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To leave or not to leave… the expat’s eternal dilemma

January 3, 2020 12 Comments

I know I am not ready to leave Dubai.

But I also know I cannot stay any longer.

What am I talking about? Well let’s start from the beginning…

Moving between countries is not a particularly odd concept anymore, with the rise of digital nomadism and people working remotely. In my own case I have done neither but rather, to chosen to accept full time jobs in different cities around the world. With Dubai being my latest pick, I wasn’t sure how long this stint would last but I knew this wasn’t going to be forever.

Well it turned out that my time in Dubai is coming to an end after 1.5 years making it a total of 2.5 years that I have spent in the United Arab Emirates.

My first year in the U.A.E. came to an abrupt end when I was essentially terminated from my first job with no reason or explanation given. I bandied with thought of leaving then; but I had a relationship I that had just begun to blossom so I found a job at a school in Dubai in order to stay.

When I moved to Dubai mid 2018, it was with the understanding that I had moved here for love. While other benefits were important- like travel opportunities and lifestyle satisfaction, my relationship was my primary reason for moving. Wow look at me, I feel like the lead actress in a romantic comedy! There were situations, adventures, disagreements and compromise- the usual relationship dramas. But eventually our relationship grew and there I was, strangely content in a relationship where we had evaluations and discussed our feelings. Ew, who am I?

But there’s only so much I could take…

Then one day- 1.5 years after starting my job- I woke up, went to school and resigned. I had no idea how we would survive as a dual earning household downsizing to a sole income. I had no idea how I would continue to pay my bills. But I did know that I couldn’t continue at my job anymore unless I wanted to sink into a deep depression. Not being the kind of person prone to impulsive decisions, I was shocked at what I had done with no back up plan or no safety net. I was on a visa sponsored by my school- how would I continue to live in this country? But I guess this was the depths of my unhappiness with my job that I could take it no more. What would happen next?

My partner, Expat Polar, had always known that when he was ready to move, we would both leave this city. I was here for him and when he went, I went too. While that may sound slightly anti-feminist, finding a half decent man in a bleak dating pool is rare; I didn’t see a point in letting go of a well dressed, self actualised man who was a better cook than I. After 11 years of him living in the UAE- the vast majority of which were spent living in Dubai- he pulled the plug on his time here and asked me how I felt if we started afresh in a new place in the new decade. After a few months of gruelling interviews, he had received a job offer from a very prestigious hotel group that was honestly too good to turn down.

We would be based in Qatar.

To agree or not to agree?

I had lived in 4 different countries during my adult life and my decision to live in those places was MY OWN and motivated by education or professional ambition. While my decisions impacted on others, I had never been part of functioning partnership where both parties could make decisions and move together. With my history of unambitious male partners, I didn’t even know that this was how it was supposed to be- two people discussing their next move instead of one person making the decisions and the other just shrugging and agreeing.

Truthfully though, I knew that even though he took the initiative and came to me with a proposal, the decision to move was still my call; I know that if I said no, Polar would turn down the job opportunity he had worked hard to negotiate; I knew we would NOT GO.

But if not now, then when?

Ultimately, when Polar said those magic words, “This opportunity makes financial sense for us. You could take a break from classroom teaching. Focus on your passions,” it seemed like a no-brainer. The timing- a mere two days after I resigned- seemed to be a sign from the universe. And yet the thought of not starting another job and earning a set salary sent me to lie on the couch like a Queen of the Commonwealth suffering from heat exhaustion during her visit to the colonies.

But my salary – while necessary and enjoyable- had simply ceased to bring me the pleasure it once did. Even in my notice period, I felt anxious about my job which had turned from a slightly disorganised yet relaxed environment to a toxic and pressure filled one. Truthfully, I had been making the best out of a bad situation for a few years… let’s just say I have whole post coming soon about why I feel relieved about leaving teaching in the Middle East behind me.

But why leave a comfortable life in a bustling city?

Polar was working long hours during the week and then off he went to work on weekends. No matter how much someone may love or enjoy their job, they need a break from it. Phone calls would happen at 10pm or even better, 6am. There was no peace. We were lying in bed each evening, anxious about going to work the next day… and for what? To get rid off debt? To pay our bills? I didn’t want to live from weekend to weekend counting off days until I went on holiday. I wanted to grow- professionally & emotionally instead of just earning a paycheque. And that’s when I realised that my life here was not doing that for me. I was stagnant. Something had to change and this opportunity- especially its timing- seemed to be the first step in us making a change. Believe me I have NEVER believed the hype of leaving a full time job to go travel the world or whatever people with privileged passports do. I couldn’t understand why someone would give up a steady income- until now.

ANOTHER Middle Eastern country?

