My name is Cheryl Esteban, I was born and raised in the Philippines. I moved to Abu Dhabi in 2005. I am currently working as a bank Customer Service Associate.
I decided to find a job overseas because back then I felt that my life had become one boring routine. I needed a change of environment and thought that if I get a job abroad not only will I get a considerable increase in salary, I would also have the opportunity to travel, meet new people, experience new things and live independently.
My story of moving from one demographic to another can be considered epic – well maybe not, I’m just being overly dramatic. Depending on what you believe in it can be a story of luck and coincidences or of destiny and fate.Consider this: One Sunday morning back in January 2005, as I lay in bed contemplating on my resolve to start looking for a job overseas, my thoughts were disrupted when I heard my mom take our regular newspaper subscription, after a split second decision I jumped out of bed to get the other paper noted for its thick classified ads section.
I perused the classifieds and saw one by a manpower agency that deploys people to the Middle East looking for a banker with three to five years experience, not over age 27, etc etc. I was reading it with my mom and she said “that is you!!” It was the ONE time the agency placed an add in the papers, I almost missed that window of opportunity had we taken on our normal Sunday paper.
I went thru the process of application and preliminary interviews but it wasn’t until after almost 6 months that I finally received a call saying I am one of the shortlisted candidates.
During the final interview with officers from prospective employers, my nervousness vanished when one of the three interviewers smiled at me and said I looked like his daughter. The ice was broken and I was able to answer their questions with renewed confidence! a lot of people say I look like someone they know – this is the one time I actually appreciated hearing that.
After signing the offer letter (on the very same day of the interview) comes the hardest part – documentation. We were given approximately a month to have all our documents attested and authenticated by various government agencies, and since I was still employed that means a lot of absences from work. It was not an easy month which included long hours of commute, standing in line at government offices and getting reprimanded by my manager until I am reduced to a shaking, teary mess but thankfully everything worked out fine in the end…
Up to the day of our flight I didn’t feel any apprehension about living in a foreign country, I did not even feel sentimental that I would be leaving my family behind and might not even see and be with them for a couple of years – I only remember feeling a great big sense of adventure. I wasn’t until the plane took off that a wave of emotions came over me and I cried.
What challenges did you face during the move?
The biggest challenge for us was to overcome our homesickness, coming from a close knit Filipino family it is typical for us to live with our parents and/or extended family until we get married and sometimes even after that so not being able to be with them everyday can be taxing. It was a good thing that I came with a big group of people, (under the same agency and hired by the same employer) we became each other’s support group as we tried to settle in our new lives as an expat.
How did you find somewhere to live?
We were provided a 15 day 4 star hotel accommodation by the company when we arrived in Abu Dhabi; it was funny because we felt very much like tourists living on the lap of luxury as opposed to middle class working employees. When those 15 days are almost we started to look for flat/ rooms to share. We went thru the very tiring process of browsing through classified ads, checking the place and haggling for rent prices. When we had moved to smaller rooms – a far cry from the luxurious hotel suite, and had to get furniture and stuff with our limited budget, we joked that it was then that the reality of expat life had begun.
What is your relationship like with the locals?
Most of the locals are friendly and I am quite happy that they acknowledge Filipino employees to be loyal and hardworking.
Are there many expats in your area?
I interact mostly with fellow Filipino expats but also have a circle of friends of various nationalities. It was easy for me to meet new people and make friends because of work. Outside of work I met new people by joining clubs and participating in social and civic events.
What do you like about life where you are?
What I like about living in Abu Dhabi is the simplicity of life. Actually life in Abu Dhabi can suit anybody’s lifestyle. Depending on your means or choice it can be as simple or as extravagant as you want.
What I like about the place is that there are a lot of things to do whether you have a lot of cash to spend or not.
– There are various mall and hotels that offer a lot of options for dining, shopping and recreation. There are no shortages too of licensed hotel bars that offer alcoholic beverages.
– Beaches and Parks that are easily accessible and are open to the public with minimal or no cost at all.
– There are various social and civic organizations of different interest one can join.
– There are also a lot of places of interest (touristy spots if you will) to visit like the Grand mosque, Heritage village, Ferrari World and Emirates palace
– There is a variety of recreational and fitness classes being offered
– Abu Dhabi is also host to various concerts and sporting events
I used to think that this is a boring place, that ‘having a life’ out of work can be expensive, but I found out that you just have to be resourceful, there a lot of free magazines and websites that lists upcoming events you can choose from. From my point of view and experience life is good.
What do you dislike about your expat life?
There isn’t really anything that I dislike but the one negative thing that I have experienced is that being Filipino, people tend to discriminate and stereotype us. Even my colleagues admitted that they never knew there are Filipino professionals – only maids, fast food workers and laborers. I have always thought that the biggest responsibility for a Filipino expat is to change people’s negative perception of us.
What is the biggest cultural difference you have experienced between your new country and life back home?
Aside from the UAE being a much more conservative country than the Philippines, I would have to say that the work culture is of notable difference, it is not as stern as back home – here we could call our bosses by their first name and assert our opinion sometimes even aggressively without them taking it as an insult or it being disrespectful and at the end of the day we share a smile and are back to a cheerful atmosphere.
How does shopping (for food/clothes/household items etc.) differ compared to back home?
Back home branded items and the latest gadgets are very expensive, you have to save at least three months of your salary to be able to afford what you want. Here in the UAE everything is more affordable, if you know how to handle your finances well that Loius Vuitton bag or latest smart phone can be yours in no time.
As for basic necessities – prices are relatively cheaper and there are a variety of choices/ brands to choose from to fit your budget. Supermarkets and grocery stores can be found in almost every corner with specialty shops carrying exotic food items in between.
Shopping here is not just done out of necessity but is a way of life.
What do you think of the food in your new country? What are your particular likes or dislikes?
I’m a real foodie and I love trying out different cuisines and in Abu Dhabi there are no shortages of dining options, I have even tried to replicate some dishes at home. I love everything – from spicy Indian food to Arabic grills and flat breads to camel milk!
What advice would you give to anyone following in your footsteps?
Aside from making sure that they are not being shortchanged in terms of their total compensation package, I would advise them to just enjoy all what your host country can offer, explore it and get to know it – make living abroad an adventure!