Foreign Affairs Officer Tara Foley works in the Office of WMD Terrorism, Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation. Here Tara shares her impressions of Saudi Arabia... Tara's next post: An American Girl in Riyadh
Late one evening in February, my plane touched down in Riyadh. I was about to begin my first overseas assignment for the Department of State: four months as an Economic Officer at US Embassy Riyadh in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. I waited for my luggage, looking around the terminal, trying to imagine what the Kingdom had in store for me, and nervously wondering if it was ok for me to be standing there in my business suit and ponytail. Earlier on the plane, young Saudi women clad in designer jeans, trendy European tops, and flawless makeup had lined up outside the aircraft restrooms, emerging fully draped in black abayas and hijabs, ready for re-entry into the KSA. I wondered how I would fare over the next several months: Would I be successful at my job? What would my personal life be like? One thing I knew, I was excited to begin this new adventure.
The night air was soft and warm; quite a change from the frosty cold winter I had left behind in Washington more than 17 hours before. On the way to the Diplomatic Quarter (the “DQ” neighborhood contains all of the embassies and most diplomatic housing), we drove past glittering Memlika Tower and Faisalya Tower, which comprise the Riyadh skyline. I peppered my embassy sponsor, Diane, with a thousand and one questions, wanting to uncover every last detail I could.
Four months later, my plane landed at Dulles, outside of Washington, DC. In the hours and days afterward, it was my family’s and friends’ turn to pepper me with questions about my time as an American diplomat in Saudi Arabia. Did I like Riyadh? What did I do for work at the Embassy? Was it hard to live and work in a place so different from home? What is the U.S. relationship with Saudi Arabia really like? How did I feel as an American woman in Saudi? What were the people like: both Saudis and the other Americans living there? I’ll address these questions, and others, in future posts. One thing I can tell you is that my time in Saudi Arabia was one of the most wonderful and most challenging times of my life. I feel fortunate and blessed to have had the opportunity to experience a part of the world that many people will never get to see and, I hope, to have contributed to the good work and strong relationship between our two countries.