9bdf2a94b5eda210VgnVCM100000e56411acRCRDapproved/thenational/Articles/Migration/2010-09Memories and new goals for expats leaving the UAE8bdf2a94b5eda210VgnVCM100000e56411ac____Memories and new goals for expats leaving the UAE<i>M</i> talks to expats about their UAE experiences, including those who are going home and those who have made it their permanent home.<p>Rumour has it that when Sheikh Zayed was planning Abu Dhabi, he would often ask himself: 'Why can't we make this place a kind of paradise?' For some of the hundreds of thousands of expatriates who have lived in the UAE, be it for three years or for 30, it has become at least something close to that.
A YouGov survey commissioned by <i>The National</i> in March found that nine out of 10 people polled said they were happy here. Most white-collar workers who move here enjoy a quality of life that would be difficult to achieve elsewhere. They have maids and drivers - washing and ironing becomes a thing of the past. Spoilt by gorgeous weekend breaks at luxury hotels, they don't even have to paint their own fingernails. So where can they possibly go from here? <i>Helena Frith Powell</i> talks to four expats about their reasons for leaving the UAE, two others who have made it their permanent home about why they are staying put, and a family who has returned home about what that experience has been like.
Michaela Lyall is a nursery school teacher who has lived in Abu Dhabi for three years and before that, Al Ain for one more. She is moving to a village close to Pau in south-western France with her three daughters, Amber, Zoe and Sophia.</p>
<p>"I have mixed feelings about leaving Abu Dhabi, but I do feel I owe it to the girls. We left England when Amber and Zoe were only six and three. They are now 16 and 13. Sophia is five. Even though we left so many years ago, they still regard Europe as home. Moving to England would be ideal for them but France is the next best thing. The girls are longing to be able to spend more time with cousins, grandparents and friends with whom they've kept in touch over the years. I feel strongly that they deserve this opportunity to strengthen these relationships, in some cases before it's too late.</p>
<p>"We are moving to France rather than the UK for many reasons, one practical factor being that we have a house there. During previous summer holidays we have worked closely with friends in France and musicians to run mini music festivals in our region. This is something we shall continue to do and indeed this autumn we are hosting a young pianists festival from September to December. My husband Jonathan is director of performances at the British School Al Khubairat here in Abu Dhabi. He will stay here for the time being, joining us for holidays.</p>
<p>"I have enjoyed my time in Abu Dhabi. I have made some wonderful friends, all of whom I will certainly miss. I shall also miss the amazing events now happening here, like the Abu Dhabi Classics, the Adach series and the host of fabulous events springing up throughout the year. Things have really changed since we first arrived in Al Ain in 2007 from Bangkok. I remember wondering how on Earth we would survive. We took a trip up to Abu Dhabi very early on to buy some furniture from Ikea for our villa. The familiarity of the store provided great comfort to us when everything around us seemed so very foreign. Since then we have become accustomed to the landscape and the culture. Now we enjoy a hectic life here in Abu Dhabi, which is rich in cultural events and opportunities for all the family.</p>
<p>Of course there are things I am looking forward to enormously: I like French food and going for long walks in the mountains, skiing in winter and watching the seasons change. I am looking forward to seeing the girls adapt to their new environment and make new friends. They will be attending a boarding school in Pau, coming home at weekends, and therefore I believe their French should accelerate far more quickly and successfully than mine. They love France. I think we will all start to feel more settled once we are there.</p>
<p>"Everywhere else we have lived, like Bangkok or Santiago, has been fairly transitory. This time we are moving for good, I suppose it is as close to going home as we will ever do. In fact, rural France is probably more like the England we left behind than England itself is nowadays.
Richard Morley is a tennis coach from England. He has lived in Abu Dhabi for 12 years and is going back home with his wife Julie and their son Billy.</p>
<p>"We are going back to England; my wife Julie is from Nottinghamshire and I'm from Derbyshire. I am a tennis coach and there is a lot of tennis in Nottingham so I think we will end up there. Also, I want to be able to walk to the Nottingham Forest football ground with Billy.
