Saudi Arabia: Understanding the Saudi Home-Stay

photo of Saudi Students from Oregon State with their host family (google images)

Part of the experience that is offered to the Saudi student who is studying abroad in a foreign country is the opportunity to participate and live in a “home stay.”  A home-stay allows the student to live with a family while he (or she) has English language training or other academic studies.

The home-stay is a great opportunity for the Saudi student to gain greater insights and have a richer experience in the host country.

However, in fairness to both the Saudi student and the home-stay family, there do need to be expectations and an understanding.  The Saudi student should know what can be expected from the home –stay family.  Will meals be provided and if so, are there set times or can the student “eat on demand?”  Does the student have carte blanche kitchen privileges?  Is the student expected to clean up in the kitchen after meals?  Is the student allowed to smoke in the house?  Who does the student’s laundry?  Are laundry privileges included?

These may seem like simple questions yet remember that many of the Saudi students are not familiar with how households may run outside of Saudi Arabia.  Most of the young students have likely come from families which have domestic help.  As a result, they have no clue about preparing or cleaning up after meals, doing laundry or having to maintain cleanliness of their own room.  Like a young child, they may need to be shown and trained on simple chores such as changing sheets and making up a bed.

In some Saudi homes the bathrooms are not as typical as in the Western world.  Some may not have a typical Western toilet but a simple “two stepper” instead.  Many Saudi washrooms come equipped with either a bidet or a small hose attached near to the toilet.  Because it is not typical for a Saudi home to naturally have toilet paper, the individual cleanses themselves with the assistance of the bidet or hose.  The student may not understand if using toilet paper how much is too much to throw in the toilet.  Other Saudi bathrooms may not have a bathtub with shower.  There may simply be a shower head in one corner of the bathroom with no separation and the water flows freely on the floor to a central area with a drain.

To help avoid costly misunderstandings the home-stay family may want to have small signs posted in the bathroom or laundry room with do’s and do not’s.

By the same token, to make the Saudi feel more at home and comfortable, a home-stay family may want to equip the student’s room with a prayer rug and a Quran.  Any local Islamic Center, mosque or the Saudi Embassy’s Department of Islamic Affairs can assist and advise.  If the Saudi will take meals with the family then be cognizant that he or she should not eat any pork products or consume alcohol.  There will be exceptions to these rules since it is a fact that some students like to experiment with freedoms not found in Saudi Arabia.

The home-stay family should be prepared to answer many questions about life in the host country.  The questions can range from food to politics to religion to sex depending on how comfortable the student is with the host-family.  It’s pretty common for students to want to know why Western families choose not to have domestic help.

Saudis do value family and place the mother at the top.  Treating a Saudi student like a cherished and valued member of a home-stay family can be the start of a relationship that will last a lifetime.


18 Responses

  1. Really enjoyed this! You’d think someone going off to live by himself would be taught basic skills like how to do laundry before leaving home. Even if he didn’t live with an American family, a college student or person living in an apt. would have to do laundry. Unless they hire a laundry service, which may be what they do …

    I’m pretty sure my Syrian friend’s mom taught him how to do laundry before he traveled to Germany. He later learned to cook from another Syrian, and has since been quite domestic. I even have pictures of him cooking and washing dishes when we visited him earlier this year! 🙂

  2. This is a great article, one that I have experienced in reverse. It reminds me of my own introduction to living in other countries with different domestic expectations and customs. As a teacher, I have realized that many of my students cannot connect with the “basic” chores that my own children have been raised with.

    We were discussing chemicals this week and I asked what household items were used in their homes, such as detergents. Only 2 of 14 could answer and only the same two knew how to cook or grocery shop for their family. I had to laugh at myself as I was reminded of the differences between our countries

    Thanks for another informative and helpful blog!

  3. When you think about Saudi Arabia and laundry, it is soooooo much cheaper to a) either have the housemaid do the laundry or b) in lieu of a housemaid, companies will pick up, wash, dry and iron your laundry and deliver it for much cheaper and faster than you could do it yourself.

