Tag Archives: expatriate

What I’ve Learned Living the Confused Expatriate Life

What I’ve Learned Living the Confused Expatriate Life
by Ms. Hala

Click here to read an exclusive version written for ILoveQatar!

As you may or may not know, I’ve said “salam” to Qatar earlier to this summer, a place I’ve called home for the last five-plus years. If you’re a fan of the rant series, you’ve read on how my expat life didn’t start off so easy.

I’ve documented some of my experiences from explaining my identity in the most diverse country in the region to the hassles of apartment hunting as a single lady. I arrived in Qatar confused and left a little less confused, grown and enlightened. I’m sure if I had known then what I know now, it would’ve been a little bit easier.

So long story short, let me share with you some tips I’ve learned living the confused expatriate life in Qatar.

Expect the Unexpected: When I first came to Qatar, I had a plan in mind: stay for a year, save a bunch of money and head back home. I had never planned to stay for as long as I did, but as they say, “God is truly the best of planners.” I promise you, whatever plans you have coming into Qatar or elsewhere for that matter will fly out the window, quick! You must expect the unexpected, nothing is like how it’s done back home and no one is going to hold your hand through the process. Have a plan, yes, but be prepared and stay open-minded, that’s how spontaneous an expat life can be.

Learn the Language: It’s wonderful that English is widely used in Qatar and most parts of the world. However, I’ve had my fellow English speaking friends complain when someone doesn’t speak English to them, be it a professional or private capacity. I’d have to remind them that the official language of Qatar is Arabic, thus no one is obligated to speak your language. Make an effort to learn Arabic, even if it’s the basics. You can start by joining language exchange groups as well as checking out language learning programs in Education City and Sheikh Abdulla Bin Zaid Al Mahmoud Islamic Cultural Center – formerly known as Fanar.

Try Everything Once: Being an expat is an adventure to be had! While an expat in Qatar, there’s so much you should try at least once. Head with a group to the sand dunes by Sea Line. Eat a bowl of chicken majbous in Souq Waqif. Enjoy an evening in a dhow boat. Volunteer to walk the shelter dogs at a lovely farm off Shamal Road. Spend the day in the Museum of Islamic Art, it’s free! Enjoy an evening of classical music by the Qatar Philharmonic Orchestra in Katara. And you must have a cup of hot karak from any of the amazing tea shops all around town.

Befriend a Qatari: In the time you’ve stayed in Qatar, how many Qatari friends have you made? Don’t know where to meet Qataris? Start with everyone’s friendly neighborhood Qatari, Mr. Q (aka my buddy Khalifa). When I first came to Qatar, it was ILQ’s active forums that introduced me to him and many Qataris as well as new expats in Qatar. I’ve connected with Qataris active on social media and learned about their culture, language, and food. I consider many of them now my lifelong friends. So don’t be shy to ask a question, start a conversation and befriend those that have welcomed us into their country.

Share Your Blessings: Realistically speaking, it’s easy for many of us to live a comfortable life in Qatar but that doesn’t mean we forget to humble ourselves. There are many in Qatar living on so little to better provide for their families back home. There are things you can do in your daily lives to keep you grounded. When you eat at a restaurant, any good, untouched leftovers can be given to someone in need. When you buy large amounts of water, leave a bowl of cool water outside your building for stray animals. When shopping in a mall, give a little to the many charitable organizations’ kiosks supporting initiatives in Qatar and beyond.

Professionalism is Sometimes Unprofessional: Being the first and only female manager in my division at one of my jobs in Qatar, I was warned that “we don’t do things here the way you do it in America”. I didn’t understand that until I had to deal with an incompetent agent costing my division delays and lost sales. I was as professional as possible until I couldn’t anymore. I learned with time to stay professional but stern, stand my ground and make sure my team had my back. Again, things aren’t done the same way back home, and one has to adapt, fast.

Do What You Love: My advise to anyone of my peeps thinking of expatriating out of the US (or repatriating for that matter), do it for something you know you will enjoy. A passion to travel and work with a company you know (or at least researched well) will do right by you in the long run. Anything that sounds too good to be true, is too good to be true! Don’t fall these gimmicks, including paying any recruiting or relocation company. If possible, visit the country you are considering before deciding to live there for a long period of time. Don’t move for a high salaried job that you already hated at home. I promise you, you’ll be miserable if you are not passionate about the work, the company or even the country you are deciding to move too.