"I first came to Abu Dhabi 12 years ago. Before that I was in Oman for a year and I was heading home when I stopped off here to see a friend who is a tennis coach. I thought I would come and see another side of the Middle East before I left the region. When I got back to England someone from The Club called to offer me a job as a tennis coach there. I thought I would stay for a year but one year just became another and then another.</p>
<p>"Added to this, I had a cat that I didn't want to leave behind. I found him on my tennis court looking the worse for wear and some clients took him to be cleaned up. When they went on holiday they left him with me saying they would take him to Feline Friends when they got back. So I spent a week or so with him, named him Tash and then couldn't let him go because, to be honest, he was not the best looking of cats and I don't think he would have been adopted by anyone. We had him for 10 years.</p>
<p>"I am leaving now for health reasons; the new Yas Island road runs right behind my tennis court and all the diesel lorries roar up and down it all day long. I have had chronic bronchitis and asthma and most recently eczema. The road really affected my health quite rapidly and I just couldn't do it any more. We had been thinking about moving for a while because Billy is now two and we want him to get to know his grandparents. Another important factor is schooling, now that schooling is so expensive here. We also want Billy to be able to slide around in the mud and get dirty.</p>
<p>"We are looking forward to a sense of normality but will miss seeing our son sit on the beach at The Club eating ice cream. It's certainly not going to be the same down Skegness way.
"We will also miss the diversity of people we have met here, people from all over the world, as well as dining in posh hotels and restaurants and the consistency of the weather. I don't have to worry here about the weather when it comes to work.</p>
<p>"I'm looking forward to the rain and being able to go and buy the newspaper, stop at the pub for a nice meal, and be able to go and play in parks and fields with Billy.
"I don't have a job lined up yet but if things don't work out or we can't stand the weather we have a place on Reem Island that will be ready soon so we can always move back. A lot of people seem to do that; they realise they were better off over here and are disappointed with what they find back home.</p>
<p>"We had a lovely way of life here and we're very sad to leave Abu Dhabi but we're looking forward to a fresh start. I have a sister here and lots of friends so we're not leaving completely, we'll always have links here.
Charlotte Weatherall has lived in Dubai for three and a half years working for Mina Seyahi (The Westin Hotel) as marketing manager. She is moving to Scotland to work for the Cameron House Golf Resort near Loch Lomond.</p>
<p>"Dubai is an amazing place and it offers a fantastic lifestyle; I'm going to miss a lot of things, not least the weather. When I last lived in Scotland I developed seasonal affective disorder, but that was on the west coast and I am hoping things will be different at Loch Lomond. I remember I had a half-hour commute in the dark each way to and from work and it was so cold and miserable I didn't even want to get out of the car to put petrol in it. It has been amazing living here, not having to wear three hats at once to protect you from the wind and the rain. But I am not dreading the weather. When I went back for my interview the whole landscape was covered in snow - it was the most romantic scene.</p>
<p>"I remember I first arrived in Dubai in the dead of night and so didn't appreciate the scale of the city until the following morning. The first day I took a Big Bus tour. I had no idea what to expect. I saw a pharmacy and stocked up on shampoo and conditioner. I wasn't sure I was ever going to be able to buy it again.
"Dubai is wonderful and bright but I miss a lot of things such as cross-country mountain biking and going for long walks with my dog. What I am most looking forward to is flying back to Manchester and driving to Yorkshire to the little village where my parents live and spending a few days there; going for walks along the river with my dog Poppy and Marks & Spencer food shopping. I can't wait to see what Poppy's reaction will be; she's never seen a sheep or a cow. I think she will be blown away by the place.</p>
<p>"The really exciting thing about going home is being closer to friends and family and going for long walks along the beach. But I will miss the lifestyle here as well as the expat environment, which is really welcoming; I have made some great friends. Of course I will miss the weather and the quality of life, this beautiful hotel, the shopping malls, playing golf at Els Club. Often the weekends here feel like a holiday - you're either on a boat or by the pool.</p>
<p>"I am certainly not moving for the money; I won't be as well off there as I have been here. It has been great to have international experience and Dubai is leading the field in hospitality. It was my first break into sales; I remember thinking that if I could last 12 months it would not be a disgrace, and I would feel proud of what I achieved.
