis and and Saudi Arabia. They helped us a lot and provided job opportunities to millions of Expats who are living here since a very long time. But we must always realize what is reality, Reality is we are foreigners and one day we have to go back to our home countries. We should always be prepared rather than regret and complaining.
    long live Saudi Arabia

  3. First, thanks to almighty Allah as we got our bread and butter here. We are always very grateful to KSA and her generous rulers. We can assure that, like a Saudi to his/her Saudia, we too, love this country and we will serve her with our supreme effort what ever and whenever she needs. Ever live SAUDIA.

  4. Everyone who starts working in the Middle East must define his realistic financial goals that he needs back in home and start saving part of his salary to achieve that target. He should work very hard and honesty to reach the target, and he can set more targets as first target is achieved.

    Middle East is a blessed place when you can save money unlike West and expats should use this opportunity to save and move back to serve their countries with the experience they have gained here.

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