10 Questions: Laura Alho
What was your dream profession as a child?
I’ve always loved animals, nature and travelling, so I wanted to become a wildlife photographer as a kid. Later I wanted to study Egyptology but ended up in the medical field like the rest of my family. The past few years I have moved away from the hospital work environment to pursue the things I loved most as a child: photography, travel and history. So in a way, my dream profession came true in the end.
As the author of blueabaya.com, the award-winning website that seeks to promote the beauty of Saudi Arabia, what do you like most about Saudi Arabia?
I like how versatile Saudi Arabia is and how many opportunities it has for tourists. The image people tend to have of Saudi Arabia is that it’s mostly a barren desert landscape, but this couldn’t be farther from the truth. There are wonderful beaches, islands, forests, canyons and valleys to explore. Saudis are an incredibly hospitable and welcoming people, and it’s interesting to see the different micro cultures of each area.
Many of the sites are untouched by mass tourism, and often you can find yourself enjoying the place all by yourself. The history of the region is also fascinating and a lot of it still remains a mystery. Many groundbreaking findings have been discovered recently by international research teams, and more will come for sure as they just got started.
What has been the most fascinating topic to write about and why?
I enjoy writing about the different places I’ve visited in Saudi Arabia. Many of them have a fascinating history.
Why did you choose to move to Saudi Arabia?
I was always interested in the Middle East and wanted to travel there to learn more about the region from first-hand experience. Saudi Arabia came up as one of the options when I was looking for placements abroad and sounded like the most interesting place to work in.
What is the most interesting difference between Finland and Saudi Arabia?
Well, the weather could be said to be the polar opposite of each other, and in some respects the culture is too. Finnish people are very rule oriented, organised and time efficient, and they express themselves in direct ways. Small talk makes people feel awkward. Whereas Saudis tend to be more flexible, apply rules according to the person or situation and take their time to make decisions. Saudis are more social and small talk is the norm in any business environment. This can be difficult for Finnish people to adjust to in terms of their working style and business interactions for example.
What is your favourite Arabian word?
Definitely yalla which means ‘let’s go’, ‘hurry up’ or ‘let’s do this’.
You have become the first European woman to receive a driving licence in Saudi Arabia, what kind of experience was the process as a whole?
Definitely very different from Finland! In the beginning, the process was confusing because there was little to no information available online. After I found out the steps needed to get the driving licence, I wrote a comprehensive guide about it to help others get through the process smoothly. The staff at the traffic office was very helpful and supportive. When we were doing our driving tests the mood was very cheerful, history was being made and you could tell the officers were as happy as we were.
You migrated to Riyadh 10 years ago, how has the city changed during this time?
Riyadh has changed so much it’s almost like a different city now. When I moved there wasn’t a lot going on. Now I can drive myself to the movies and go to a concert with friends on weekends. Riyadh is becoming a cosmopolitan city.
What do you miss about Finland the most?
I have to say the fresh clean air. With the recent bad sandstorms we had in Saudi Arabia, clean air is really something that money cannot buy.
What advice would you give to people who are looking to relocate to Saudi Arabia?
I would say read my blog and you’ll see that it’s not a bad place to live. Every place has its problems, even Finland. So with the right attitude and mindset you can definitely enjoy your time in Saudi Arabia and make the most of it.
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