"Dubai is a wonderful place for opportunities but people underestimate how hard it is working here. It is a 24-hour city; at home no one would dream of organising a meeting at the weekend. It is a place of opportunity; you will get a chance to progress if you prove yourself but you have to take advantage of your chances and deliver results.</p>
<p>"I will definitely come back and visit as I am desperate to see how the UAE and Dubai progress. I have seen so much in the three and a half years I have been here: the Palm, the Burj Khalifa. I will be hard pushed in my lifetime to see anything more spectacular than the opening of the Palm with all the fireworks.
Adil, Jane, Samira and Yasmin Ali-Knight are from the UK and have lived in Abu Dhabi for three years. Adil is a geophysicist and Jane is a senior lecturer in tourism and event management. They plan to move to Edinburgh within the next five years.</p>
<p>Adil: "I am totally and utterly torn down the middle about going back. We lived in Edinburgh before, so we know we're going back to a lovely city with everything you could want, like good schools, which you don't need to pay for and a great city centre we can get to quickly. But it is with some trepidation that I go back after spending so many years in the sunshine. I am worried about the climate and the darkness of Scotland. I think about the shiny wet black roads and the noise of the cars as they go past. When I went to Aberdeen in January, I didn't see daylight. I got into the office in the dark and left in the dark.</p>
<p>"I know what will happen: we will go back and crave to be somewhere else. I like living abroad. I'm an internationalist and the fact that I can tell friends in the UK that we're just driving to Oman for the weekend as opposed to driving to Manchester feels good.
"I regret that we didn't meet more Emirati people or families in a social sense; we just haven't had the opportunity. And I also regret not learning some Arabic.</p>
<p>"I won't miss the traffic, but I will definitely miss being part of one of the fastest-growing and exciting regions in the world; what with Masdar, Saadyat Island, the Guggenheim and so on. Also, I love the fact that I can let Samira and Yasmin (aged 10 and five) out in the local shopping mall together without any worries at all. It is unlikely I would do that in the UK.
Jane: "I think it's difficult when you've been anywhere for any length of time but I actually feel quite happy about it. When we leave, it will be the right thing to do but, of course, there are things we will miss, like the freedom the children enjoy and the fact that we live in a villa here as opposed to a flat back at home. Also, at home we can't afford to have someone help in the house. But one of the things I long for is to be in the same place for more than five years.</p>
<p>"I was pleasantly surprised when we moved here because I didn't really want to come. My job was going well, we were settled in Edinburgh and I had no burning desire to leave. I had an image in my mind of what it was going to be like but it has been a lot better. I suppose I expected it to be lot more conservative. I also didn't expect there to be as much to do or for it to be as easy to meet people and make friends. Abu Dhabi Mums is a brilliant network where you instantly find friends. But it is much more transient than most places I have lived. You can't lay down deep roots in a place where you don't really belong. This will always be a nice place but it will never be home. It makes a real difference if you feel some ownership. It is an interlude type of place - most people know they're going to be somewhere else in the end.
"I think the male experience here is very different from the female. As a woman there are two routes to take: the first is the one of the expat wife - you play tennis and go to the gym. The second is one where you continue your career, you work full time and you have a maid to look after the house and children. But if you want the middle ground, it is really hard. There is no flexibility; you're not allowed to work part time. That's one of the reasons I want to move on. I don't think my career can progress the same here.</p>
<p>"Another issue that makes me keen to move is schooling. In Abu Dhabi the options are limited; there is a shortage of places for high school. Primary school is very good but a lot of new high schools have only been here for a few years compared to schools in Britain. Even if you want to stay, you have to go because you can't get your children into school. When children are small it is a great place but I think education forces a lot of people to move on.
What I will miss the most is the climate; six months of guaranteed nice weather, being outside and being near the warm sea. There is no doubt the summer is very hard for the kids when they are cooped up inside, although the upside is they have become really good swimmers, which would never have happened in Scotland.</p>
Elie Domit is the curator of The Empty Quarter Gallery in Dubai's DIFC. He was born in South America and educated in the United States but is of Lebanese ancestry. He has no plans to leave his adopted hometown of Dubai.
