"What do you think about Saudi Arabia?"
By: Gina Mirza, KG2C Teacher
My husband and I always talked about living internationally. When my husband got the opportunity to move outside the U.S., he started sending his resume to many places. One day he called me at work and said "Gina, what do you think about Saudi Arabia"? A little shocked I said "ok" quietly. It was a back and forth daily family discussion, asking questions such as; was it the best place to be, with all the rules and regulations would it be a problem, would the kids enjoy it, and most important was it safe? Finally, we bit the bullet and agreed to just go.
We arrive in Saudi and now thinking about schools. Wow! Schools are very expensive in Saudi Arabia that is if you want to send your children to an American or British school. We interviewed many schools and I.P.S wasn’t on our agenda, actually we never heard of I.P.S. We visited many schools and was impressed with the curriculum’s and layout of the schools, but something in our hearts didn’t feel right about sending the kids to any of the schools we looked at. We just happened to be near I.P.S and decided let’s visit one more school. When we entered the office, the whole atmosphere felt warm and fuzzy. We met the office staff, Ms. Amin, and a teacher my son would have for that year. They were so welcoming, that it made our decision simple, we immediately applied. The rest is history!
I have been at I.P.S for 2 years now and it has been a great experience. The Administration and staff are family. I’ve never experience this type of atmosphere in a work place before and it is such a joy to work here at I.P.S.
There have been many benefits living in Saudi Arabia, being that we are a Muslim family; we can make go to Mecca and Medina anytime for peanuts. Coming from the U.S., it could be very expensive and a hard trip to make. Saudi being in such location that it is, we as a family can travel to places we never thought about traveling, and these rich experiences that my children have had are precious. The people that we have encountered during our journey in Saudi Arabia have made a great impact in our lives. So the conclusion of this journey to Saudi Arabia was all worth it.
We are now going into our 4th year here in Saudi Arabia…. Inshallah, many more years to come!
Why I teach at IPS
By: Ray McDade, Grade 5 Boys Teacher
Despite being a physical fitness buff I have gained weight here at IPS. I blame the weight gain on the buffet served by the Euro Village Restaurant which IPS teachers have access to. You can choose just the soup and salad for 25 riyals, but of course I enjoy eating real food and the buffet gives me a choice of fish, chicken, beef, pasta, or a combination thereof for 40 riyal, plus soup and dessert (not desert, but there’s plenty of that too). Those memories of a school lunch in the U.S. seem a far away nightmare.
The opportunity to workout is here. The school compound has a track which I can trot around and the Al Dorra Suites where I live has a workout room with a treadmill as well as a nice pool up on the roof. I do use them, but still gain weight. Perhaps it’s just my age, I am a young 61. Five years ago I made the decision to stick it out here at IPS until I retire in maybe three more years (I hope). It was a decision I have not regretted.
So what does a 61 year old young man do for leisure in Khobar? Last year I bought a small Renault to zip around town as transportation will probably be a challenge for you new arrivals. Although, wherever you live the compound will probably provide a shuttle bus to and from the malls. Of course, you are confined to their schedule, but you can grab a cab and go about anywhere in Khobar for about 20 riyal. Having my French race car allows me to go to the malls when I want. Unfortunately, trying to pick up girls in it is a big No! No! in the kingdom.
There are two big malls, Al Rashid and Dhahran. They have upscale stores with all the latest fashions, but I am not into those long pointed toe shoes that Arab men seem to prefer. After all, a 5’8” man with what appears to be size 14 feet looks a little ridiculous, don’t you think? In fact, when I first arrived here I went through a number of, “mall stages” just for something to do. First I started buying clothes, but found my ever expanding waistline called for more exact tailoring than just off the rack (I take care of this in Bangkok, more on that later). I then started furnishing my apartment, as I like a nice place to retreat after a hard days teaching and found a number of places to purchase some very nice middle east style furniture such as a small table, lamps, and carpets, which I will have to ship home in about three years. If you want a simpler style there’s always IKEA which I love to walk around because I dig the way they create little mini-apartments in their showroom. I think I could just move into one of them. Wouldn’t that be different?, teacher housing in IKEA.
