29 December 2012


My husband flew from Singapore five days after I made my trip. He also got stuck in Dubai for 24 hours after missing his connection, but he chose to spend his day a bit differently than I did. While I chose to experience the culture, the food and the environment in the time that I had, focusing, of course, on fun and education, Paul decided to experience Dubai as a potential expat resident.

He made a new friend, a friend of Tim’s who drove Paul around the city. When Paul met this new friend he said, “I want to know what it’s like to live here.” Where did Paul go? He went to two malls, the Dubai Mall that I visited and the Mall of the Emirates, which hosts an indoor ski slope. Paul went to Carrefour, the closest thing to a Target that we had in Singapore until they pulled their stores and vacated the country. He went to a furniture store to see what products were offered. He comparison shopped. He wanted to know just how much groceries and household items would cost. He wanted to know how much vehicles and fuel for the vehicles would cost. He determined that, with the exception of fuel, prices were still more expensive than U.S. prices but lower than Singaporean rates.

When we finally met in Pittsburgh, Paul could not stop talking about Dubai. He might want to move there. And, while I may not mean that he is actively seeking employment in a city where only 5 percent of the population is native Emirati, he would be absolutely in favor of moving there if a suitable position would be offered.

The biggest kick I got was how enthusiastic he was about wearing a kandura, the long, white linen garments Middle Eastern men commonly wear. “How awesome would that be?” he exclaimed. “Dubai has so much foreign influence that they are not required, but imagine having one outfit for every occasion. I wake up, the outfit is there. No thinking. Have a business meeting at work? Wear the kandura! Going to a wedding? Wear a kandura! Hanging around the house? Wear a kandura! It would be awesome.”

I may not share his enthusiasm but I am sure I would be fine living in Dubai, one of the most liberal and most Western Middle Eastern countries. Paul was especially surprised at how well people in Dubai speak English. “It’s because it’s the only common language around here,” advised Tim when he was driving me around town. “There are so many native languages that everyone has to use English to clearly communicate."

I suppose we both have the expat bug. We have greatly enjoyed our experience in Singapore and look forward to the time we are able to spend there, also excited for any other opportunities that may come our way in decades to come. I think I would be O.K. living in France, Italy, Spain, Chile, Canada, America, Australia, New Zealand and probably some other places. Paul’s brother and his brother’s girlfriend are considering working abroad, but Jamienne, the girlfriend, has her eye on places I would never consider going.

Jamienne spent some time living in Colombia, and she is currently considering opportunities to work in Saudi Arabia, where she would likely be required to live on a compound guarded by armed military men. She would likely be required to cover her entire body and be escorted by a man any time she leaves the compound. Those things I could not do, but I fully support her desire to go, and I look forward to seeing where she resides in 2014.

Living abroad is something I would encourage anyone to do. I have gained so much perspective, seen what life is like in eight countries (again, two years ago I had never been out of America) and I have seen how vastly different governments operate. I understand how important culture is, what it means to accept others and how cultures blend and oppose. Traveling somewhere for two weeks on vacation is not the same as experiencing life as a local for a period of six months or more.

I know that we are blessed to have this lifestyle, but I wonder if learning more has made me forget some other valuable information in order to make room for the more relevant. Being back in America made me realize exactly what I didn’t remember after being abroad for a year. 

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