Ryan Gliha is no stranger to Saudi Arabia; he started his diplomatic career on the very shores of Jeddah. Upon his return last September 2018, he assumed the role of Consul General (CG). We sat down with him to better understand the part of consulates, deepening the bilateral relations between the US and KSA, cultural exchange, and our shared love for Al-Baik.
The Consulate General in Jeddah represents and protects the US interest in the entire western region. Under its jurisdiction are all the governorates from Tabuk, Madina, Makkah, to Asir Al Baha, Jizan and Najran. Ryan Gliha as consul general is the representative of the US Ambassador to Saudi Arabia.
The Consulate General in Jeddah has a unique history because as many people know, Jeddah used to be the capital of Saudi Arabia. CG Gliha shared gave us its history, “the consulate started as an Embassy back in the 1940’s right after the first meeting between the head of state of our two countries, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and King Abdulaziz Al Saud. They met on a ship on the Red Sea back in 1947, and after that, we opened an office, which became an embassy.”
When Riyadh became the actual capital of the country, the embassy moved, and we became the Consulate General. Consulates are like little embassies. They do everything that an embassy does except having the ambassador. This changes during the summer. When the Saudi government or King moves down to Jeddah, so does the US ambassador, so for the few months until December the consulate acts as an embassy.
While processing visa applications is the first thing that comes to mind when the US Embassy is mentioned, it’s just one of many services they provide as a diplomatic mission. Through the office of public affairs, for example, the US consulate runs various programs that directly engage with the local community and the Saudi public at large.
JP: The United States is one of the popular choices when Saudi students plan on studying abroad. Does the consulate provide any assistance in helping them make informed decisions?
CG: As the consulate, we have an Educational office that has full-time staff and an advisor who would assist the students to decide on what university and program they wanted to take. Even if you haven’t chosen, we will give you a whole menu of options to help you decide. We can accommodate you through online booking too and on the road. We help them choose to make the right choice. It’s important to note that our advisory is not limited to this, we also create opportunities to prepare Saudi students for life in the US.
JP: How are you able to reach students who aren’t necessarily based in the major cities?
CG: We sometimes bring our services and programs on the road. I make some trips on different provinces with some of our staff and look for institutions who might be interested to hear about our educational services and exchange programs.
We also offer much younger programs such as Saudi Youth Leadership Exchange program. We send out dozens of Saudis to the US to exchange experience with their American counterparts as well as Leadership and Personal Development. Our goal for the exchange programs is to capture the diversity of Saudi Arabia. The most important part is to interact with people not just within the major cities but also to different parts of the country.
JP: Apart from the consulate’s educational services, what other interests and opportunities do the US take care of?
CG: We also have a commercial office. American businesses that want to do business here and Saudi Businesses that want to do business in the US. We help them make the right connections. We also have a political office, which covers and tries to report what’s happening politically in the country and they help me in my dealings with all the different officials in the Western side of Saudi Arabia.
JP: With the recent changes in the Kingdom, what industries are American investors interested in?
CG: Energy, Aviation, Transportation, Durable goods, Automobile, a little bit of the Agriculture. However, the growth is with healthcare, services, fitness.
JP: How do you go about making the connection between these brands and companies?
CG: There are two types of mechanisms, through a trade show to invite Saudi Business leaders to visit the US and meet with US companies in specific industries. We’ve put together a trade delegation to learn about opportunities. Reverse trade delegation is the other mechanism where we bring US companies, American business leaders to Saudi Arabia to meet their counterparts and look for opportunities here. Throughout the year we’re running this regularly so it won’t stagnate.
JP: How do you see the Saudi relationship evolving in the next few years?
CG: The relationship between our two countries is based on shared values and interests in the last few decades. What is different now is that there are a lot more opportunities. So if you look at what’s happening in terms of entertainment, movie theaters, these are all opportunities where we can complement. We usually play a coordinating role; it’s good to have to have a light touch by the US government and leave it to the experts.
JP: Lastly, what are you looking forward to now that you’re back?
CG: If I’m going to be honest with you, I immediately looked for AlBaik the moment I got back. My first time in Jeddah,
I was a bachelor, and we’d spend our Fridays going out for shrimp and chicken. I have explored the different regions before, and each one has its charm; this time around I’m looking forward to experiencing Saudi Arabia with my wife and two kids. It would be great to
see what family adventures we can go on together.