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Young and Foolish

I’m Young and Foolish – A British expat.

After working on short contracts in Europe in the early 00´s we decided to look for opportunities to live and work abroad. I took a Contract in Saudi Arabia, but unfortunately the security situation rapidly worsened and I did the first year out there alone. My family joined me for a short while when the situation calmed down somewhat before moving onto another contract in Abu Dhabi, in the UAE.What challenges did you face during the move?

Both practical and cultural ones. Working on a contracted, self employed basis, there was no support from agents, or company P/ GRO´s to get the logistics taken care of. I was lucky knowing people in the city and they were able to help us with basics like directions to the utility and government offices etc. Forums (like EF) were also invaluable during that time.

Culturally, we also had it all to learn again. Believing (as I did) that living and working in one Middle Eastern country prepares you for another one was a trap I certainly fell into. There was also a distinct difference between my experiences working with a very high proportion of local nationals and my family who met very few. We did however make a conscious choice to live “in town” with local neighbours etc rather than going for a stereotypical Expat compound and I’m glad we did

Can you tell us something about your property? (e.g. how did you find the property? what was the buying/renting process like? are you looking to move again? etc.)

We live in a rented family apartment on the corniche. There was nothing for sale to expats when we arrived so we had to rent. Luckily we pay a rate pretty close to the 2005 price as we couldn’t afford today’s rents for similar property.

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What is the property market like at the moment?

Some would say it burst, but others would say that some reality has returned. The first expat purchased villas and apartments are coming on line in Abu Dhabi as we speak, so we will see how the market stabilises when the supply and demand balances out. Certainly a lot of people flipped properties off plan before the financial crisis, But I fear that those left holding the over priced property now are going to struggle for the next couple of years as more and more new property is completed and hits the market.

Are you employed or self-employed? What challenges did you face in either finding employment or running your own business?

Self employed – The region certainly has its own rules to be followed for employment. For one, the idea of transferable skills between industries, common in the west is quite unpopular here. Also the importance of formal qualifications is held very high, often above specialist experience. I went back to do a masters degree to carry on working in the region as many employers were insisting in it, regardless of track record or experience etc.

Are there many other expats in your area?

Yes, but declining I would say. Government employers have pushed their localization targets in the last 5 years and many expats have now been replaced by locals.

What is your relationship like with the locals?

Good. One of the highlights of living in the country is slowly learning how another culture operates. I wouldn’t say I have any close friends amongst the local population, but we are certainly included in most respects.

What do you like about life where you are?

Mostly the pace of life. We have considerably more family time in the UAE than we ever achieved in the equivalent UK roles and with that time are opportunities to do different things in this country than in Europe. I learned to Scuba dive in the warm waters and drive in the desert etc and we are keen to enjoy those things while we are here.

What do you dislike about your expat life?

The working culture can be stressful for expats who are used to faster paced business practices. People say “How can a slower, more laid back culture be more stressful than a high pressure high pace one?” But those people have never tried to run a project here!

What advice would you give to anyone following in your footsteps?

Good people can fail – professionally and on a personal level. Professionally, some people come out with a reputation and track record of being very effective, but occasionally some of the their practices are simply not transferable, and a whole new set of skills and approaches has to be learned and adopted to become effective again in a new environment. That can be tough, especially if it’s worked for your for 30+ years else where.

Personally – you have to be prepared to get involved in things that might not always “float your boat!” to just meet people and identify a group of friends that you actually get along with!! Sometimes the activity or event is less important than the excuse to meet and socialize. Never turn down an initiation to do anything from anyone in the first 12 months!

In terms of advice, it’s a case of slow the pace down and don’t fight it! Some of the things that might irritate you initially can eventually be used to your advantage when you learn to live within the culture a little! When you are asked to do something you don’t want to, don’t get into an argument, and simply say, Ah, yes, perhaps tomorrow enschala and smile, because it works both ways!

What are your plans for the future?

With good luck and employment, we’d like to do 2 more years in Abu Dhabi, then the family will head back to the UK for A levels and post graduate studies respectively. Then we’re looking forward to the next chapter of our lives as expats…Hopefully, The Far East…Enschala.

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