‘Living here, I’ve felt we’re among family’, one expat reflects the feelings of many who have come to the Emirates and found a home.
Expats express their love of life in the UAE
Jordanian Abdulla Saleh Al Jammal came to the UAE to work at a garage in Umm Al Quwain when he was 29.
A few months later he moved to Dubai, and it has been his home away from home for the last 18 years.
"Living here, I've felt like we are among family; I don't get homesick very often," says the mechanical engineer. "I do have a kinship with our Emirati brothers here, they have made me and my family feel like part of the country. We enjoy the National Day festivities just like they do, because we feel just as close to this land as they do."
Abdulla has been working for Dubai Municipality since he first moved to the emirate. "I came to the UAE looking for work; things weren't so easy back in Jordan. I didn't know that I was going to spend the rest of my life here."
All of his six children were born in Dubai. "My eldest is now going to university back in Jordan but she finds it tough living there - she is not used to the life there and wants to come back to the UAE."
Abdulla has been thinking of retiring next year. "It's been on my mind almost every day, having to go back to Jordan. On the bright side, I get to be with my family there, but I feel like a stranger when I go there now, I've lost all those social connections. If I had a choice, I'd spend the rest of my life here in the UAE. Life is secure here; you can't say that about other places in the world."
Abdulla remembers the late Sheikh Zayed with fondness.
"You can't mention the UAE without thinking of Sheikh Zayed," he says. "He was a very unique person, a great leader that was loved by not only the people of the UAE but Arabs around the world. His philanthropic spirit and support of Arabs around the world, including the Palestinian people and the Egyptian people, will never be forgotten.
"When we heard the news of his passing, it was like hearing that our father had died, because that's how even us expats saw him."
When Michael Green moved to the UAE he thought it would be for five years. But 18 years on the 47-year-old Briton does not think he will be returning to his homeland.
The chartered accountant, who is from London but lives in Abu Dhabi, chose the UAE as he and his wife saw an opportunity to go outside Europe and, being an Arabic speaker, she wanted to travel the Arab world.
“I signed a two-year contract – although I always believed that it would be for five years – but, obviously, the UAE has been very kind to us, so we have stayed on,” he says.
There are many aspects to life in the UAE that Michael enjoys – safety being one of them.
Living in a multicultural society has also been a plus, says the leader of risk advisory services in the Middle East at Ernst & Young.
“Time and time again, we have found the level of hospitality and welcome from the community here, from both nationals and other expatriates, has been very positive,” he says.
Travel has enabled the couple’s three children to understand they have options when it comes to where they want to live, he adds.
Arriving in Abu Dhabi with his parents in the 1960s, Dr Elias Al Sayah remembers a vastly different city.
Married with four children, all born in the UAE, the 55-year-old Lebanese-American – the president of Sayah Engineering Consulting Bureau – feels he has Sheikh Zayed to thank for his success.
In 1976, the then teen was brought to meet the President by his father.
“I will never forget that day when I went to visit Sheikh Zayed. I had just graduated from high school and my father told Sheikh Zayed that I was planning to continue my education abroad. His Highness responded by saying, ‘he is our son’, and he ordered that I be sent to continue my education overseas at his expense.”
Elias returned to the UAE after graduating from a United States institution.
“I remember him saying: ‘Sayah, remember that you are an ambassador of the UAE during your travels’,” Elias said of his conversations with Sheikh Zayed on his return.
Born to Syrian parents and raised in England, Barry Kassab, 35, has lived in the UAE for almost 13 years, moving shortly after graduating from university as an electrical and sound engineer.
On the advice of his father, who was living in the country at the time, Mr Kassab chose to emigrate to pursue his career.
Now a technical manager of a Dubai-based music shop, Musician’s Warehouse, he highly rates the variety of cultures and communities in the UAE.
“The UAE is kind of special when it comes to the diversity of people,” he says. “In a square metre you can meet three, four, sometimes five, people of different nationalities. This gives you much better experiences than anywhere else in the world because you deal with different types of people and different types of mentalities.”
As well as helping to expand people’s horizons, the variety of people also helps to shape the country culturally, says Barry.
“That’s one of the biggest things that the UAE provides. Moreover, because of the diversity of people, there is also diversity of entertainment and recreational activities. You can find anywhere, any place, to chill out in the UAE that suits your culture and your background.”
