1/ What is the one thing that surprised you about the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia?
Being in a desert - the landscape is so incredibly different from the lush island greenery of Singapore. The streets of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia stood out in their own beautiful way. Endless hues of pink, beige and brown coloured the houses and the palm trees complimented the picturesque view as we drove along. I constantly found myself glued to the window as we passed by rows and rows of buildings and houses with the same sandy colour palette.
2/ What is the one challenge you had to overcome?
Maintaining my fitness is extremely important to me, especially during field work where we are required to keep our energy levels high. Once we came back to Riyadh from Khobar, I was excited to finally have some time to hit the gym, but the reception staff told me that females were only allowed to use the facility at specific times of the day i.e. 9 AM - 11 AM and 9 PM - 11 PM.
I came back later at 10 PM and started my routine. And to my surprise, the staff started pulling down the blinds of the entrance and windows so outsiders could not see me workout. At first, I thought it was so cool to have an enclosed space all to myself but then it occurred to me later how unfair this whole situation was.
It was definitely challenging to have to conform to the rules and not be able to work out at any time I like. But with that being said, I still respect the culture of the Kingdom and I applaud all the women who have been brave enough to challenge the norms to gain access to their rights. And I realize there are much bigger challenges for women everywhere to overcome.
3/ What was your greatest learning over these 3 weeks in a completely different environment and culture?
To never be afraid to have a voice for something you believe in. Throughout our research in the Kingdom, I was lucky enough to have met several inspiring women who have made a difference one way or another. We spoke to a lady who was running an organisation for underprivileged women. She shared with us incredible stories about the work they do and the programmes they have created to teach these women about parenting and financial management. I am blessed to have a good life, all of which is owed to my parents - which is why it was even more inspiring for me to learn how women across classes are working together in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to build a better future for themselves and their children.