“We can not direct the wind, but we can adjust the sails”
Expat life is made up of changes. Some are really remarkable, others barely perceptible. What we all experience, to some extent, are the stages we go through before we adjust and make sense of the change happening. It all depends on how open and how prepared we are to accept change. Kuwait is certainly not one of the easier countries to move to, with no real support structure set up for expats. With administrative matters taking ages and a distinct lack of western entertainment, its definitely a challenge to move to Kuwait.
Even if you move countries a few times, while each time can be slightly different, there is definitely a repeating pattern every time you make that move. Being aware of these emotional phases and learning how to overcome difficulties during expat relocation helps towards understanding your new lifestyle and its associated challenges. This post outlines some of the phases expats go through when they move to Kuwait but could be applied to any other country especially those in the Middle East.
Stage One: Oh wow!
Oh wow I am finally here after all of the planning, endless packing and repacking of suitcases and a horribly long journey. Ugh there is that annoying kid who kept kicking my seat during the entire flight. No time to dwell on that now… Oh wow its SO HOT!
Oh wow look at the sea! It’s so blue and mesmerizing. Why isn’t anyone swimming in it though?
Oh wow look at the size of this mall? Wait what do you mean the building next door is a mall too? This one is enough! Oh wow so many restaurants! And they are all so busy!
Oh wow look at the price of these grapes! Is this the real price? For just one box? Geez. There are so many brands from back home and everything is printed clearly in English. Hell everyone speaks English too. I didn’t expect this.
Oh wow Kuwait Towers are pretty when they’re lit up. Hey Kuwait City isn’t that ugly…
Oh wow look a the ladies in black with veiled faces. And the men are wearing white dresses? Their headscarves look cool. Don’t they feel hot in such long clothes? Oh wow that man is walking around with two women. What do you mean they could both be his wives? That’s a serious thing here?
Stage One is commonly referred to as the Honeymoon Stage. During this stage we are excited and curious. It’s like when we are on holidays, where everything that is different is exciting. If we consider culture as an iceberg, during this stage we are only scratching the surface, seeing just the top of the iceberg. You will learn a lot about your new place and yourself! It will feel like a roller coaster ride and emotions fluctuate between excitement and homesickness. Going grocery shopping, ordering in a restaurant, having the internet connected, even taking a taxi or bus becomes more like an adventure.
Enjoy this phase as much as you can and make the most of feeling “on holiday”. The more you know about the location beforehand the longer this phase will last… it’s all about expectation and preparation.
To read about my honeymoon stage in Kuwait, click here.
Stage 2: “Are you serious?”
My passport is going to be taken away from me? Are you serious? For how long? You can’t say? Inshallah isn’t an answer. Is it?
Are you serious? Why is he driving in the emergency lane? And why isn’t that lady looking at the road while driving? What do you mean she is busy texting? Are you serious?
Is my residency permit sorted out yet? I need my passport back. I really want to fly home for Christmas so I can see my daughter/husband/mother. What? Are you serious? You said that over a month ago and I still don’t have it back! Don’t call me habeebti, it doesn’t help!
Its 9 degrees outside now and it was 30 last month. Are you serious? What kind of country is this with weather that oscillates between extremes? Why am I even asking that? What makes sense in this wretched place?
Stage Two is the most difficult stage of life in Kuwait. This is when many people pack it up and head for the airport. But my advice is: DON’T GO HOME. At the same time, don’t complain about how it should be more like home. The frustration stage or rage stage sets in when the cultural differences, the language barriers, the fatigue and other tribulations unnerve you. You may offend someone or be embarrassed yourself, but no matter what the trigger, your entry into this second stage will be clear.
Stage two is easy to get out of alive especially once your documentation is complete. You just need to remember all the reasons why you left your mundane routine at home in the first place. You need to accept that it’s not the new destination that is alien, but rather it’s you. You HAVE to go with an open mind. You have to accept that things are done differently- and that different doesn’t mean incorrect.
To read about my rage stage in Kuwait click here.
Stage 3: “Ah Kuwait!”
Look at these people parking in the no parking zone! Ah Kuwait!
Yes please I would love this complimentary tea with my meal! Ah Kuwait!
Better pack those long sleeved tops for our weekend away in Qatar… only here can we get away with strappy dresses! Ah Kuwait!
Ok so I should drink these three tiny cups of Arabic coffee? Why not just get me a mug and be done with it? Ah Kuwait!
Ah Kuwait! Only here can I see women being made up like they’re off to a beauty pageant, just to fetch their kids from school!
Stage three is all about acceptance and contentment – feeling content with your new routine and accepting life and culture in your new location. You no longer feel isolated, but rather you have begun to assimilate. While some people get stuck in earlier stages, if you can make it to acclimation stage, you will get the most rewarding travel experience possible. In the final phase, you become more comfortable as you appreciate your new surroundings. You may identify a favourite restaurant, discover meaningful friendships, maybe even pick up a few words of the local language. You will also probably begin to pick up on the more nuanced cultural differences like telling the difference between people from different GCC countries (tip: look at the attire of the men).
Then, just when you feel truly settled in, it will probably be time to go home.
This post wraps up my 4 part series of Real Life in Kuwait. If you are moving to Kuwait then I suggest scrolling to the top of this website and looking under the Living in Kuwait menu for different topics. My next few posts will discuss my recent travels to Abu Dhabi and Zanzibar… not to sound biased but I promise that you are in for a treat!