Dating Is a Hit or Miss: I didn’t expect dating in Qatar would be much different from back home but it was an odd experience. Because Qatar’s population is 80% male doesn’t necessarily mean there are quality men. Trust me, slim pickings. However, it’s taught me that dating while a single expat is a coin toss. You can get lucky or you can feel icky. I did appreciate that chivalry wasn’t dead and even when I had a bad date, it wasn’t as bad as some I’ve had back home. Being a single expat can be tough, especially as a single lady in a conservative country. There’s more on that here.

Nothing Stays the Same: I learned this the hard way after my first visit home. Expect things to change when you visit or repatriate home. As I now try to rediscover my city, playing tourist at times, I’m slowly learning to adapt to the changes. Repatriating is not easy, and in some ways can bring back feelings of culture shock and learning curves you experienced when you first became an expat in a new country. It’ll take time and before you know it, it’ll truly feel home. It took me almost a year to feel at home in Qatar, hopefully, it won’t take me that long now that I’m back home.

To close out this five-year rant series, I’m blessed to have left with more than what I came with. I’ve gained great friendships, career growth, and wonderful memories.

And I’m a little less confused.

Foodie Farewell – a Snapchat Story

Flashback to two weeks ago when Kamal and myself (aka foodie royalty) got a magnificent send off! Can’t thank the team at Nisantasi Baskose and my foodie friends enough for this lovely, unforgettable afternoon.

Happy Eating peeps!

Living the Confused Expatriate Life

Living the Confused Expatriate Life
Has It Been Five Years Already?
By: Ms. Hala

On June 30th, 2012, I landed in Qatar thinking I knew what to expect. I had never lived in another city in America before, let alone another country so… of course, I was wrong! I thought I was only going to be expat living for a year, a year and a half tops. Of course, I was wrong. I thought I was going to make a dollar out of 15 cents, gold out of dirt, something out of nothing. Of course, I was wrong.

 

It has been five years –FIVE YEARS– since I got off that plane and was hit by the summer’s humid air, freaked out when the cold water taps were boiling hot and learning to sleep with the AC on full blast. I have learned to expect the unexpected and struggled through those last five years to make something out of myself.

 

Along this journey, I’ve made life long friends, laughed my heart out and experienced things I don’t think I would have staying at home, or anywhere else in the world for that matter. I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again, the world is so grand but our bubble is so small. If I learned anything, anything at all, from being living the expat life, it’s to go beyond the bubble, even for just a moment and live a little in this grand world. Despite it all, for the things I’ve learned, it’s so worth it.

 

Screenshot_20170610-154838
“Qatar” – image courtesy of @ftmalthani

Qatar has an odd charm to it, flaws and all. The expat life here is not perfect but it’s a blessing to experience. As I start packing, not knowing how much longer I’m staying in Qatar (more on that later), I’m at peace. Alhamdulillah, I worked hard, surrounded myself with good people, ate some delicious food and discovered as much of the region as I could.

 

My time in Qatar will always be unforgettable. I can’t image having the experiences I’ve had else where. I’ll always pray for God to continue blessing this beautiful nation and the people within it that make it up it’s beauty. Qatar may be small but mighty and come to think of it, so am I.

Living the Confused Expatriate Life

Living the Confused Expatriate Life
The Art of Being Humble
By: Ms. Hala

 

It wasn’t a difficult decision to present my resignation as I had accepted an offer  I simply couldn’t refuse. It was nonetheless, bittersweet. The automotive industry is a very tough and challenging industry in all of the Middle East. I faced some of the toughest challenges in my entire career and take great pride in what I was able to accomplish during this time. However, I was truly blessed to have worked in this company. Not for the money, the status que or even the perks that come with working in this industry. I was truly blessed because I worked with some genuinely good people, people whom expected nothing in return from you no matter what it may be. I consider many of the people here friends, if not family.

