I’ve been living in Dubai for well over six months. It still sounds crazy to me, like it’s a life that belongs to somebody else.
I thought I’d give you a bit of insight into the ups and downs of the first six months of expat life in the desert.
Preparing to move to Dubai
Moving here was a drawn out process. I ummed and ahhed for weeks but in my heart I knew I had to go. I knew that if I didn’t say yes to adventure, I’d always look back and wonder what could have been. But it didn’t really feel real, you know? It didn’t feel like I’d actually have to get on that plane. And then there was a phone call and I cried on the street in Newcastle city centre. Suddenly I had a few days to pack and say my goodbyes. I was nervous and excited and there were moments when I just wanted to stay at home with my boyfriend and the cat, safe in my bubble and comfortable with the fact that this was my life.
But let’s face it, if you can’t take a chance now, while you’re young and before kids and mortgages and whatever else keeps us slaving away with tunnel vision after 5pm in dim offices across the UK… when can you?
So off I went. I may have had a mild panic attack at the airport and drank 649 gins on the plane, but I got there. I checked in to my hotel in Deira and I turned up at the most intimidating corporate office I’d ever found myself in the next day.
Getting through the first few weeks in a new country
The first few weeks in Dubai were just muddling along. Luckily, my job sorted out all of the official bits – I’m not sure I’d ever have got my visa had I been left to do it myself.
I’m proud that I managed my anxiety about moving to a foreign country alone in those early days. I ate weird food in Deira, explored ‘Old Dubai‘ (lol never going there again) and got lost looking for apartments because the dodgy landlords wouldn’t tell me exactly where to go. I went to the beach after work every day because I wasn’t really sure what else I should be doing and didn’t know anybody who could tell me. Eventually, I found a room in an only slightly less dodgy apartment with an intriguing (read: psychotic) mix of flatmates from every corner of the globe.
And then I realised that I actually live here.
There were only a few tears while I got to grips with being in the Middle East alone – mainly because there was nobody to pick me up if I did freak out. Frustrated tears when I couldn’t find my own front door, frightened tears the night I lost my handbag with all of my belongings and realised there wasn’t anyone to call (shout out to the lovely local couple who gave the distraught girl in the inappropriate dress 100 AED to get home. I owe you big time.)
There’s something very disconcerting about existing in a foreign country where everything is like, same same but different, and you only have yourself. Just you. On your own. I think the day that realisation truly hit me is the day I realised that I’d signed up for something that had transformed my life and would continue to do so in ways I had no control over. There’s nothing that can prepare you for that when you get a job offer while you’re sat in your winter layers at home.
But I was doing it. I was living in Dubai! I’d made some friends and I had this big fancy job that made people’s eyes light up and reappraise me when I told them. I went to brunch with interesting people and actually socialised on school nights and most importantly, I HAD A TAN. Life was good. It was all a big adventure and yeah I missed my loved ones but look at me, living life. Being successful. Doing it ALONE. The girl who at one time couldn’t read a bus timetable had moved to the Middle East for the craic and had actually pulled it off.
And then it was Ramadan.
And then I paid a visit back to the UK and had to come back.
And then it was summer.
I know everybody warns you about the heat in Dubai, but have you actually ever tried to walk to the taxi rank with a hairdryer aimed at your entire body on full whack? Have you ever walked to the shop only the shop was in an oven? Have you ever tried to swim through soup?
It’s inescapable, and relentless. During Dubai’s summer, the beach bars are vacant and the outdoor seating at restaurants is just a cruel joke. Showers become a four times a day ritual, and makeup and hair is a pointless exercise. I had moved to a city that had basically risen from the desert sand, and the fact I couldn’t last five minutes outside slapped me in the face like a red hot iron.
When you’re stuck indoors and you don’t have your people, like the people who love you no matter what and have to put up with you because you’re all stuck together and that’s the way it is… it’s hard. I miss my loved ones so much it hurts. Every time I make a friend, they moved on to the next adventure. It’s just the risk you take when you’re an expat in a place like Dubai, when nobody is in it for the long haul.
It doesn’t matter where you are, if you aren’t keeping yourself busy and indulging in those fancy schmancy brunches and Ladies Nights, the constant reminders of why you came; you question what you’re doing here. At times being abroad alone feels like some kind of weird self-prescribed punishment that I have to endure as a symptom of my wretched wanderlust.
The place that had become my ‘usual’ weekend lunch spot changed the rules and I could no longer have three different types of salad. I cried all weekend. That’s not a bad analogy, it actually happened.
I’ve woken myself up in the middle of the night in alarm, and couldn’t figure out why. Then the understanding hit me – it’s because I’m alone here. Nobody’s keeping watch. I have to watch out for myself. Like I could literally die in my sleep and nobody would find me until the landlord came for the rent because there’s nobody else here who’d care.
It’s a dire thought, but it’s the truth.
It’s not one big party, but the big parties are definitely worth doing it for.
Don’t let my negativity fool you – at times, it’s unbelievable. My days are filled with moments where I pause and think, as if this is my life now. Sometimes I have to scroll through Facebook to remind myself what I’m missing (the other kind of bad weather, boring jobs and British ‘clubs’) to appreciate what I have at my disposal in Dubai.
I’ve watched the sun go down at beach bars, sipped champagne for free in the world’s most exclusive postcode, brunched at five star restaurants and spent entire weekends lazing by the pool. When I go out with my work friends, we look like a meeting of the United Nations. I’ve travelled to Budapest and Vienna and Hong Kong and Rome. I’ve played Flip Cup at a villa with the Burj Al Arab towering over us and I’ve made steps in my career that are unrivalled by anything I could have done back in UK. I’m working for the world’s best airline and I couldn’t be happier about it.
I still reflexively convert every price tag into British pounds but slowly, I’m adjusting to life in Dubai. The working week flies and it helps to always have a weekend plan in place; be it an overseas jaunt with my staff tickets or an extravagant brunch with almost-strangers. I’ve just had visitors, which was great because it gave me something to look forward to and let me live like a tourist again.
I don’t think Dubai will ever feel like home, but then neither does my real ‘home’ in Isle of Man. It might have its lonely moments, but I’m glad I came, and one thing is for sure: now that I’ve done this, I feel capable of anything.
Just don’t ask me to drive on Sheikh Zayed Road.
If you’re a female expat in Dubai, join my Facebook group, Dubai Social Ladies. We organise meet-ups, share tips and help each other out. We’d love to have you!
Follow While I’m Young and Skinny on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to learn more about expat life in Dubai and my adventures around the globe. I’m working on an ultimate guide to life in Dubai so please comment or get in touch on social media if there’s anything specific you’d like me to cover!