Time: February 24, 2019
Some of my earliest memories are always about family, friends, and school. In a world that has always had mixed opinions about my homeland, I always knew exactly what it was to me. A place of possibility, even when there were hurdles at times, there was still support wherever I looked.
I thought long and hard before starting to write this article, and I asked myself and others many times: “What is it truly like to grow up a Saudi? Is everyone’s life the same as mine? Are we all the same?”
Of course not, because we all collectively define the identity of being Saudi through our different lives, stories, and journeys. Looking around in my own community through the lives of many people I know, we are all different, and perhaps that is the beauty of living and growing up here.
Despite the many differences, we all share a great bond that brings us together in our love for our Kingdom. So, putting aside all the negative comments we hear in the media about Saudi Arabia, all the misconceptions, all the misinterpretations, what was it like for me, growing up as a Saudi girl?
My parents grew up in villages on the outskirts of the city of Al-Ahsa in the Eastern Province. But that never limited their access to education and job opportunities. They both majored in subjects that they enjoyed and were passionate about, majors that would get them to build careers and one day raise a family. At that time, possibility lay in everything and they were the ones who were truly and literally building Saudi Arabia brick by brick.
They were shielded by their education, and guided by their passion to be part of the Kingdom’s development in the 1980s. They both grew into their lives and careers, they got married young, and then we came about.
My siblings and I were raised by a journalist and a teacher — two people who sought knowledge and were spreading it. We were always expected to be the best at the things we chose to do or committed to. Excellence was not an option; it was a standard in the community. Our parents’ generation was one that knew what it was like to build a whole life from scratch, and they were always willing and committed to work and better themselves. My parents’ generation is full of educators and thinkers (and a lot of engineers for Saudi Aramco of course).
When I was young, I remember going with my father to the paper that he wrote for, and I always felt like I could be the same one day. I grew up with that mindset, and many Saudis did the same as we regarded our parents as role models.
I always asked myself whether I was lucky to be born into this lifestyle that I had, or if this was the norm in a lot of Saudi households. Yet, wherever I looked, I saw my friends with the same supportive parents. Parents who would do anything for us to see us succeed. Then I realized that Saudi Arabia has raised many generations that are blessed with the advantages offered to us by our government to succeed and grow.
Our parents were among the first to go to college and seek higher education, and with that, they built a whole country. Now, with us, they are building generations that are resilient, ambitious, and determined to make Saudi one of the top countries in the world. This is not a rosy image without flaws or negative sides, the world will always criticize us, even Saudis do sometimes. But this is my Saudi Arabia, and this is how I grew up seeing it.
Talented youth around me are challenging the status quo by proving to the world that just because we may be different at some things, it does not mean we are wrong. We are living by what is right, and we are developing our future through our traditions.
Our past strengthens our present so we can arrive at a bigger future. We are not perfect, but we are always trying to develop and change. Perfection was never the definition of a nation, because overcoming obstacles and succeeding is the story that countries are valued and remembered by. As a young Saudi woman, the world may have its own narrative about what it has been like for me to grow up as Saudi. But here it is from my own standpoint: Everywhere I look, I see successful women.
Wherever I go, I see proud, supportive fathers and mothers. Young Saudis continue to amaze me with their outlook on their future.
I was afraid that I would sound like I am exaggerating through this article, but this is my truth. This is Saudi how I have lived it, this is my country — how I have always seen it.
Razan Farhan Alaqil is a student of political science, international comparative politics and global studies. She is a Saudi youth representative at the UN.