Overview of Saudi Arabia
When it comes to housing, you have several options. The easiest and maybe the cheapest one is to stay at a university dorm. For more information, try to enquire directly with your university. Another option is to rent an apartment. You can either decide to rent it on your own or to share it with other students. The first option might give you more privacy but the price will be higher than for a shared flat. Note that the majority of the apartments are rented unfurnished, so be sure to check before with the real estate agency. And last but not least, make sure that you have air conditioning!
■ Transportation system
Public transportation is existent but not highly developed. There are many buses and their all quite well equipped but they are often slow. The railway system is very poorly developed, so maybe the best mean of transportation in town is the taxi. It not expensive and will take you safely to your destination.
You will find enormous shopping malls with shops, restaurants, cinema… most of the products you will find are imported from neighbor countries such as carpets from Iran for instance. You can find typical souvenirs and art crafts in the bazaars and zouks. You will also find many jewelry and gold. You can pretty much always negotiate for the prices and find good quality products for cheap.
Saudi cuisine is very similar to other Arabic countries. You can find shwarma (doner
kebab), felafel (chickpea balls) and salads and dips like hummus (chickpea paste)
and tabbouleh (parsley salad). The national dish is the Kasba (colored-spiced rice with meat). Surprisingly enough, you won’t find that many typical Saudi restaurants. The majority of the restaurant offer foreign food or Saudi revisited and simple dishes.
Note that many restaurants will close during the prayers so they might refuse to serve you. If you want to eat cheap food, you will find lots of fast-foods, the most famous ones (McDonald’s, Subway, Burger King) and also Saudi ones (Kudu, Al-Baik). You can also find street vendors to eat cheap curry plates.
As for drinks, remember that alcoholic beverages are not allowed in the country. Also, don’t drink tap water.
The culture and the way of life in the country are pretty much entirely dictated by a strict interpretation of Islam. Especially as westerners, the cultural shock might be important. Men and women are very often separated in public places and institutions (separate entrance for men and women in banks, post office, even restaurants sometimes…). Women only have the right to vote since 2011, but they still don’t have any independence ( for instance they can’t drive a car).
The culture has been shaped by its Islamic heritage. The country is the birthplace of Islam, represented by Prophet Mahomet and the Koran. The city of Mecca is one of the most holy places on Earth for the Muslims. Art and every other field of expression are under strict control of the authorities and the censure is strong. There are nonetheless traditional arts and activities that you might appreciate in music, dance (the sword dance for instance) and literature (Bedouin poetry).