ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN DECEMBER 2013 ON EXPAT BLOGS WEBSITE
Hello, and thank you for being kind enough to read my entry for the 2013 Expat Blog Awards. My name is Peter Chambers, and in August 2013 my family and I moved from the UK to begin a new life in Abu Dhabi, following my appointment to a senior role with a mid tier accountancy firm in the Emirate.
So what are my reflections four months in? Has it been what I expected? What have I missed? And would I change anything? I answer these questions below in the form of six reflections which I hope will be of interest to anyone about to make a similar move.
Reflection 1: The job won't be what you were expecting
Starting with work, because that is what brought me here. It is fair to say that the role hasn't turned out to be what I was expecting. And from speaking to people, this is not untypical.
The difference is in a good way, because my role has rapidly expanded from focusing on the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, to covering the whole of the UAE for the healthcare and education sectors. Given that these are the two sectors that the UAE Cabinet has just been deliberating during its retreat on Sir Bani Yas Island, they feel like good areas to be focusing on in the years to come.
A year ago I spent all my time working with public sector clients. It couldn't be more different here. On day one I was being taught about virtual oil fields, on day two I was immersed in financial services, and the variety has continued unabated; yesterday I was discussing the security industry, and today I am attending an auditors' forum at the UAE Central Bank.
So, come with an open mind about what your job is going to be like, and you won't be disappointed.
Reflection 2: Remember your Stetson
Of course work isn't without its frustrations, and I know for a fact this is true for almost every expat I have spoken to. I blogged last week about the "interesting" approach to the procurement of professional services I am experiencing. But I have rapidly understood the need to take it all in my stride (insh'allah), and do my best to influence things in the right direction little by little. Before I came out someone described the Abu Dhabi market to me as the "wild west of the business world". I completely get this description now, so I have donned my metaphorical stetson and am out there panning for gold. I suggest you do the same.
Reflection 3: Take the opportunities and prepare yourself for many "is this a dream?" moments
How about out of work? I've had many surreal moments, where I've suddenly stopped and thought, "am I really here?". It still happens when I drive to Dubai and first catch sight of the Burj Khalifa, even though I've seen it many times now, and most mornings I still get it as I glance across to the Grand Mosque as I drive across Sheikh Zayed Bridge.
Having moved from the Northwest of England to a capital city, we've had opportunities (and grabbed them) to attend some great events as a family, and they too have caused "is this a dream" moments: watching (and hearing) the F1 cars arrive in front of the grandstand I was in for the first time; cheering Muse onto stage at the du Arena; as the Red Arrows arrived over the back of the stand and flew away over the expanse of desert at the Al Ain Aerobatics Show; and sat in a car park next to Sheikh Zayed road in Dubai, with Burj Khalifa towering above us, watching the Red Bull Car Park Drift competition. Of course there was lots to do back in the UK, but we have been more determined to get out and do these things now we are here.
Reflection 4: Get out of your rut
Please don't think I am being negative about our lives in the UK. We lived in a great house, had some wonderful friends (still do), and did some brilliant things as a family. Quite simply, we were happy, and we certainly never had a burning desire to uproot the family to move overseas (quite the opposite). But looking back, maybe the opportunity in Abu Dhabi was what we needed to get us enjoying life even more.
By way of illustration, lets look at how we spent our free time in the UK. I'm a self confessed numbers geek. I am known (indeed I suspect I am "laughed at" rather than "laughed with") for my very sophisticated household budget spreadsheet (copies available on request). But it's not just financial numbers that I like, it is any sort of data. I'm increasingly interested in the "quantified self" or "lifelogging" movement, something I will be blogging about in 2014.
How is this relevant to this blog post? Well at the start of 2013 I decided I would get involved in lifelogging, and started diligently recording data in a number of areas I was interested in understanding a little more about, including: alcohol consumption; exercise, and how I spent my free time.
We'll leave alcohol consumption and exercise for another day, but the free time data makes for interesting reading. In the six months that I recorded (January to June) we watched an average of 4.5 hours of television a day. I say watched, what I mean is we sat in front of the TV for 4.5 hours a day but we were probably playing on our iDevices, talking or sleeping, and every now and then one of us would look up and ask the other what was happening in whatever we were "watching". On their own Coronation Street and Eastenders took up four days in total during that period!
I haven't been recording the television we have watched here. I don't need to because I can count it up in my head - four episodes of The Choir and three episodes of Casualty, and one of Doctor Who for me. Our average has definitely come down. Yes, we still sit down most weekday evenings doing the same things as in the UK (without the TV on in the background), but we are much more likely to be out, or have people round, for at least one evening of the weekend, which is when we bumped our average up back in the UK.
A simple point, but I think it illustrates how things have changed.
Reflection 5: Of course it won't be perfect
So is it all as wonderful as I'm painting? Is there nothing I am missing? Of course there are things I miss. It goes without saying (but for the avoidance of doubt I'll say it anyway) that I miss family and friends. But I also miss some great people I worked with in the UK, being able to watch at first hand Burnley dominate (ok, maybe that is a little strong) the Championship, the countryside, being able to keep a stash of sweets and chocolates in my car without them melting instantaneously (although it actually means I have an excuse to scoff them down all at once, I never had that excuse in the UK but I still did it), and I've still not found a shop near the office that makes a half decent sandwich for lunch.
Reflection 6: But it will quite possibly be the best thing you'll ever do
But those minor things aside, would I honestly change anything? Do you know, I don't think I would. When I made the decision to move on from my previous employer I spoke to a lot of people to get advice. Two themes came through consistently. Firstly, "you will end up doing something you could never have imagined". Well, that one has come true. Secondly, "you will look back in two years and say it was the best thing that could have happened". Well, I'm only four months down the road of my new life and have to say that it is looking good that this one is going to be true as well.
So, to summarize my list of reflections:
1: The job won't be what you are expecting, so embrace whatever it turns out to be like
2: Remember your Stetson, you are coming to the Wild West, not the Middle East
3: Take the opportunities to enjoy your new life, and savor the many "is this a dream?" moments
4: Keep on doing number 3, and don't let yourself get into a rut
5: Accept that it won't be perfect every minute of every day
6: But rest assured, it will quite possibly be the best thing you ever do
Thanks for reading, and hope to see you over at my blog in 2014.- See more at: http://www.expatsblog.com/contests/891/welcome-to-the-wild-west#sthash.LXL6eC5J.dpuf
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