Just this past weekend, I had an appointment to get my car serviced. The perk of being in the automotive industry is the support you get throughout the process. However, it’s always way more than I expect when it comes to my fellow colleagues! Our main workshop, like many others in Qatar, is located in the Industrial Area, a good drive from Doha. After taking my car in, my colleague picked me up from the workshop and dropped me off at the office as I had to get some work done. Afterwards, one of our fellow drivers at the office dropped me off to where I needed to be. Another driver from the office went to the Industrial Area and picked up my car so that I didn’t have to make that trip via taxi. My colleagues at the workshop, after calling to explain everything to me, emailed me the invoice so that I can make my payment conveniently at my office the next day.

None of them had to do this for me, especially our drivers whom have a packed schedule on our busiest day of the week. Yet none of the drivers would take a single riyal from me as a “thank you”. What can I possibly do to show my appreciation?

Everyone at the office knows I love the American classic, Dunkin Donuts. Having a branch located so close to the office (and all over Doha) has not been so great for my hips but it hasn’t hurt my wallet to say the least. However, the same doesn’t apply to our fellow drivers. It isn’t the best paid job here and something as simple as Dunkin coffee and donuts is a far fetched luxury. Knowing this, from time to time, whenever we’ve had a rough or good month, I’ll walk in with something for the team. Dunkin is their favorite.

Light bulb!

Earlier this morning, and why I’m writing this rant, I was reminded of the blessing I had of working with such selfless people. It literally takes a minute for someone to just educate you on an art form many in this day and age of accepted selfishness and narcissism have forgotten.

“Madam, thank you so much! You bring us cakes and sweets, so good!” One of the two driver’s exclaimed to me this morning.

A bit surprised, I said, “For what my friend? THANK YOU! You helped me out big time yesterday, this is the least I can do.”

“No, no. Thank you!” and he walked away giving me the biggest smile.

We take a lot of things for granted in life and sometimes forget to be humble about it. If I was taught anything by my fellow colleagues I am bidding farewell this month, it was how to be humble, be grateful for the small things and listen empathetically for in more ways than one I am truly blessed. For that, my fellow colleagues at DOMASCO, I thank you.

Living the Confused Expatriate Life

Living the Confused Expatriate Life
Part 7 of a Few… Expat Expectations
By: Ms. Hala

Now halfway through my third year of living in Qatar, I’m asked over and over (and over and over), “When do you plan on going home?” “How much longer do you think you can stay here?” “Why are you still here?”

What if I don’t have a set time planned? What if I don’t know how much longer I’m meant to be here? What if it’s because I want to be here? What if… why? Why should I even be answering these questions?

Originally, I had planned what was expected, to work in Qatar for one year and go home. From my discussions with fellow expats, that’s the expectation for most people that take a job aboard for the first time; one year of work to make the dollars then take a nonstop one-way flight home. Yet I don’t recall reading that in the invisible book, “Expat Expectations”.

I’m a firm believer of, “you want and I want but God (swt) does what He wants.”

I moved with that “Expat Expectations” plan in mind. There was this management position that provided an awesome apartment with a view, a top of the line car and an unbelievable salary package waiting for me like it’s nobody’s business!

Snap! Snap!

Let me tell you, I ended up in the tiniest studio apartment with no windows, rented an ugly orange Kia Rio (it still hurts to think about that one) and was practically living out of my own pocket my first 6 months. I take a look back now and realize that my original plans and expectations were not realistic nor the right plans for me. God’s plans for me couldn’t have been better timed and executed.ExpatExpectations2

I’ve come to fall in love with this country – the region really – and after the first 6 months of testing the waters, I signed a long term contract with my current employer. No regrets. I’m weighing my options for my next move but the fact that I don’t know what that move may be yet, is all part of the excitement, the living spontaneously, the adventure I came seeking in the first place.

I’m not saying don’t be prepared for the worst or spend haphazardly or even to not have goal as an expat. Far from it! I’m saying one doesn’t need to abide by anyone’s own set of “expat expectations”. Live the moment on your own terms, period. I mean, if being an expat isn’t part of living on the ever expanding global horizon, what’s the point of being an expat?

Am I still a confused expat? TOTALLY! Would I have it any other way? Nope.

Snap! Snap!