When I first moved here I lived in a compound called “Al Rehab”. Actually, just living in the Kingdom is like being in rehab since alcohol is vorbotten! I have finally passed that stage in my life, thankfully, but I fully understand you younger ones may like to let your hair hang down once in awhile. Go to Bahrain, only about an hour away and 200 riyals one way for a cab. The U.S. 7th fleet has its headquarters there. So anywhere there’s sailors (or Marines, Semper Fi!) there’s you know what. Hotel lounges rock to the wee hours with live bands and the alcohol flows freely, you can even go to a movie, or attend the Bahrain Grand Prix, or just watch the demonstrations the Shia put on regularly. You will have to learn the difference between Shia and Sunni on your own since I don’t quite understand what all the fuss is about, but that’s one of the things that make this place interesting.
Are you a man that likes to wear a dress? If so, you can go native here, but you don’t have to, just don’t wear shorts above the knee or they may not let you into the mall. You women will have to wear an albiya, but it’s not a big deal. Just imagine you’re living about 200 years ago and you’ll fit right in.
I love where I live. It’s called the Al Dorra Suites and they are just that, hotel suites/apartments. You live just across the street from Al Rashid Mall and if you are like me you will spend a lot of time in the food court. Not wanting to let my hair hang down in Bahrain, since I have very little hair and would like to keep what I have left, I have bought myself a 55” Sony surround sound flat screen HD TV. I subscribe to Orbit satellite TV for $35 a month which allows me to get up at 4:00 a.m. and watch the Saints destroy the Detroit Lions or Alabama absolutely crush LSU, Roll Tide!!!!! The third mall stage I went through was buying original art as I have discovered a couple of art galleries and have bought one nice piece so far. After about two years of this I finally realized I was buying a lot of nice things for my retirement condo but if I kept going would not be able to buy a condo and would have to live in that little room above my sister’s garage where I would never be able to fit everything in. So I stopped spending and starting saving, well somewhat, more than I was anyhow.
BANGKOK! My second home. Gulf Air or Qatar Airways, the, “5 star airline” will whisk you there in about 6 1/2 hours. Here I have my own tailor who can make pants with the waist- line bigger than the inseam or shirts made to order from a variety of exotic fabrics and designs to choose from. Here I watch the latest movies in absolutely fantabulous movie theaters which Alabama has nothing to compare. Neither does the Kingdom, which has no movie theaters at all, or night clubs, or dance clubs, or drama clubs, but they do have malls and restaurants which you can partake in any time of the day they are open except prayer time which is five times a day. Don’t worry you will learn to live around it. You don’t have to go to Bangkok on all three of your breaks. I do because like Las Vegas, what happens in Bangkok, stays in Bangkok! Favorite destinations for IPS staff include Nepal, Oman, Beirut, Egypt, and others.
We are truly /sort of an international school with teachers from the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Philippines, Saudi Arabia, and yes I love those girls from Lebanon. Our students are mostly from the Middle East with parents from the same place. The kids are respectful and the parents appreciate what you do.
I could go on and on about IPS. Is it the perfect place to teach? Not always, change is constant. It is not a stuffy 100 year old institution where nothing has changed in the last 50 years. I can’t wait to see what will happen each new year, or even next month, or even next week, I usually know what’s going to happen tomorrow, but not always. Even so, after five years I am still here. And next year, I’ll get that full month salary bonus so perhaps I will be able to buy some more original art.
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Decision of a Lifetime
By: Nicki Rawn, Grade 1C Teacher
Making the decision to move to Saudi with my family was the hardest and the most rewarding decision in my life. We had so many questions. But the biggest one was: Is it safe for my family?
I have felt very safe both on the compound and out of the compound. I have gone alone into the downtown area, as have many of my female friends and colleagues. I never felt that I was in danger. My daughter has even gone on play dates with her friends off the compound. The compound is surrounded by 15 feet walls topped with barbed wire, so safety is not really something you think about very much. You just get on with your day and forget you are inside a compound.
There are many big, beautiful shopping complexes. There are even skating rinks, and amusement park for the kids. There are also many restaurants, but no cinemas. These are outlawed in Saudi. Most people including Saudis go to Bahrain to enjoy a movie and shopping. Bahrain only takes about an hour by car, crossing the causeway and going through the border crossing. In Bahrain life is much more normal, where as Saudi is very conservative.
