KAUST Guide: Hobbies

Swimming Lessons at KAUST

Before we begin…
Firstly, if you are an expert at drowning (like me) and are thinking of swimming lessons for yourself (or your kids), have a look at the Get Active Calendar to preview upcoming lesson times: https://kaust.clubhouseonline-e3.com.
I find that things like this are not well advertised at KAUST and you have to know where to look.

Your next step is to fill out a form online. If you’re having a hard time finding it, you can email the recreation team to send you a link or point you in the right direction: Recreation@kaust.edu.sa. The form is mainly aimed at parents, which is confusing if you are signing yourself up for lessons. Persevere through it, eventually it will make sense once you receive an email from the recreation team to confirm availability and payment.

What you need
You’ll be expected to wear a one piece bathing suit, not a bikini.
I recommend you buy a swim cap to keep your hair dry. Unfortunately stocks are limited in the Harbour sport shop so you should consider buying online. However, in Tamimi, they sell children’s swimming caps, goggles and toys. I also recommend you buy goggles that don’t fog up and do act like sun glasses as you’ll be in an outdoor pool. I ended up with an ear infection after a couple lessons, so you may want to get ear plugs to avoid my mistake.

Ladies Only Class
Use of the pool is free for residents and visitors. Lessons cost around £50 a month for 2 lessons a week! If you can’t swim, definitely take advantage of this as the UK is £50 for a half hour session (which is why I never tried).
As weird as segregation is, I do actually like having a women’s only pool. There are no cameras allowed in the pool area (which is good). There are many deck chairs for women to lounge on and the pool is 15m by 10.5m. The shallow area is made by placing blocks at one edge of the pool. Personally, I think they need more of these blocks as a lot of women seem to congregate there, even during a lesson. The pool is also not sectioned off to segregate lessons from the public. I found this annoying and very stressful as I kept swimming in to people or panicked if I got too close to someone’s child. There are also no signs to tell the community that lessons are being held at specific times (so they can avoid the pool).

The only off-putting thing about the pool is that the women in the gym can see what you’re up to. Entertainment whilst running!

(picture from Get Active)

My First Lesson
My first lesson was actually a fail on my part. I assumed that there would be some organisation and that the instructor would be expecting a new student. Admittedly, I thought everyone in the pool was a student as everyone was practically lined up in the shallow end. I couldn’t tell who the instructor was at first as the only people in uniform were life guards. It was pretty stressful. Eventually, I worked out that the woman instructing 2 younger women was in fact the teacher. I thought she gave individual instructions or maybe group instructions to get around to everyone. After half an hour, I worked out that they were the only 2 in the lesson. I had stood there like a lemon for the entire lesson, not sure when to interrupt and say I am in the lesson too. I was even asked to move at one point as I was in the way and probably looking frustrated at getting splashed. I came home and had a meltdown because of the stress.

Next few lessons
Next lesson, I was brave. I waited until I saw the instructor and said “I am in the lesson and I can’t swim at all”. I had to practice dipping my head under the water, which was traumatic enough for me. I couldn’t understand the concept of blowing bubbles out of my nose without sucking up the water at some point. If there were cameras, I would win £250 on You’ve Been Framed. I was a comical site trying my best to coordinate my arms and legs. I even had one child say to his mother “what is that lady doing?”
After a few lessons I am now able to do a doggy paddle with a pool noodle, which is much more dignified than arm bands. At the end of every lesson we are asked to jump in to the deep end. It is terrifying. I don’t like it. My fears do not decrease the more I do it. I sit on the ledge and bravely plop myself in and then move my arms and legs until my head pops out for air, or I grab the pool noodle, held by the instructor (and nearly pull her in).
I seem to swim better if I can keep my head above water. It is difficult to coordinate my arm and leg movements, plus my head and breathing. I also have a physical condition (which I didn’t declare because its not officially diagnosed yet). I wish I had said something because I pushed myself too hard doing a front crawl. My arms won’t do what they are supposed to and I am fatigued and in pain for days afterwards. I think I will stick to the doggy paddle!

Closing Remarks
I think that the swimming lessons are very good value for money! However there is much to be improved on in terms of creating a lesson area and providing a longer shallow end.