Having spent most of his adult life here, it is hard to single out events. “Favourite memory? I cannot talk about one, I mean, there are lots of things. When I first came to the UAE I was single and I got married here, so, it’s been like living two lives in the same place.”
From travelling the length and breadth of the country in his car, to taking in the various mountains and beaches the UAE has to offer, Barry has been able to accomplish a lot more than just taking in the sights. “I think most of the things that I had in my childhood, as in my dream board, I was able to achieve them in the UAE, generally.
“I had loads of things that I wanted to have, or do, and I could do them here. I think that’s one of the remarkable things to mention.”
For Baltazar Junio, a 43-year-old from the Philippines, the UAE offered greener pastures.
He moved to Dubai 16 years ago after a job opportunity came up and remained there for four years before moving to Abu Dhabi.
“The basic reason why I came here was the better opportunities, the greener pastures in this country,” he says.
The salary he was offered in his first job here, as an auditor with Emirates Airline, was an improvement on what he was earning as an auditor in the Philippines.
“I thought it was great because the salary that was given to me was more than twice the salary I was getting in the Philippines,” says Baltazar, who now works as a finance administration manager for The Royal Stables in Abu Dhabi.
The multicultural environment has also been a positive for Baltazar, who moved to the UAE by himself before returning to the Philippines three years later to marry his college sweetheart, Evangeline. He then convinced her to live in the UAE, which, he says, she is glad about.
“You don’t have to go to other countries to understand the other cultures. It’s already here,” he says.
“There is a strong Philippine community in the UAE. We have more than 100 community organisations in the whole country. It’s like a second home for most of us.”
The father-of-three also enjoys the safe environment that the UAE offers. “I have never seen this kind of safety in our country [the Philippines]. You can stay out until one or two in the morning without worrying about what will happen,” he adds.
Baltazar is planning on returning to the Philippines in the next five years.
“I want to give back to the community where I came from,” he says.
Indian citizen Marina Charles often thinks about what her life would have been like if her father had not moved to the UAE before her birth.
The 31-year-old, who was born in Abu Dhabi, travels back to what she refers to as her home town in Kerala state every year and thinks about what might have been.
“Sometimes I think if I was back home in India from where I’m from it would have been a very different scenario compared to what it is,” the mother-of-one says.
Marina, who is an office manager for the vice chancellor’s office at the Emirates College for Advanced Education, completed a degree in business management from the Abu Dhabi campus of the Indian JNRV University. While she feels she would have been educated to degree level if she had been in India, she rates the high quality of education in the UAE.
“The education is a factor that helps. You study, you become somebody or something and you find a job so it changes your life and your perspective,” she says. “It would have been totally different. I cannot imagine it actually.
“I’m not saying that people in India do not have the opportunity, just talking from my perspective. I think that the way I am and the way my future has been shaped is because I have the opportunity to be here.
“You meet people from different cultures and with that sort of exposure comes a greater understanding of people and different cultures. There is a wider acceptance,” she says.“The UAE is a really lovely place to be for me.”
For Yousef Issa Al Taweel, National Day is a chance to reflect on what he has achieved during his life spent in the UAE.
“I am lucky to travel frequently, both for work and leisure, and love meeting people from all over the world, whether they are friendly strangers in airports, business contacts at world conferences, or the sociable waiters,” said the 30-year-old senior account manager at a media consulting company in Sharjah.
“Some of my fondest memories are of the many conversations I have had with people that I had never met before, and might never see again. And the one thing that each of these conversations always have in common is that they invariably turn to where I’m from.”
“My answer is always two-fold; I am Jordanian but the UAE is my home.”
Mr Al Taweel says this response usually results in a slightly confused look on many people’s faces, particularly those from outside the Middle East.
“To them, the Emirates is a vague concept – Dubai is that place with the really tall buildings and the expensive hotels. My obvious pride at living in the UAE sometimes baffles those I meet.”
For Mr Al Taweel, that pride is easy to explain.
“This is the country where I was born and raised. It’s the country that has given me the opportunity to excel and make a name for myself – an opportunity that many others have made excellent use of.
“In the UAE we all have the chance to prosper and more than that it is a country that cares for its people. It’s a country that offers more that just beautiful buildings, amazing shopping malls, and the best infrastructure available, it offers hope and peace and security – commodities that are in short supply in most of the world.
“It is a country where the law works to protect the people and our leaders work to ensure an even better tomorrow.
“This is the Emirates that I love to tell the rest of the world about, the country where we all have a voice, opportunities, and a place to call home.”