This week I’m excited to share another post in the Expat Wisdom series with you! If you’re familiar with my site, you’ll know that each month I share the story of a fellow expat and get them to share a little for their ‘expat wisdom’ with this community. It’s like having a small advice-sharing family online.
This month’s contributor is Rachael Lynn, a fellow expat living in Dubai who has previously lived in NYC and Toronto. She just released her very own book, At Home Anywhere, which I’m looking forward to reading soon! If you enjoy this post (which I certainly did) you should grab a copy of her book.
Having been an expat for over five years now, I still find it interesting to read other people’s advice and reflect on how it could have changed my experiences. There are some great tidbits of advice in Rachael’s post, that I will use the next time I move. I hope you enjoy the post!
What I wish I knew before I moved.
When I moved to Dubai in 2018, I knew it’d be an adjustment. But for some reason, I figured I’d be alright because I’d moved before – to New York City and then Toronto, Canada after living a digital nomad lifestyle for a while. In my mind, it would be no big deal!
But this move? It was different. I was newly married (literally had been married for two weeks) and it was also the first time in 15 years I wouldn’t be working, at least until I got settled in. I had no idea how much I had found my value and my identity in being a single, independent woman – and now I was almost completely dependant on my husband.
Why did I decide not to work? Well, in North America I was a freelancer and had wrapped up all of my client work in order to take a couple months to move and settle in. Starting up a business in Dubai requires many steps, and I knew I wanted to be clear that I was going to take on the exact same kind of work before I invested money into a new license here.
So, for the first time – I found myself with an open schedule in a place where I hadn’t made friends yet and my husband spent much of his time at work.
For me, the culture shock of living in Dubai hadn’t felt all that difficult. Likely, because most of the population here are expats – I am not required to learn Arabic to get by for literally any piece of my life, for example.
No – the adjustments have been more emotional than anything. And little did I know those trying emotional times would lead me on an entirely different path when it came to how I valued myself, and the type of business I created in the world.
During times of transition, it’s so important that we give ourselves room to be wrong about what we expect of ourselves and how we planned for things to go. It is in that space that we allow the universe to show us opportunities we wouldn’t have thought of before.
Of course, looking back everything has worked out exactly perfect, but I have to laugh at how cute the younger version of myself was in thinking that we had it all figured out.
Here’s what I would have told this younger version of myself before I moved:
1. Take your time.
Literally, give yourself way more time than you think you’ll need to “feel like yourself” when you get there and settle in. I know you want to rush and have things go back to “normal life”, but in truth, the life you were familiar with is over. It’s evolving now. It is okay to feel awkward, to get things wrong, and to be really grateful one minute and frustrated the next.
2. Try not to blame all your frustrations on being an expat.
Sure there are annoyances or frustrations with technicalities of our new homes – paperwork, language barriers, or finding ingredients you need at a market!
But everyone is figuring out life, trying to do their best. This is true whether you’re an expat or a local. One of the most telling moments in my move was when I attended an event for expats and there happened to be a local Emirati woman there. She came up to me afterwards and said “You know, we are feeling all of these same things I heard ladies today talk about. We have struggles just like expats do and I hope one day people can understand that it’s not just you.”
This really stuck with me. I think sometimes as soon as we plop that Expat label on ourselves we begin to think that we are having extra “special” struggles. But try not to think of this experience you get to have this way. I was reminded that everyone has their own journey and struggle and my feelings of loneliness and missing family and friends was not unusual, it was just my version.
3. Establish a routine to connect with yourself – and find support when you need it.
When I first moved I definitely let structure go out the window. Which is okay for a while – It’s exciting, you’re settling in, exploring new places to eat, where to shop, maybe how to meet people.
When I first arrived, my husband and I were eating out a lot, I was sleeping at odd hours, watching a lot of Netflix, and generally had little motivation to maintain my journaling practices or move my body.
Basically, I started feeling depressed and didn’t realize it until I was in the middle of it, and once I started almost forcing myself to take care of myself, I began to feel better.
Looking back, I would remind myself to do at least these two things: Drink more water and say a prayer or meditate daily. Even one extra glass and 60-seconds of intentional breathing. Small moments of showing dedication and care for ourselves really makes a difference.
I hadn’t quite learned the importance of consistency with this, or the importance of being easy on myself if I had a bad day and I could simply start over the next day.
No matter how long you’ve lived somewhere or how far you moved away, transitions have their up and down moments. My word for 2019 was “Grace” – because I knew big changes, from marriage to moving and living in general, would require a lot of second chances and kindness towards myself.
Truthfully, all of life will forever require giving ourselves grace. It’s the only way to return to the beauty of this place we now call home – no matter how long it will be.
I hope you enjoyed reading Rachaels post! As always, if you would like to be the next contributor for Expat Wisdom, don’t hesitate to reach out to me!
See you next week,