Welcome to The Work Day, a series that charts a single day in various women’s working lives — from gallery owners to stay-at-home parents to chief executives. In this installment, we hear from Cristiana Jurgensen, the principal of a middle school in Saudi Arabia, about a workday in December.
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Name: Cristiana Jurgensen
Location: Eastern Province, Saudi Arabia
Job title/current role: Principal of a middle school
Previous jobs: In 2000, after teaching elementary school in the United States for four years, my husband and I decided to go into international education. There are American schools all over the world that teach a North American curriculum to expat students. We have taught in Brazil, Nigeria and Qatar, and we have been in Saudi Arabia for the past nine years.
What led me to my current role: There is no better gig for teachers than being international. The cultural experiences, the people we have met, the travel opportunities, the sense of community, the work-life balance and the respect for the profession are unparalleled. We have taught presidents’ kids, hosted sheikhas (the Middle East version of queens) in our school, been flown all over the world for professional development and raised our two children in a very diverse environment where they have had the opportunity to learn from all kinds of people.
How I spend the majority of my day: As a principal, I spend my day in classrooms observing learning, in meetings with team leaders planning events, on phone calls with parents, analyzing data to guide our teaching and making sure our amazing staff feels appreciated.
4:15 a.m.: I woke up early to get my workout in. Three days a week, I meet a small group of very dedicated women at the gym, and we do circuits together. In Saudi Arabia, most foreigners live in compounds that have gyms, grocery stores, golf courses, restaurants, parks, theaters, etc., so the gym is new and free. The gyms are segregated by gender, so I went to the women’s gym while my husband went to the men’s gym.
6 a.m.: Our two children attend college in the United States, so with the time difference, this is a perfect time for us to catch up with them via FaceTime.
7 a.m.: I arrived at work and ate my breakfast as I was catching up on emails. Breakfast is always the same: overnight oatmeal with fruit that I prepare for the whole week.
7:45 a.m.: This is my favorite time of day, when I stand at the gate and greet the students as they walk in. Our students are from all over the world; 47 nationalities are represented. They are kind, trusting, hard-working and open-minded students who love to learn. We follow an American curriculum, and instruction is in English.
9 a.m.: I try to visit classrooms as often as possible. Today, I went into a seventh-grade language arts class, and they were discussing the conflict in the novel “The Outsiders” by S.E. Hinton, so I stayed a bit to participate in the discussion. Yesterday, a student invited me into his sixth-grade physical education class so I could play dodgeball with them. I was terrible at it, and they got me out SO MANY times.
11:15 a.m.: Nearly all of the students go home for lunch (most ride their bikes), and I eat soup and salad at my desk. Today, I have a delicious salad my friend Stacey made for me. We have some lunchtime clubs, such as drama and robotics, and our sports teams also practice then (we are in soccer season), so I stay on campus to help supervise.
1 p.m.: I help a student who had fallen off his bike, run a meeting about a new position we are hiring for, edit our weekly newsletters (one for parents and one for staff), and work on a presentation I’m going to give next week to our staff.
3:35 p.m.: The school day ends, and most teachers head out right away to get in a kiteboarding session or a round of golf before dark. Our compound is right by the crystal blue waters of the Arabian Sea. From November to March, the weather here is beautiful — sunny, with a high of 78 during the day and in the 50s at night. It makes up for the summer when it is unbearable, with an average high of about 120 degrees.
4 p.m.: After I finish up some emails at work, I go for a walk along the beach. It’s pretty deserted, but I do run into some students who are playing beach volleyball. Living so close to our students and their parents takes some getting used to. I run into them all the time while shopping at the grocery store, buying Dunkin’, etc. It is nice living so close to my friends. We get together to walk or socialize several times a week.
7 p.m.: My husband and I eat dinner. He grilled salmon. You can get pretty much anything at our grocery store on the compound except pork and alcohol, which are banned in Saudi Arabia. Then we watch an episode of “Ted Lasso.” We have a VPN, so we can get all of the American streaming services.
9:30 p.m.: Off to bed.