Back in April, I sat and began reflecting on my life in Dubai… here are the ramblings of an Expat; what I learned and how I felt about my two years in Dubai.
It’s 6.10pm in London Healthrow Airport, and I am alone, surrounded by bags with a laptop on my lap, patiently awaiting the gate to be announced for my flight to New York. I left Dubai – where I’ve lived for the last 18 months – 11 hours ago, so as you can imagine, the idea of getting on another uncomfortable flight for 8 hours or so doesn’t seem that appealing right now. But this is my life now. The cycle of travelling and waiting to travel again has become the norm. Waiting a few hours for a connecting flight, waiting a few months for the next trip to London or New York only to end up back in the airport waiting to travel back again. Waiting. Travelling. Waiting. Travelling. Never quite settling and always awaiting the next uprooting has become oddly familiar to me now.
I guess it must be a feeling that many other expats living in Dubai feel; never quite feeling fully at home in either Dubai or my home country anymore, instead straddling the two awkwardly, trying to get some sense of balance or perspective on where I fit. This might sound like an uncomfortable position to be in, and in all honesty, a lot of the time it is. It can also be painful. Pangs of homesickness grow in intensity throughout the months I am in Dubai as I wait to return ‘home’ to London, only to be find that ‘home’ is always different from how I remember it when I finally return. Feeling hurt that the world you once lived in moves on without you is an embarrassing pain, one I don’t want to admit to my friends or family in fear of sounding like a spoiled brat. For example, ‘how could you possibly go to eat Nandos without me?!’ is a question I regularly want to ask my friends when I hear they have visited my favourite restaurant. But what right do I have to deny people peri-peri chicken? (There is a Nandos in Dubai, but it doesn’t even compare. Trust me).
But sitting here and reflecting on it now, as much as I sometimes long to fall straight back into my old life at times, I also realise that not quite fitting into my old surroundings shows how much I’ve grown, and that isn’t a bad thing. I have learnt a lot in the last 18 months: about the world, about people and about myself.
…Not that you would know about that however. The last time I sat down to type on my blog was about two years ago, and the last time I filmed a video was almost a year ago as well. I guess an apology is in order… or perhaps an explanation, as I feel apologising for living my life without sharing each moment is pretty ridiculous, even in the world of social media.
So while I wait for my next flight, let me use these few hours to tell you where I’ve been, why I’ve been so absent and what I’ve learnt over the past 18 months.
Blaming my absence on technical difficulties would be a weak – but nevertheless valid – excuse. First it was my camera, so I couldn’t take photos or record videos. Then it was my laptop, so I couldn’t edit what footage I did have. To be honest, both of these things could have easily been resolved, but I used them to justify my avoidance of blogging on a regular basis. I enjoyed living my life without feeling the need to post or explain how I did my hair, especially as I have it covered from the desert sun 99% of the time anyway.
Truth is that I needed to live my life for myself. The most independent thing I had done previously was move 100 miles north of London to Leicester for university. Even when I moved to south London for my teacher training, I still traveled home to East London each weekend. I love London, and I miss the comfort of my friends and my family, but moving to Dubai was the first time I had ever fully detached myself and experienced something by myself, for myself. As you will know if you followed me previously, I was left utterly devastated by the passing of my grandparents back in 2015. In the last few years, it was particularly important to be close by and readily available to look after them whenever they needed me, so of course, moving half way around the world wasn’t an option. After months of misery after their passing, I knew I needed to start afresh, and challenge myself to live independently while removing myself from a place that constantly reminded me of them. As a rule, using travel as a way to run away from problems isn’t advised, but in my case, it was exactly what I needed to do to help heal from the whole situation. So I updated my cover letter and CV (or resume for my American friends), applied for jobs online, completed a few skype interviews and ultimately ended up choosing a teaching job in Dubai over another job in Kuwait.
Leaving my friends, family and my old school was emotional, to say the very least. I had loved teaching young people in East London, especially as I could often see myself in the students I taught and felt truly passionate about watching them achieve. Saying goodbye was really difficult, but I was so lucky to have a department that supported me throughout everything that happened with my family, and who wanted me to be happy no matter where I needed to be.
So after my grandparents passed, I completed a school year in East London then flew off to Dubai in August 2016. Dubai is an amazing place for so many reasons, but it wasn’t what I expected. After a month of living in Dubai I recorded the video below, and a lot of what I said in it still stands… but a lot doesn’t. Like any country, there are going to be positives and negatives, and I will share another video letting you know how I feel about living in Dubai once I leave at the end of this school year.
The experience of moving to Dubai has taught me a lot. One thing is identifying fake people. Dubai is an extremely glamorous, extravagant and expensive place. Many people move to Dubai for higher tax-free salaries, and with an excess of money comes more materialism. This combined with an opportunity to reinvent yourself in any way you please leads to a lot of showing off and fakeness. Being around people that are constantly trying to show off their wealth or status exhausts me, and I feel that my ability to recognise insincere people has improved a lot since being here.
I have also learned not to care about being friend with everyone. This is something I struggled with a lot in the past, as I always wanted the approval of others and would dwell on the slightest hint of people disliking me. Moving to a new country meant that I had to be selective about my friends, both in Dubai and in London. I have said goodbye to a few toxic relationships and I genuinely feel much better for it. My energy is now limited to spending time with people I truly consider my life long friends, and considering this may be my last few months here I think that’s a good thing.
The friends I have made are truly amazing people and have helped me to become a stronger, better rounded person who is ready to face her fears. The experiences I’ve had and the places I have been since moving to Dubai have been made that more special by experiencing them with my friends, and I have been truly blessed to have met people that have honestly become more like family. I would never had dreamed of doing a sky dive, but being pushed by Cassie and Achasah to try something new led to an experience of a lifetime.
Living in Dubai has also given me the opportunity to travel to countries and places I had never even dreamed of! Both Sri Lanka and Zanzibar are much more accessible from Dubai than in the UK, and seeing other cultures – both in Dubai and in surrounding countries – has been an enriching experience. I’ve reached a point where I realise that I would much rather spend my money on travelling the world and experiencing new places than spending money on excessive things – probably the opposite of what you might expect having lived in one of the most expensive places on earth!
Other than travelling, I have spent most of this year so far saving as I am still unsure of what my future holds next year. No matter what country I end up settling in, I know I now have life long friends in various parts of the world, and even during the times when I might feel lost or alone, that is a warming feeling. July marks the end of my two year contract, and my next stop is yet to be determined but I will most likely take a break from teaching for a while. I do want to push myself to write and slowly get back into recording again, so hopefully you will be seeing a lot more of me on my blog and on YouTube.