"Until I got married I was a nomad. Travelling has always been on my agenda, regardless of where I go - home for me was always another place.
"I arrived in Dubai accidentally over 13 years ago and it got under my skin. There was something about it that I can't quite describe, a feeling that I belonged, almost like a memory. Dubai feels familiar to me. You feel that you get close to it very easily, and it doesn't take so much time to adapt.
"The transformation of the city struck a chord inside me; you can see it happening in front of your eyes. We take so much for granted; a new building, a new highway, a new park, but it is astounding.
"My wife Rita moved here six months after I did. We have an eight-year-old son. It is better for children here, they are not subjected to certain things other places have. I love the fact that there all sorts of different people here from different nationalities; it makes it an exciting adventure being here. People make the city.
"Lebanon doesn't feel like home any more, although I do find some roots there. I know it sounds a bit Utopian but I like to think of myself as a citizen of the world. I see Dubai as a good friend that is easy to get along with but that I take for granted at times and cherish at other times. We are really spoilt here. If you compare it with some of the other places I have lived I feel we have fantastic opportunities here in terms of the things we can do and what we can accomplish.
"More and more I feel that I am part of something real here. Dubai is often portrayed as being artificial and superficial. But I feel I am actually contributing to the cultural landscape of this city and I dispute the idea that the nomadic culture that was constantly coming and going didn't build anything solid. Nowhere is perfect, let alone a complex city like this.
"If I had to go? Some people may not realise it, but migration today is dictated by origin and the passport you hold. For instance, America symbolises everything and having an American passport gives you all these great advantages, but if you are Lebanese, like my wife, it is a very difficult task. If I had to go I would move to Brittany in France, where it is secluded, has a favourable micro-climate, has great seafood, and is very close to nature and the ocean. But we see ourselves staying here."</p>
Nadia Zabaneh is a Palestinian-Jordanian who works at a multinational company here in Abu Dhabi. She has lived in various places around the world. She was born in Jordan, spent her childhood in Libya, and went to Greece to pursue her university education. After starting her career, she moved back and forth between Jordan and the US until she finally came to work in Abu Dhabi in 2007. She hopes to stay in the capital.
"I have lived in so many places that nowhere is really home for me, but I feel really comfortable in Abu Dhabi. It is very easy to live here.
"I am Palestinian but we moved to Libya when I was five and I finished my studies in Greece. Shortly after I moved to the States with my parents, I got a job with the Royal Hashemite Court in Jordan, working in the office of Queen Rania Al Abdullah, and I had to move back to Jordan. I lived there for seven years before moving to Abu Dhabi in January 2007 to work for the Cultural Foundation here. The job didn't work out and I now work for a multinational company, but I decided to stay here in the UAE.
"What's not to like here? No place is perfect but in my view this is as close to perfection as you can get. It is safe, the services are good and it is easy to make friends, something I found very difficult in the US, where people tend to stick with the friends they made when they were growing up.
"Certain sentiments connect you to certain places and countries and of course those sentiments are linked to your experience there. For example, when I go back to Palestine I am more angry than moved.
"People complain about the heat here, but I think the notion of the heat scares people more than the heat itself. I have been here in July and August and it's fine. What I want to know is, how do people in Canada cope with all those months of snow? Here we have at least six really lovely months - I don't think there is anything to complain about. My mother, on her last visit here, said it feels like you're on holiday all the time in Abu Dhabi. You can just book into a beach hotel whenever you like.
"One thing I miss and I love to see when I go back to the US is the different seasons; I love to see the changes in colours. I guess if I had to move, it would be to the US because my parents are there, but I am a firm believer in destiny and I will just have to see where it takes me next. But I hope I can stay here. I love it."</p>
It is the weekend and the Al Mallah family - Muhannad, Elham and their children, Luna, nine, and Fares, four, are bored, <i>writes Sarah Birke</i>.
