At Red Rock International, we’re focused on helping people to be productive and fulfilled at work. Through our international work, we’ve often seen how an expat’s effectiveness and happiness in work is closely connected with how well they can adapt to living in a new country. For many, it’s a deeply rewarding experience, but others fail to make the adjustment – with big implications for work and family. Through this post, our long-term expat team member, Rachel, shares some insights around making life work well as an expat – and we know your work will benefit from her ideas if you’re venturing into an expat posting.
There are many guides on the internet that can help with you the practicalities of a move to the Middle East, from understanding the dress code, to finding a place to live. These posts can be incredibly useful in preparing for your move and in those initial and often daunting first few months. But once those survival points have been taken care of, how do you continue to live and more importantly, how do you thrive in your new home and work?
Having lived in Bahrain, Oman and Qatar and having spoken to a number of my expat friends, I offer you the following tips:
1. It’s an adventure and not forever! Embrace this opportunity to step outside your comfort zone. My postings have been 4, 6 and 5 years respectively and they have flown by! Try to make time to experience your new surroundings. Visit different places both in your host country and the countries around it. The more you understand the culture and the country in which you are now living, the more settled you will feel. Whilst English is the language of business and commonly spoken, learning even a few words of Arabic is helpful and very much appreciated by the locals. It can also smooth your way in some situations! Simply knowing yamin and yasar (right and left) has stopped me from getting lost numerous times!
2. Maintain your previous relationships. Social media, email, Whatsapp and Zoom can all help you stay in touch. Your existing friends are the people who already know you and will be able to support you. My children still have friends from primary schools they attended in 2 different countries and they still meet up whenever possible. Yes, you will make new friends, but you don’t have to lose your old ones. The beauty of expat life is the sheer number and diversity of the people you are lucky to meet. They can also be excellent tour guides when you visit their home countries! We have visited friends in South Africa, Australia, Greece and Uganda: trips that have only happened because of friendships we have made in the Middle East.
3. Remain true to yourself. Whilst it is essential to be open-minded, don’t feel pressured to become somebody else. There are huge opportunities for personal growth. You will meet a huge range of people from many places. It is a fascinating and amazing opportunity to understand different cultures and expand your thinking. With so much going on it can be a lot to process and it can be good idea to remind yourself who you are in it all.
4. Be open to new things. This is a fantastic opportunity to try different foods, (Um Ali is an absolute must!) Take the time to understand and enjoy celebrations in different cultures, I love Diwali, Sinterklass and Burn’s Night, none of which I had celebrated before I left home. You can experience different ways of working or doing things. By taking time to appreciate these differences, you will feel more settled. A new location is a great opportunity to embrace new experiences that weren’t possible in your previous location. For me, that has been a change in career. Coming to Qatar gave me the opportunity to change my career from primary teaching to working for Red Rock, which has been an amazing experience.
5. Expats are friendly, they have all been in your situation, (new and a little lost) and most are in the same boat, (away from home and extended family). There are lots of social groups catering to different interests and people. Sports, arts and work-related groups abound. These are great places to meet people and make new friends. I joined a book club and made a new friend who has been a huge source of support in the last year. Expats are not your only friendship source, local friends can also bring a richness to your life. Local friends can also help you to understand their culture and this understanding can help you to feel more settled. We were lucky to have a wonderful Omani landlord who would come and drink coffee with us and share his perspective on his country. He also gave us great tips on places to visit, including the tiny island of Masierah where he had spent his childhood!
6. Life in your new location will be different. Don’t try and replicate home. Some things will be harder or not so good but lots of things will be better. It is easy to arrive with misconceptions, try to be open minded to everything you experience. Patience, a smile and a sense of humour are essential!