    I know if I were back in Saudi now I’d want to work closely with the Ministry of Higher Education on a one week to three week course of cultures, customs, etiquette’s and surviving abroad!

  4. Good thing for Saudi students to live in a home stay abroad. But I think the biggest problem for them it will not be the house work, but the food and drinking plus the five daily prayers. Different in religion between the Saudi students and the western family will be the biggest problem or we can say challenge.

  5. Many of the homestay families in my part of Oklahoma refuse to have Saudi students because they tend to stay in their rooms with the door shut when home, but rarely be at home. It can be easy for the entire weekend to go by and not see them.

    The ones who are able to deal with that tendency and find ways to draw the Saudis out and get them to include themselves more are the one who quickly end up with a large extension of Saudi boys as all their friends begin to be close.

    As for cleaning, I still remember the first time I walked into the boys’ bathroom after they had been living here for a month or so. It was incredibly filthy and there was a lot of water damage to the walls around the sink where water had been continually splashed and allowed to pool. The floor was covered with grime, the sink sticky, the mirror textured, and let’s not even talk about the toilet. I sent them both in there with instructions to clean it…they had no clue how.

    It was then that I started going into their rooms because I feared costly damage to my home. I’ve since taken over all the cleaning and I do their laundry as well. They are grateful and love the feeling of being looked after and are willing to help out with anything at any time. I love not having to worry about the condition of my home and to be honest, I love looking after them. I mother them when they are sick, encourage them when they struggle, and lavish praise on them for all that they do well. They are my family and I’m not just their family, I’m part of their family back home. I’ve talked with mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, etc. on Skype. I ask after them and they ask after me all the time.

    It’s not always easy and sometimes “challenging” is the kindest word that can be applied, but, sharing your life and your heart with these Saudi students is incredibly rewarding.

  6. It might be “soooooo much cheaper” to have your maid or a laundry service help you out in KSA, but surely they realize – or someone in Saudi does – that not everyone in the world lives that lifestyle and people actually do their own chores in many parts of the world including the USA. I guess that’s what your proposed one to three week course would cover. Things like learning to wash and iron clothes, clean toilets, wipe up water you spew all over the bathroom. It’s actually good to know how to clean up after yourself and take care of yourself.

  7. Im sure a pair of Saudi Sandals will make any home stayer connected with his roots!!


  8. hi. here at the univ of hawaii/maui college campus (, we have over 25 foreign countries represented, with about a dozen saudi students; mostly female. yes, we have a homestay program also.

    i have attended quite a few cultural events sponsored by foreign students. most of the students i talked to (including saudis) said that they tried homestay for a semester and didn’t like it at all.

    the main reason they gave was that staying with an american family was like staying with their parents, with all kinds of restrictions that come with it. they wanted to experience living with other americans of their own age in an apartment/dorm without too much worrying about curfew hours, and participate in fun activities with their own peers.

  9. If I did not have my own health challenges, I’d become a home-stay parent in a minute. I know what to anticipate and believe I can make it a win-win experience for both of us.

    When hosting someone from another country you just don’t know what they don’t know or have not been exposed to until getting to know them. For example, when I had my housemaid from Kenya, she had never slept on a bed before and never seen a Western style toilet. Naturally I had to teach her how to make the beds and clean the toilets since they were new to her. However, once she learned, she did a great job.

    I don’t think religious issues are difficult during a home stay. The student would generally say his prayers in the privacy of his room. Mealtime takes communication. I don’t think a home stay family should change their diet because of a foreign student but be sure to point out anything that is against the diet of the student.

  10. Why are toilet related issues such a big topic of cultural divide. Being in a mixed relationship and having kids has made me see that it’s food and all it’s by products which cause the most concern for all. Shut the door people and leave the bathroom as you found it. After that no-one should inquire as to what goes on!

  11. When my Saudis first moved in, I NEVER knocked on their door because I was afraid of possibly disturbing them during their prayers. I would text them instead. Eventually one of them told me to just knock any time because it was no big deal.