KAUST Guide: Clothes

The Abaya

“Do you have to wear those black cloak things and cover your face?” I heard this question quite often from family and friends.

The “cloak” is called an Abaya. It is a full length, loose, garment that is worn over clothes (much like we wear coats/jackets). This is different from the Burqa (covers body and face). Abayas can come in varied fabrics, styles and colours. I went for a simple plain black just to be safe. I think the point of wearing it is to protect your modesty, and all cultures have different ways of doing this. If I want to cover up in the UK, I wear my hoodie and joggers. You can’t see my shape very well or see much of my skin. The abaya is not too different.

Am I forced to wear it? Nobody has me at gun point but it is good practice to respect the Saudi culture. I wouldn’t turn up to a wedding in joggers: it’s that level of respect and following norms.

I bought the abaya from eBay. It doesn’t have to be expensive or fancy. https://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/Batwing-Abaya-Jersey-Abaya-Maxi-Dress-Farasha-Batwing-Jersey-Abaya-Hijab-Jilbab/172760770764?ssPageName=STRK%3AMEBIDX%3AIT&_trksid=p2057872.m2749.l2649

It cost around £15 and does what it is supposed to: cover me up.

From an Autism point of view, I am not a fan of wearing it because I sometimes struggle with regulating my body temperature. I like my arms to be free in order to cool down a little. I also don’t like having it cling to my arms. Having an extra layer (and black absorbs heat) makes me uncomfortable. I also find myself tripping over because I am not used to wearing such a long garment. Ideally, I should have bought a different one, but I am incredibly fussy when it comes to fabric and Wales doesn’t exactly have a local abaya shop. I don’t go out of KAUST often so its ok to be uncomfortable for 1 day, every so often.

I usually roll my sleeves up, and so far, I have had no issues or judgemental looks (as far as I am aware). I think the Saudis are tolerant of Westerners in this regard.

When shopping, I get incredibly confused by a sea of women in black, especially if many are wearing burqas. Autistics, ideally, need to see the whole face. The burqa kind of forces eye contact and it is difficult to read what people say without seeing facial expressions. I also cannot recognise someone I have met if they wear a burqa. I literally have no idea who has said hi to me in the super market. It’s been quite the adjustment and I’m sure I will get there eventually.

As much as I dislike wearing it, there are actually some benefits to wearing one. For example, I don’t have to worry about what I am wearing when going out, I will be covered up anyway! I could potentially be wearing Pyjamas under there and nobody would know!


The Only Welsh in the Village

I have lived in Saudi Arabia since July 2018. More specifically, I live in a university: KAUST.

KAUST stands for King Abdullah University of Science and Technology. I am indeed a master’s student, but no, I am not here for my studies. I followed my husband here after he had a job offer to work as a Post-Doc in a well funded university. Our decision had to be quick, it was a struggle to get here and in all honesty, it has taken me about a year to adjust to this new life.

One of the first things I realised about living here was how multi-cultural it is. People from every continent in one place. There’s something like 10,000 people here at KAUST, some are national and some are expats. The majority of people mix with others outside of their nationality. I have befriended Europeans, English, Egyptians, Saudis…yet I find myself longing for the sound of another Welsh accent. My husband is English and although some people THINK he has a Welsh accent, to me he is still a very well spoken Englishman. I will definitely write a blog post the day I meet a Welsh KAUST resident. I have also noticed that not many people have met a Welsh person. Some have never heard of Wales (we are always forgotten about). So in a way, I feel like some kind of rare gem, being the first Welsh they have ever met. I may also be the first Autistic (female) adult they have met (which was the case for my psychologist) but I have not told many people about my autism.

So… why am I blogging?

Moving home is stressful, moving to a totally different country is even more stressful. Add some Autism in to the mix… and stress levels are over 9000!! As stated earlier, it took quite some time to adjust, and there might be people out there thinking about moving to KAUST who are either on the spectrum themselves or have kids that are. I hope that sharing my experiences help you explore what to expect when you arrive here. I hope that those who already live here will not feel alone anymore as they try and adjust to their new life. I hope that those of you who are reading out of interest will gain further Autism awareness.

See you in the next post!