My Journey as an Expat Librarian in the Middle-East

Working as an expat in the Middle East can be a rewarding and unique experience. I had the opportunity to work at an International Graduate Research University in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for almost 10 years. During that time, I experienced great joy and satisfaction and faced challenges. This blog post will explore what it is like to work as a librarian in a multicultural setting and how families adapt to life overseas.

The Role of a Librarian in the Middle East

Libraries are an essential part of any educational institution, and this is especially true in the Middle East, where access to information and knowledge is highly valued. Librarians in this region have a crucial role in supporting students, faculty, and researchers. They are responsible for selecting, organizing, and managing collections of books, journals, and other resources and providing instruction on how to use these materials effectively.

One of the unique challenges of working as a librarian in the Middle East is the diversity of languages and cultures one encounters. Many universities in this region have many international students and faculty, meaning librarians must be able to work with individuals from a wide range of backgrounds. This can be both exciting and challenging, as librarians must be able to communicate effectively with people who may have very different expectations and needs.

Another challenge is navigating the cultural norms and expectations of the region. In some Middle Eastern countries, there may be restrictions on certain types of content, and librarians must be aware of these limitations and work within them. They must also be sensitive to cultural differences in privacy, gender, and religion.

Adapting to Life Overseas

For expat families, adapting to life overseas can be exciting and daunting. There are many new experiences to be had but also many challenges to navigate. Some of the most common challenges include:

Culture Shock: Moving to a new country can be overwhelming, and it can take time to adjust to the new culture, language, and customs. This can be particularly challenging for children, who may leave behind friends and familiar surroundings.

Language Barrier: Even in countries where English is widely spoken, there may be language barriers to overcome. Learning some basic phrases in the local language can be helpful, but hiring a language tutor or enrolling in language classes may also be necessary.

Finding Community: Expats often need help building a support network in a new country. Joining expat groups or clubs can be an excellent way to meet others in similar situations.

Homesickness: Even with all the new experiences and adventures, it’s normal to feel homesick occasionally. Keeping in touch with family and friends back home and maintaining familiar routines and activities can help alleviate these feelings.

Education: Finding a suitable school for children can be challenging, especially if the expat family has specific educational needs or preferences. Language barriers can also make it challenging to communicate with school staff, which can impact the child’s education.

Health Concerns: The climate and environmental conditions in the Middle East can be harsh, and expat families may need to take extra precautions to avoid heat stroke, dehydration, and other health problems. They may also need vaccinations or take other precautions to prevent illness.

Despite these challenges, many expat families find that the benefits of living overseas far outweigh the difficulties. Exposure to new cultures, languages, and experiences can broaden one’s perspective and lead to personal growth and development. Additionally, many expat families enjoy a higher standard of living and the opportunity to travel and explore new places.

Working as a librarian in the Middle East can be a challenging and rewarding experience. It requires an open mind, adaptability, and cultural sensitivity. Expat families also face challenges when moving overseas, but they can thrive in this unique environment with the proper support and attitude. Ultimately, the experience of living and working in the Middle East can be a life-changing adventure that broadens horizons, expands perspectives, and creates memories that will last a lifetime.


My Travels – Bahrain 2012

Expat Life Survival Guide 1: Doing research

photo of man standing near high rise building
Photo by Ricardo Esquivel on

I recalled the ‘euphoria’ of landing the job – as an expat librarian in the Middle -East. I remembered sharing this with my wife, and she reminded me that it was kind of long overdue – apparently, she had wanted us to move abroad after getting married. Well, better late than never.

Back to the topic. Before making the BIG move, do your research, extensively. My wife even got on board to find more information about the place, the people, the climate, etc. Know what are the dos and don’ts of the area, the cultural aspect of the region – this includes social and work culture. Take note of the climate as well. (Get ready those skin cream if needed). It would also be worthwhile to know specific administrative rules, policies, and procedures: such as applying for the driving license, buying a car, registering kids to local/international schools, making that doctor’s appointment for health check-ups, etc. The information obtained will help you and your family prepare your mindset so that you and your family won’t come in ‘blindly’ and get a ‘rude shock.’

Don’t forget to reach out and network to those who had been there and done that. For me, I was fortunate to re-connect with a friend who was working in the region at that time. I conducted an informal ‘reference interview’ with the person. It was a fruitful session. There were surprising answers to questions which I thought are quite straightforward. One of the most important lessons that I learned was to ensure that before you sign on that dotted line, make sure that these 3 things (among others) are covered for you and your family: medical coverage, housing or housing allowance, and your children’s education.

Here’s a quick list of information sources that I’ve used:

  • Human expertise
  • Books esp “How to” guides
  • Magazines / Journals
  • Travel Guides
  • Social Media such as Blogs, Twitters, Facebook
  • Websites – Governmental websites
  • Newspapers