    Food is not really an issue. I’m a vegan, so I never have anything that could possibly have pork. Of course, now that I don’t live alone, I have to deal with animal products in my kitchen and in my fridge, but they don’t expect me to cook any of it for them. Since our chosen meal times are extremely different, it’s each person for him/herself. I make them go with me when I go shopping for food so they can get what they want. Sometimes they cook, but they generally prefer to eat out nearly all the time. At first I felt guilty, but then I realized that all the Saudi guys eat out a lot whether they live in a dorm, apartment, or homestay…unless they are married. Sometimes they have friends over and my kitchen is full of Saudi guys cooking, singing, talking, and laughing….at 3 in the morning. Thankfully I sleep like the dead if I do wake up, I can almost always go right back to sleep within minutes.

    One issue we have is the thermostat. They want it to be set to 60 in the summer. I prefer above 75. Because summers here get well over 100 degrees, the a/c cannot even get it nearly as cold as they like. I spend a good deal of summer wearing my winters clothes and shivering while they lounge about in shorts and t-shirts and moan about melting. 🙂

  12. @Okie – All I can say in regards to the temperature control is that this is typical. I don’t know if it is because of the extreme heat in Saudi but even malls and homes the temps inside would vary by 30 to 40 degrees from what was outside! I actually had a little heater in my office in Saudi that I used during the summer months!!!

    Yes; Saudi guys will enjoy cooking together and it always seems to happen in the early hours of the morning! I remember my husband and friends fixing kupsa after a long evening of playing Balut (typical card game). I’m thankful they took on the cooking themselves rather than wake me!

  13. What about halal meat? Perhaps it wouldn’t occur to a Saudi to ask if it was as they’d probably not even think about meat and poultry NOT being halal. I have problems here with some Iraqi friends who refuse to eat meat or poultry that is not halal. I can go out of my way to get it but it sure cuts out spontaneous invites.

  14. I think halal meat is a divided issue when Saudis are out of the Kingdom. There will be some who insist on only eating halal meats and others who will not mind whether the meat is halal or not. I think much depends on how well traveled the Saudi is to begin with. If we were having a gathering at our home while in the States, I’d make sure to purchase halal meat but for day to day, we did all of our shopping at the local Safeway.

  15. @Susanne,
    Not knowing how to do laundry using a washer and dryer is actually quite common for international students, and not just Saudi (or male students for that matter)! I remember when I was studying abroad in England, I had to teach quite a few grown adults in their 20s how to do laundry. However, once taught they were quite capable of repeating the process the next time. In a way, helping them with laundry also helped build friendships. Later on, they helped me out with other things that I needed help with and I’m still friends with most of them.

    Cooking was foreign to many, so a lot of them would simply eat out every evening. Shopping was a bit different, too, and even I got lost in the aisles of the supermarket because the layout is completely different. 😀

  16. It’s not just halal meat. You also have to take into consideration eggs. I tell all my students that if they want to eat eggs, buy the kind that says “vegetarian fed”. You also have to consider gelatin, milk, heck, any animal product. Then there is the whole medicine issue. A lot of them don’t know that we have alcohol in some of our medicines, especially cough syrup.

    Our academic coordinator is Moroccan, and I often ask him to come into my classes when I have many new Saudis and talk to them about what to avoid if they wish to eat halal.

    I don’t think the average homestay knows that eggs might come from chickens that were fed pork.

  17. My DH runs in pretty conservative, segregating,veiled, religious Saudi circles and I never heard of anyone caring whether eggs were from vege-fed chickens or not. Halal meat, yes, but eggs, no.

    And if you want to be completely technical about it, there’s a bunch of fatwas out there saying whatever’s killed by people of the book is halal. Halal food on its own is just a marketing ploy.

  18. […] The largest numbers ever of Saudi students are studying outside of the Kingdom at Universities around the world.  The students (and their spouse when applicable) receive not only funds for their tuition and books but they also receive a generous stipend which covers accommodations, cost of living and transport.  Some students choose to have their own apartment or rent a house, especially if they are married.  Others may choose to have a room in a “Home Stay.” […]

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