The villa where we live in is very close to the school as it is in the same compound. We can be on school grounds in about a minute once we close our villa door.The compund is fairly large compared to many of the others in Al Khobar. There is a lot of green here and it is large enough for bicyclling, running or walking for exercise which is what we like to do. There is an eight lane pool as well as a smaller pool for children. There are two playground areas and also a gym situated beside the compound restaurant. We also have a supermarket which is not huge but it carries a lot of items including meat, frozen foods, dairy, canned and dry goods, and even dvds. We also have a compound library which is really great. There is no hairdresser for women, but there is a very good barber.
As far as IPS, we are really happy teaching here. The staff are really great. Our teachers come from Canada, the U.S., Australia, New Zealand, Columbia, and other countries in the Middle East. As a plus, the staff are very social, and we have created an extended family amongst our co-workers. There is a lot of support for each other. Most of the students are from surrounding Arab countries, but the majority are from Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon. Many have Canadian and U.S. passports. Class sizes range from 7 - 8 students to no higher than 20. KG classes are no smaller than 16, and no larger than 20 students. I have 20 students and the most amazing educational assistant. My kids love the school and the friends they have made. We have a nanny for our baby. It is so nice to have someone at home. It is wonderful to come home to a clean house every day.
One of the main reasons we wanted to come here was to have an opportunity to travel. Most teachers take advantage of the holidays, and travel to exotic places. It is so well located, and you will have trouble making decisions as to where you want to go. The opportunities are endless. We have been to 5 different countries since we arrived here 5 months ago.
We have never looked back, and have always been very happy that we made this DECISION OF A LIFETIME.
Moving to KSA
By: Mike Rawn, Grade 4 Boys Teacher
My wife and I spent a long time debating about whether or not to come to Saudi Arabia and teach at IPS. We were excited after our interview with IPS administration at an overseas job fair. The chance to teach at an international school, to live in a different country, and to enjoy all of the wonderful travel opportunities seemed too good to pass up. However, we also had some concerns.
Our main concern involved bringing our children, ages 7, 5 and 2, to live and go to school in Saudi Arabia. Our two oldest kids were enrolled in a very good French Immersion school at home in Canada. Would they have a good experience at IPS? Would they make friends at IPS? Would they be miserable being away from their cousins, grandparents and friends? And then there was the concern about leaving our two-year-old with a nanny… a complete stranger in a strange country.
There were also questions about Saudi Arabia. All we knew about Saudi Arabia came from watching the news, and most of that news was negative. Would we be safe here? Would we be able to adjust to some of the restrictions placed on citizens in this country? We also had plenty of negative opinions from family and friends about our plans.
In the end we decided to take a leap of faith and move to Saudi Arabia. A veteran teacher from IPS recommended a nanny for us, and after a lot of planning and preparation, we left Canada for the Kingdom.
Now my wife and I laugh about all of the time we spent agonizing over this decision. It was easily the best decision we’ve made for our family. We are enjoying our time working at IPS. We get to teach in a diverse classroom and work with colleagues from all over the globe. We are safe here in Saudi, and are learning about the customs and traditions from a new area of the world.
Through our travels, our children have seen the pyramids in Egypt and enjoyed the beaches in Thailand. They have rode on a camel and an elephant, and are the envy of their cousins and friends back home. They are loving their time at IPS and now have friends from all over the world. Our family would never have had these experiences if we decided to play it safe and stay in Canada. Would we do it again? Absolutely.
Living in Saudi
By: Paula Ashby, Grade 1B Teacher
Hello! My name is Paula Ashby and I am a Grade 1 teacher at IPS here in Saudi Arabia. My husband and I joined IPS in 2010.
This is our second year living in Saudi after living in Dubai for a year and can honestly say it is much easier than we had envisaged! As a woman, I have been well treated at all times, and in fact, there are times where being a woman has had its perks! For women the abaya is required every time you are out of the compound or school, but you get used to it. I look at it as "liberation in confinement". You don't have to think too much about what to wear when you go out!
We have found Al Khobar an easy place to live. We are able to get anything we need – food (as I am a strict vegetarian); clothing; books; etc. We want for nothing!
