“Hardships often prepare ordinary people for extraordinary destiny.” -C.S. Lewis
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.
Living the Confused Expatriate Life
Has It Been Five Years Already?
By: Ms. Hala
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.
Not everything that is faced can be changed but nothing can be changed until it is faced. -James Baldwin
I started treating myself as often as possible, especially on my birthday. Every year, I’ve taken my birthday off from work (paid or otherwise) to enjoy a spa day, shopping spree, fancy meals, complete utter laziness and this year, headed on my first semi solo trip.
Note: After writing this difficult rant, I was hesitant to publish it publically. I decided to keep this rant private and only after four years, to share it publically.
Living the Confused Expatriate Life
Part 4 of a Few… The In Between
By: Ms. Hala
Ever have a feeling you couldn’t figure out, understand or map out? And when you do, a bit of guilt creeps up on you? This is the feeling I have right now as I fly back to Doha from San Francisco.
My two weeks home after a year away had brought up a lot of mixed feelings and emotions I’m having a hard time figuring out. I couldn’t wait to go home, my happy place. I purchased my tickets so in advance just to be sure I was going to be home in time for Eid ElFitr.
It was absolutely amazing to once again break my fast with my family after two and a half Ramadans spent either in Egypt or Qatar. Eid was a spectacular holiday weekend, from the prayers to the nice get-togethers allowing me to see family and friends I hadn’t seen since I moved to Qatar.
However, this trip made me realize that I’m now in the in between.
I was back in my city, my town, my home yet felt odd and a bit out of place. A lot of things changed in the last year and being that I wasn’t part of that change brought upon this odd feeling within me. Every day I heard a story or two about this and that happening during my time away.
I was received at the airport by my sleepy nephew whom smiled the entire time. Didn’t cry once when I held him for the first time and kept him in my arms for hours. I swear, this child’s presence made it easy on me when I found out that I no longer had two happy cats waiting for me at home.
My boys got sick a while after I moved and it was decided that they should be given to a vet for better care. I was upset, even wept because a part of me had hoped that I’d come to find everything as I had left it, the normality of coming home to kitties greeting me at the door like I had never left.
Some found my hurt over my lost kitties amusing while others sympathized with me. Those that found it amusing didn’t understand how I expected things to stay the same for a year. Those that sympathized were once in my shoes, came back home to find that things had changed too. Based on the illness my family described to me, I now have a sinking feeling that one or both my kitties may have passed away. I just don’t have the heart to call the vet and find out.
Aside from this sad news, I did having a good break. I stayed home the first few days with a lot of mixed emotions to deal with but happy to be home, nonetheless. I watched everyone sleep, go to work and go about their day. I cared for my nephew and watched him laugh, cry, enjoy his bottle and sleep like an angel. This child is such a blessing to our family, especially to me. With little Salem around, my mother had officially stopped asking me to make her a grandmother (that year at least).
Two weeks flew by like a mere few minutes. A long happy flight brought me to San Francisco and a longer somber flight is bringing me back to Doha. Before my departure, everyone felt the need to ask when I was moving back home. I had already survived a year as a confused expatriate and I’ve committed to another year when my contract either ends or is renewed.
A part of me wants to stay longer as there is more to discover in this part of the world. A part of me wants to go home
I’m now in the in between.
Confused yet focused. Lost yet in place. Determined yet unmotivated. Strong yet weak.