• What makes and breaks expat life?

    What makes or breaks an expat move ? Well, it isn’t the size of your villa.

    Over the past eight years, hosting ExpatWoman.com we have held the hands of many ‘000’s of expats moving to Dubai. From the first eager net trawl for information about a possible posting; … what’s it like ? …is it safe ? should we come… ? to planning the move ; …what school ? … where to live ? to arriving and settling in ; …finding a handyman to put up pictures, … beginning to build a social life. It’s all part of the ‘expat circle of life’. We’ve all done it, and many of us several times.
    Two expat women sat on the wall together

    The first six months of any expatriation are the hardest. For all that you have the excitement of discovering your new locale, you also have to deal with certain frustrations of house hunting, setting up a home and establishing children in schools. You miss your family, miss your friends and feel slightly out of sync with everyone around you.

    For women following their husband’s careers, there is that moment when your husband has gone to work, your children have gone to school and you are at home, alone, and you don’t know another soul in this town… country… maybe continent! It’s a lonely feeling. At that point, you have to brush yourself down, pick up your chin and head out to start making your new life. Some days you’ll feel like it and some days you won’t. Some people are very good at and for others, it’s a huge challenge. But either way, it needs to be done.
    Women, more than men, need at least one good girlfriend. For all women, from seven to seventy, that is make or break. The washing machine repair man hasn’t turned up for the third day running, its proving difficult to settle your youngest into nursery, you have spent an hour in a traffic jam because you took the wrong turning, its your mums birthday and you can’t get home…. its all an awful lot better with a girlfriend to share it with. And it is not just the negative stuff. Whether its a walk round the park or a shopping day in the mall, its pretty banal on your own but with a girlfriend, stopping for coffee and a chat… it’s an altogether different experience.

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    So where do we make friends ?
    As any family knows, women are the nurturers. We are the ones who create the social lives not only for ourselves, but to a great extent for our children and our partners. New mums in the know actively work the school pick up times, getting chatting with other mums and spotting children that they feel will click with / live near to / could play with their own. Before long, little Vanessa is coming over to play, then Sarah is asked back and phew! she’s ‘in’ with the class. All the better when there are other new mums at the classroom door, as frustrations and opportunities to explore can be shared in equal measure. Some of those early contacts form the basis of life long friendships. We shared 5th, 6th, 7th birthday parties, turned 40 and are fast heading for 50 together.

    The very phrase 'coffee mornings' may well invoke an involuntary shudder but everyone has to start somewhere. The best advice we can give is to throw your net wide, try a few different groups and you are bound to come across someone like you. After all, how unusual can you be ?

    Then you’re looking for common interests or job contacts. The ExpatWoman Jobs Board (link) always has a good range of posts available across various industries and skills. For those who are not working there is so much to do; learn a language, art classes, endless sports lessons and fitness classes…

    SEE ALSO: Welcome to Dubai, newcomers

    Friends report back favourably from true hardship postings in Nigeria, Ethiopia… where facilities are poor, and life can be dangerous. Some kind of ‘Dunkirk Spirit’ seems to gel residents into strong bonds and despite the apparent hardships, expats come away with memories of firm friendships, great parties and happy memories to cherish. About five years ago there was a major shift of companies moving their expats from Saudi to Dubai. At ExpatWoman.com, we expected the women to arrive overjoyed to be able to live more freely, and shop and enjoy a full social life. But that wasn’t the case. Above all, they missed the sense of community. On the Saudi compounds from the moment they had arrived, neighbours turned up with a welcome cake, invited them over for dinner and took them to the community centre. Not so in Dubai. If you choose to stay behind closed doors, no-one is going to knock. This is a city and you have to make the effort to make it work for you. The rewards are definitely out there but it can take a little time, and pretty much, you get out of it, whatever you put in.

    So what makes or breaks an expat posting ? The single most important thing is friendships… everything else you can cope with. And as the song says, it takes two; bottom line, you have to be open to and active in getting out and meeting people. For those first six months be patient and understand the stage of the process you’re in; it does take time to settle in well. You could go to ten different groups, meet lots of very nice people but noone you really click with and that 11th time…. It doesn’t matter how many times you’ve done it before, if its time to put yourself out there, you’ve got to walk in, take a deep breathe, and plant your friendliest smile, “Hello, I’m Andrea. We’ve just arrived….”
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