IPS school has been a great place to work. The administration and staff are supportive, helpful and have certainly made our transition here a positive experience. The students are great to teach and in fact, they are rewarding to work with. This has been nothing but a positive experience.
Sometimes Saudi can be frustrating, but there are always enough people to help assist with the "way things are done here". Banking can raise the blood pressure sometimes, but with guidance, we get through it! Like all new countries, it just takes time to get the rhythm of living there. Living in Saudi is certainly not as people perceive it to be from the outside. I have no regrets about coming to this country. It has a great opportunity to learn about the Arabic culture and its people.
If you would like to know more, or ask questions, please contact me any time at
Teaching at IPS
BY: Faye Macleod, KG1A Teacher
My husband and I accepted a contract with IPS in Al Khobar, Saudi Arabia seven years ago. What was supposed to be a two year teaching post has become so much more for both of us. Saudi Arabia, heaped in so much mystery, has proved to be a most enjoyable experience. Coming from Ottawa, Canada, we had little opportunity to travel as Ottawa seemed so far from everything. Since arriving in Al Khobar, we have travelled to about 25 countries. We have also enjoyed getting to know local culture, and the very warm, friendly Saudi people right here at home. Yes, this has become our home for the last seven years. We know the city very well and have no difficutlies moving about. Shopping is a favorite pastime, and there is no shortage of wonderful restaurants offering cusine from many different countries including all the usual fast food places.
Following the local customs is really not that difficult, and I actually like wearing abayas. They are quite attractive, and one always feels dressed up, even with a pair of jeans underneath. Even the Saudi women wear their jeans and running shoes to the malls. It is not necessary for western women to cover their heads in Al Khobar.
Our school has grown from a population of just under 150 in our first year here, to 482 and counting. We have a fantastic staff, each with their own special something to offer IPS. In many ways our school administration and structure is similar to schools in North America. We are, however, due to Ministry of Ed. requirements, a segregated school, and we have no music programme.
Due to location, and the fact that we are an American programme school, we enjoy both Muslim and Christian holidays, and if you just can't find a place to go for vacation, there is always Bahrain, just across the Gulf.
In short, coming to the kingdom to teach at IPS has been one of the best things we have ever done for ourselves.
I will teach anywhere except Saudi Arabia
By: Bill Cooke, HS Counselor, Grade 12 Boys Teacher
"I will teach anywhere except Saudi Arabia,” newly hired teachers have recalled as they explained to me their beliefs before they ended up teaching at International Programs School. (Maybe you have heard others say this, or maybe even you have said this to yourself?) The teachers who have told me their stories have explained that the total package—salary, health insurance, housing, security, class sizes other benefits, and travel opportunities—made the difference.
I ended up in Saudi Arabia because I had a bon vivante, Auntie Mame type influence in my life who opened King Fahd Hospital in 1980 in Al Baha, Saudi Arabia. She always spoke with fondness about her life in Saudi. She stayed in the Kingdom for two years; I have been in the Kingdom for 11 years, and this is my third year at International Programs School—a school which, I can say, has provided me with the best career move as a teacher and counselor.
IPS limits class enrollment to no more than 20 students. The smallness of the classes combined with the desire of students to excel allows for positive student-teacher interactions and relationships. When students take the entrance examination, IPS counseling and administration reinforce the school’s belief that a student’s success at school is a combination of efforts exerted two groups: students and teachers at school and students and parents at home. Students and parents alike know IPS staff members are actively involved in students’ learning and seek concurrence from parents that they, likewise, will be actively involved in their children’s learning.
IPS is located on the Eurovillage Compound in Al Khobar, Saudi Arabia. The school is owned by Ms Haifa Al Suwaiket. Ms Haifa is very supportive of the school, its staff members, and its students.
IPS is fortunate to have supportive administrators, as well. Jim Leahy, the director, leads Linda Amin, the girls school principal, and Bryan Ashby, the boys school principal, in providing guidance and support to staff members as we challenge ourselves to continually change and improve the way we present and assess information that students have acquired. And let’s not forget about the administrative support staff members who ensure the school runs smoothly and provide all the people power to ensure our government documents and processed as quickly as possible.
Okay, there is more to life in Saudi Arabia than school, work, and home, although some of my friends believe that is all I am involved in when I am in the Kingdom.