While Polar entertained offers for 6 months, even doing interviews from the rooftops of Brazilian hotels while we were on our annual holiday, I knew he would only come to me with something he thought was worthwhile. So when he came to me with another gulf country, my first instinct was ‘Not this again’. It would be my third Middle Eastern country. But the more I thought about it, the more I saw the benefit in this too; a new country yes but- I would not be totally unfamiliar with local culture and customs. It would be my last destination in the Gulf before we eased our way out of the region.

Here’s the thing about expat life- eveytime you say ‘Yes’ to something, its not because you’re sure or have everything figured out. 90% of long term expats don’t have all the answers or all the facts when they say ‘yes’ to decisions.

More likely you are saying yes because you want to try; you know you could fail but you also know if you don’t try- then you would’ve failed already.

Despite my trepidation, I said yes and now I am moving to Qatar. Saying yes when he asked me to marry him was less stressful!! I don’t know what my life will be like without a full time job, I don’t know what it will be like to move to a country but have all the paperwork and procedures handled by someone else and I don’t know if we will find the growth that we both crave.

But I do know that I will regret it if we don’t open ourselves up to a new adventure.

So what will you do Panda?

I am making a transition into online teaching- working the hours that I can spare and finally continuing with my studies which I couldn’t focus on during my current job. The transition to flexible hours and location independence excites me and is exactly what I need after the trauma I have experienced while teaching full time in the last decade. I am excited to work from home, to go to the bathroom whenever I want, to plan my own schedule and not to be surrounded by other people’s children. Yes these are the things teachers crave. To not have to ask for permission when I want to go to the bank for 20 minutes, to not have useless meetings that could be condensed into emails, to not have things sprung on me at the last minute.

I dream of eating my lunch in an environment not fraught with screaming children.

The U.A.E. has offered me so many amazing things during my time here… however I know I need to leave before I become jaded & start to hate it all. Anyone who moves here knows that this is not a forever destination- time in the gulf is always transient; a place to enjoy life and plan ahead. Its time for my chapter in this particular country to come to a close. My heart is full with the life-changing experiences I have had and the memories I have made during my short time in this country are more interesting than what some people experience in their entire lives. Its been a blessing and a privilege to call the United Arab Emirates home for the last few years and anyone who lives or has lived here is inclined to agree with me!

I will be more forthcoming about the reasons I felt pushed to resign in a future post and will discuss my departure (and associated emotions) on my Instagram. If you found me during my time in the United Arab Emirates, I hope we can continue to be virtual friends during my next chapter!


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  • Chlohemian January 3, 2020 at 1:53 pm

    Hey Panda, always remember you are brave and strong and powerful whether or not anyone tells you, whether you feel you need to hear it or not. I am also a serial expat and now location-independent self-employed (and happily former teacher) for a year. These transitions can be difficult, not to mention pairing it with a move, but the way you are able to reflect and write such a beautiful and honest account of your feelings is a testament to how brave and strong you are taking this next step. It’s going to be great. Best of luck and can’t wait to continue following your journey!

    • expatpanda January 3, 2020 at 3:22 pm

      As you’ve read it’s been challenging for me up to this point and I’m nervous but also excited for a career shift (not really a career change). Thank you for your words of encouragement, I really need them and it gives me hope to know that you went through something similar. I appreciate your comment more than you know and thank you for reading my posts 💚💚💚

  • phillygirl77 January 3, 2020 at 2:16 pm

    Come on over to my side of the Gulf. Hey at least you know me!! I knew we’d meet eventually. T

    • expatpanda January 3, 2020 at 3:21 pm

      Yassss girl I AM COMING TO MEET YOU 😁

  • inno_landscapes January 3, 2020 at 11:38 pm

    Best of luck and hats off to you for placing your needs and emotional well-being first! I’ll certainly be following your new adventure

    • expatpanda January 8, 2020 at 12:18 pm

      Thank you so much! Do stay tuned, I am looking forward to sharing more about my move and new start!

  • josypheen January 4, 2020 at 1:21 am

    Best of luck for your next adventure Panda!

    I am sure you and Polar will have a blast in Qatar. My last move was to follow my husband, so I know what you mean about it being really scary to move without a plan or work lined up. (eep) Still, it sounds like if you don’t love it, you can always move on to the next adventure together, as a team!

    • expatpanda January 8, 2020 at 12:19 pm

      Thanks for saying that and sharing your experience! Its scary but sometimes we have to face our fears in order to make changes that are better for us in the long term!

  • Rochelle | Adventuresfromelle January 4, 2020 at 12:21 pm

    Best of luck to you both with your move and adjusting to life in a new country! 🙂 It’s interesting the places and adventures life take us on.

    • expatpanda January 8, 2020 at 12:19 pm

      Thanks so much Rochelle! It really is an ever-evolving journey!

  • Zoya Kubra January 4, 2020 at 12:22 pm

    Ahhh you’re moving to Qatar! Welcome and I hope you have a better experience out here! 🙂

    • expatpanda January 8, 2020 at 12:19 pm

      Thanks so much Zoya, I am really keen for a fresh start.

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