Living the Confused Expatriate Life

Living the Confused Expatriate Life
Part 6 of a Few… Two Years Already?
By: Ms. Hala

I’ve passed my two year mark as an American expatriate living in Qatar this past July. WOW! Taking a moment to evaluate some of the things I’ve learned and discovered throughout this ongoing adventure I call #InLivingQatar.

As an expat:

  • I’m to expect the unexpected, period.
  • I know now that nothing is like how it’s done back home (nor anywhere else for that matter) and sometimes that’s a good thing.
  • I’m grateful to this country for not taxing my anything.
  • Not everyone is obligated to speak YOUR language. You live in Qatar, make an effort to learn the language! If you don’t speak a second language, don’t miss out on the opportunity to do so.
  • Home is what you make of it. It’s the simple things from the food to the adventures that make being an expat in the Middle East oh so wonderful.

About myself:

  • Apparently, I enjoy shopping for things other than shoes, office supplies and kitchenware. I mean, when was I ever known to be one who wouldn’t miss a sale at Mango (my new found obsession) or appreciate Riva for the size 4 pants that fit my proudly curvy body? REJOICE!
  • My savings isn’t very happy with the above mentioned self discovery.
  • I simply don’t care anymore about the pettiest of things that just do not matter. I’m too busy laughing at the silliest of things.
  • I’ve always had a thing for men in thobs, living in Qatar solidified it. Seriously, ANY MAN can look amazing in a thob.
I mean, can you resist this "thobi"? No, no you can't (and you shouldn't). #JustSaying
I mean, can you resist this “thobi”? No, no you can’t (and you shouldn’t). #JustSaying

Speaking of men:

  • Dating it’s a coin toss which isn’t much different than it was back home. I’ve realized that when I decided to accept dating someone I probably wouldn’t have dated say three or four years ago.
  • I’m still the least romantic person I know and thanks to my ex for catching on to that. =P
  • Chivalry is not dead and a part of me is still caught by surprise.
  • “Momken netwaseel?” or “May we keep in touch?” has to be the funniest pickup line ever! So polite yet stupid and invasive in so many ways… especially when it’s the 20 year old kids almost every single time.
  • Wearing Ed Hardy outfits, I mean the whole covered from hat to shoes, never has and never ever will be cute. Walk away now.

In dealing with people:

  • If you are not amongst good company, start by being part of a social group be it through Twitter, MeetUp or otherwise.
  • For whatever reason, the most drama queens I’ve dealt with in this country have been men.
  • Don’t be surprised that there’s just as much fake people as there is fake designer wear floating around. It’s really a global epidemic sadly, get over it.
  • This may be the safest country in the world but stop taking it for granted. There are people that can still break into your car, knock on your door at odd hours and simply just not be safe for you to be around.

Here’s to another year of an adventurous #InLivingQatar! =)

Living the Confused Expatriate Life – Part 5

Living the Confused Expatriate Life
Part 5 of a Few… Hot Water
By: Ms. Hala

When I first landed in Qatar, I knew I would be learning a great deal. I didn’t realize that my first lesson would be a survival one, as simple as turning on a faucet.

Landing in the peak of Qatar’s summer months in 2012, after a long 17+ hour flight, I exclaimed to my host and his daughter that I needed to take a nice cool shower. They in turn responded, “If you want to take a (semi) cool shower, turn the faucet to hot water.”

“What?”

“Yes, hot water is warm, cold water is really hot.”

“Oh, OK? Was it installed wrong or is that just how it is here? I thought hot/left, cold/right was universal?”

“It is just not in the summer months. Qatar uses a water tank system, water gets hit by the heat pretty bad.”

Did I believe them? Yes but I had to see this for myself.  I turned the faucet right for cold and sure enough, without hesitation, steam of boiling water was rising. I then quickly turned it on right for hot and after a moment’s time, luke warm water was a flowing.

How am I going to survive this heat without cold water? I didn’t have this problem when I spent 4 long hot summer months in Egypt. If anything, the water was too cold and I’d turn on the water heater!

Sigh.

Here’s to my third summer living the confused expatriate life in Qatar. The water heater is turned off. The faucet is turned left for a sweet luke warm shower to start my day! Happy Thursday folks!