I have a good mix of friends from many nationalities. I’m very close to a Saudi family—I am one of their clan—and at times we even vacation together. It is nice to celebrate Muslim holidays with them and it is a good way to appreciate Islam.
Al Khobar is home to two huge malls, each of which h as stores that sell just about anything you need, from everyday clothes to high-end designer fashions. There are many restaurants—in the malls and dispersed throughout Al Khobar—where the cuisines range from Saudi to Mediterranean, to Western-type chain restaurants such as Chili’s, KFC, and the ever-present McDonalds!
Bahrain is a short drive across the King Fahd Causeway which you can cross as soon as you have a multiple-entry visa. (The school pays for one of these each year, by the way!) In Bahrain, there are cinemas, taverns, clubs, and other forms of entertainment.
Travel is a big bonus. During breaks, I find myself traveling to the US or Thailand, a favorite destination of a few IPS staff members.
What has allowed me to live 11 years in Al Khobar, Saudi Arabia? My respect of Saudi Arabia and my inquisitiveness about people have fueled my interest. My sense of humor has allowed me to smile easily and roll with the flow. Things here do not happen as I had been accustomed to them happening when I lived in other places. Using my sense of humor has helped me get accustomed to how things work. There have been times of homesickness, but satellite television, the internet, good friends, and my joy in what I do have helped me overcome those periods.
Al Khobar is my home. IPS is my career.
After 16 years...
By: Rana Naaman, Arabic Teacher
When we were asked to write something about life in Saudi and working in IPS, I said "Wow that's hard for me!" I have mixed emotions and I don't know where to start. It took me some time to reflect on that. In the end I decided to write my own experience here.
After 16 years of living here, Saudi is a part of me now. I got here in 1996 as a newlywed and I started my lovely family here. Saudi is the perfect place to raise a family. It’s safe and living in a compound is a blessing for kids. The communities in the compounds are mostly Westerners and they do their best to always have activities for the kids and adults like on Christmas and Halloween. You will also benefit from a free pool, gym, small grocery store and sometimes restaurants. As women are not allowed to drive here, the compound have scheduled buses to take women wherever they want. Cabs are also available and very cheap!
So, for a family it's not bad at all. Of course once you are outside the camp, it is a different story. Women should wear their abayas (but they DO NOT have to cover their heads or faces! ). Men are free to wear what they want except they can't show their knees! Hehehe! Don't ask me why!
We have two main malls here in Khobar where you can find all the American and European brands! You can find everything you want. Grocery stores carry all items that you need!
Religion is part of the daily life here. They have to pray 5 times a day so everything will close during prayer time for not more than 30 minutes. You will eventually learn the prayer times and adjust you schedule accordingly! Ladies, once you are outside the camp, you have to wear your abaya like I said before and always keep your head cover in your bag! Sometimes Moutawwaas (religious people) show up occasionally asking you politely to cover your hair. But sometimes when they see that you are a Westerner, they don't bother to talk to you anyway!
Living here is not bad at all! The image that the world has of this country is different I know. It's a special place where all their traditions and culture are intact but if you learn to accept these differences you will live a peaceful and pampered life!
As for IPS, it's my second home. I've been working here since 2003 and I have witnessed the growth of this great school. It started in 2000 with not more than 30 students and now we have around 500 if I'm not mistaken! The school is a friendly place! Teachers are very friendly, helpful, supportive and hard working! The admin team is also supportive, helpful and they do their best to make you feel at home. The growth of the school is remarkable. The changes done in the curriculum, the policies and the system of the school are great! It's starting to be one of the best established international school in the area! The past 2 years were exceptional as the work started to move the school to a higher level and system of education in preparation for the Accreditation team! We will get it! I'm positive!
As for professional development, unfortunately the country doesn't offer big varieties of workshops or training. IPS tries to sometimes bring in some trainers from overseas for in school PD! The area offers minimal options for PD and the school doesn't send teachers abroad for that!
Otherwise, IPS is a safe , friendly and professional school to work in.
I guess this is it! Just come with a positive energy, learn to accept the differences and you will live a peaceful life here!
PS: Alcohol is forbidden! But you can easily cross the causeway to Bahrain and have a drink in a freer atmosphere!