"There is nothing to do here," grumbles Muhannad, 36. "It is definitely the worst aspect of being in Syria. You can sit in a cafe and smoke nargileh or sit at home and watch television; the options are limited."
Elham, 28, agrees. "In Abu Dhabi we used to go to Dubai at the weekend, to spend the day in the malls shopping and going to the park or the cinema. There was an aquarium and an indoor ski slope and huge parks to sit in."
The family moved back to Syria in September 2006 after spending three years living in Abu Dhabi, and the move has taken some getting used to.
Although they have tried to surround themselves with elements of their Gulf lifestyle - the flat is spacious and modern with plush furnishings and high-end electronics - it is not enough.
"There are superficial similarities between the two places, such as the Islamic religion and the Arabic language," says Muhannad. "But the countries are completely different in terms of how life works."
Having spent much time outside Syria, Muhannad is well placed to see the differences - both negative and positive. He spent his first 12 years in Abu Dhabi before returning to Syria for secondary school. After that he was off again, to Washington, DC, and Montreal for university before returning to Syria in 1997. There he met Elham, a student who had lived all her life in Syria, and the pair married in 2000.
The reason behind the family's move to Abu Dhabi was the same as for many others who head to the Gulf - work opportunities. Muhannad studied business management and, after working in retail for a few years after he first returned to Syria, found his niche in commercial property management. At the time, Syria did not have any shopping malls and very few hotels. Abu Dhabi, on the other hand, was booming.
Syria in 2003 was also tense.
"There was a recession and with the invasion of Iraq there was talk of Syria being next," Muhannad says. "Abu Dhabi is a place I know and I had contacts there so it seemed the obvious place to go for work."
Once there, the family found it had other desirable qualities:
"Abu Dhabi is truly beautiful with the desert and sea, but the main advantage is that it is far more developed than Syria. You really can live a very pleasant life."
The couple says the ease of life comes from the reliability of the people in Abu Dhabi and the huge range of services.
Both Muhannad and Elham recall with pleasure planning their week and sticking to it - a rarity back in Damascus.
"In Syria, plans always change as people won't do what they say. It can get tiring," said Muhannad. "As time went on in Abu Dhabi things got easier; here I swear they get more frustrating every day."
Elham agrees. She was initially sceptical about moving, she says, worried about being far from her family and having to interrupt her psychology degree at Damascus University. But she quickly grew to like life in the Gulf as much as her husband.
"The facilities in Abu Dhabi are amazing," she says. "I could go to one shop to get everything rather than 20 different ones. And in those shops I could get all sorts of products, such as baby foods, which are still unavailable here."
Now the family, like many affluent Syrians, goes to Beirut to shop and makes annual trips back to the UAE during the sales.
Abu Dhabi also appealed to their seven-year-old daughter Luna.
"I prefer Abu Dhabi to here," Luna says. "I miss my friends and I miss going to Toys R Us."
Fares has been to visit and echoes his sister. "I would prefer to live there... it is more fun," he says.
In Damascus, Luna has transferred to Choueifat International School after attending Al Yasat School in Abu Dhabi. Both are private schools with good-quality education in English, but Choueifat's workload is double that of Al Yasat. According to Syrian regulations, any school teaching in English must also follow the Arabic curriculum.
"I am glad she studies in Arabic," says Muhannad - it is also the language the family speak at home. "But making her do everything twice means she has far too much work."
When it comes to discussing his work, Muhannad's face falls. Sitting in his dark wooden office in the Rotana Arjaan Hotel and Mall, he admits he is frustrated.
"We came back in 2006 because I was asked to manage the new Damasquino Mall in Damascus and it seemed like the industry was making progress," he says. "I always wanted to come back. I am proud to be one of the Syrians who sees it as their duty to return and help their country to develop, and it is my homeland, but it can be hard to remember that."
Despite the downsides, Muhannad says they are glad to be back and intend to stay, citing social reasons.
Says Muhannad: "Syria is great for the social side. It's more than family and friends, everyone is very open and generous. Not that they weren't in Abu Dhabi, but there is a small Syrian community there and people come and go so there was less camaraderie."</p>
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