Friday, January 24, 2014

Where the Heck Are You and What is KAUST?

The canal and the student dorms.
Okay, I’ve been getting lots of questions from all of you so I thought I would answer a few of them.

 I’ve already answered the “Do you have to be covered all the timequestion and the  “Can you still text me question in previous blogs.  So here’s the next question…


Yup, I’ve moved. This time I’m in Saudi Arabia working at KAUST. KAUST stands for King Abdullah University of Science and Technology and it’s a very cool place - in a very hot country.  It's already feeling like Phoenix in May, but with killer humidity because we are on the Red Sea. I feel like we are on an island because of the palm trees and the water, but we're not.

The mosque by the campus.  I find the singing sort of soothing.
We're located about 100 km north of Jeddah (about an hour away) and maybe 20 minutes from a fishing village called Thuwal that I have not been to yet, but some of their people will be here doing  a fresh fish market next Saturday (which sounds like a farmer's market with seafood). There is nothing in between us and Jeddah except 100 km of boring desert.  I'm talking real desert and not the pretty desert in Arizona.  This is desert like the ones you see on TV.  Just sand.

In other words, we are away from the main city and are kind of in our own little world, which is what KAUST is all about.


KAUST isn't a compound, but a village. In fact, the word compound has never been mentioned.  There's already a few thousand people living here and it's growing monthly. It's similar to a retirement community like Fountain Hills in Arizona or those ones in Florida that are self-sustained.

But the big difference is that instead of people over 55, it's full of science and techie people from all over the world.

I think of it as the new Eureka (the Syfy channel TV series). In the TV series, Eureka was an experimental make-believe town in Northern California created by the government for scientists and computer experts to do their research and live.

It was basically a man-made utopia.  There was the main work building called GD and then all the stuff around the town to make up the community like the coffee shop, the garage, the school for the scientists’ kids, etc.

It’s a great series that you should watch on Netflix if you haven’t seen it.

The KAUST Beacon. It looks amazing at night.
KAUST is similar and is also a man-made utopia that began 5 years ago -- except instead of being located in California it’s located in Saudi Arabia. AND instead of the village being modeled after a quaint American town, it’s like a giant tropical resort on the ocean. How could you not love that?

The whole project is based on the concept of bringing together students and faculty (and their families) who love science and technology -- and who are open minded and see learning as a global language without cultural boundaries.

The campus is state-of-the-art, and there are two grocery stores, a movie theater, 3 fitness clubs, a golf club, a whole load of restaurants and shops, a hospital, fire department, bank, hair salon, travel agency, and of course, a mosque.

There's also a great beach and opportunities to go on fishing expeditions and diving excursions as we are right beside the Red Sea Coral Reef. They tell me night diving is spectacular.

We have out own bus system to help us get place to place, but people also bicycle and drive.  There is also bus system that brings us to the Jeddah a couple times a day.

Check out the interactive KAUST Map
Check out photos of KAUST

Map of KAUST


As mentioned, there's already a few thousand people living here and it's growing.  They are building new homes now to accommodate more people as they estimate there will be approximately 10,000 people living here in a few years.  The official language of KAUST is English and people have come from China, Canada, US, Australia, Europe, and the Philappines -- just to name a few.  There's definitely a  mishmash of cultures.

But even though we are a hybrid village, we are in Saudi so we try to be respectful to the culture by not wearing short shorts, practicing other religions or eating in front of people during their fasting time (that's just mean).  These aren't big things and you'll find the rest of the place feels pretty normal -- except there is no alcohol or bacon. Although, they do serve this beef bacon that my co-worker says is pretty good.

One of the pools by the beach.
Plus, there are a number of things that we can do in KAUST that you can't do when you go to Jeddah or other Saudi cities such as wear your normal clothes in public, wear a bathing suit at the beach, drive a car as a woman, go to a movie theater (theaters are not allowed in the rest of the country so this is big deal) and shop in the afternoon (Jeddah closes down in the afternoon for prayers and stuff. They reopen at 5 p.m.).

It's actually cool being a part of the experiment while it's still in the growing stages.


  1. Wow, Michelle! I envy you this experience and look forward to hearing more about it!

  2. Hi Michelle, we are moving to KAUST in 3 weeks and I really enjoyed reading your post. So much so that I have put a link to it on my blog -
    as well as a quote. I hope that is okay - please let me know if you would like me to remove it.