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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.

The Masks They Wear

It’s always entertaining when a rant of mine strikes a few nerves. In my recent rant on what I’ve learned over the past two years as an expat, I wrote, “Don’t be surprised that there’s just as much fake people as there is fake designer wear floating around.” Why?

Ever since my decision to move to the Middle East, it hit me hard how fast people can change on you. People are not what they appear to be. I can no longer take people at their face value. I can no longer judge, trust and love people so easily. Only in good times and bad, in distance and closeness, in richer and poorer did I know whom my friends really are.

I have literally gone through a social detox several times over the last two years. (And no, cleaning Facebook friends doesn’t count, although it does help, because Facebook is a digital high school… am I right?) My most recent detox was during my last visit home this past spring. So many people went out of their way to see me. To err is human and in the back of my mind I wondered about those I cherished that didn’t even bother to send their regards. I spent some quality time with family and friends that made my trip so memorable. Even as I heard the lovely rumors about myself – from how rich I was, to my new found snubbiness and everything in between – this was a bonding yet eye opening trip to say the least.

Landing back in Doha was no different. I was determined that after what I had been through back home, I needed to reevaluate the company I kept. I let the “please, please let’s remain friends” retract the request without hesitation. I let the negative energy from the whining and complaining about the blessings taken for granted drift away. I didn’t save the wrong number of the “call me if you need anything”. I did not accept the digital apologies as I preferred human contact.

Its the only way I can remain being the family and friend I want to have.

Sometimes one needs to step away from the theater for the actors to remove their masks during intermission. Then return to the theater before they have a chance to put the masks back on and continue the act. Sometimes the masks are necessary to show the world strength when there’s weakness, confidence when there’s uncertainty and a smile when there’s tears. But not all masks were design with the same hands. One must then decide whether or not the masks they wear and what’s underneath is acceptable.

Is the person real or as fake as the “fake designer wear floating around”?

I Have No Regrets

Last night, I sat at the Cornishe Marina in Doha waiting for something to happen at the strike of midnight. Some fireworks, some bangs, something! I was with friends whom were nothing but good and supportive of me since I’ve been to Qatar. I called my parents and siblings back in California to wish them a happy new year, discussing my brother and his wife blessing our family with a grandson/nephew.

In the odd silence of the evening, I found myself reflecting on my adventures and challenges throughout the past year. I realized that of all the things I experienced – from working on my first national sports event to moving to Qatar – I learned about dealing with people the most. It reminded me of a quote I read recently,

“The worst regret we have in life is not for the wrong thing we did, but for the thousands of right things we did for the wrong people!” –Anonymous

Despite all the good, bad and ugly I came across in people this past year, the said quote for me remains untrue. I would rather continue doing the right things for the wrong people then any wrong thing to anyone at all.

Personally, I have no regrets. I’ve learned from the wrong people so that I can continue to be the right person. I’m learning everyday on dealing with people in a world where many cultures and ideologies collide. I thought of those people, of what I’ve experience and of what I’ve learned.

With those, I knew what my 2013 resolutions would be:

Socially: While doing the right things by them, I need to push away the negative people aside to keep the positive people closer. I simply can not waste my time (and breathe) on people whom in the end do not care about anyone but themselves. I’ll be a little busy surrounding myself and supporting those that support me regardless.

Career Wise: I’m going to be doing something different and slightly outside my comfort zone. I already took the big step last summer so now, I just have to take the bull by the horns and run with it. Not to fear the challenge to come ahead but to face it head on. I’m up to it. I know I am!

Personally: I plan to continue what I started in 2012, living by the lovely Italian theory of “L’arte d’arrangiarsi”… the art of making something out of nothing. Start by doing something fresh and different every month, every week, every day.

Midnight struck and nothing happened. No fireworks, no bangs, nothing at all. Friends quietly wished each other a happy new year as everyone started heading home. I was a little disappointment but then again, I didn’t come to Qatar for the fireworks or the bangs.

I have no regrets.

Happy 2013!

Ramadan Verse & Quote (Day 25)

The last ten days of Ramadan has come upon us! Everyone’s busy planning for the festivities of Eid. I do hope that people do not forget to take with them the things they’ve learned and experienced this Ramadan. I know I won’t… and with that I share with you a personally relevant verse and quote…

Verse:

“Then which of the favors of your Lord will you deny?” 

 -Quran (55:13)

From one of my favorite chapters in the Quran, Surah ElRahman (The Merciful Chapter) is a verse that is repeated almost 20 times. This chapter is a constant reminder of God’s (swt) blessings bestowed upon us. It seems to speak to me on a personal level every time despite the fact that these verses came down onto the Prophet (pbuh) over 1,400 years ago!

It’s a constant reminder of the blessings I’ve enjoyed in the past, the blessings I’m enjoying now and the blessings I’ll enjoy in the future. A simple path that we get to shape, from where it begins, to where it goes and how it’ll end but with God (swt) on our side. Throughout this path, God (swt) continues to bless us. On my current path where it’s been difficult being without my family and close friends on such a festive time of year, it’s verses like these that remind me how far I’ve come with God (swt) on my side.

I realize that it takes being away from my family and friends to appreciate the kindness of others. I was blessed to move into a family friendly neighborhood where everyone has your best interest at heart. I was blessed that upon first meeting new people, they were extremely supportive through my toughest moment. I was blessed to have technology working on my side so I can share my blessings with my family and friends no matter the distance between us. I was blessed… I am blessed and shall not deny His favors upon me, Alhamdulillah (Praise God).

Quote:

Remember when your mother always said, “treat people the way you want to be treated”? I think this quote works along those lines too…

“The Most Merciful (God) shows mercy to those who have mercy on others. Show mercy to those on earth, and the One above the heaven will show mercy to you.” -Prophet Mohamed (pbuh)