I’m no seasoned expat, merely into my second year living in the Middle East although I do remember clearly how it felt on arriving in Bahrain and during the months that followed. Here is what I’ve learned as a solo female expat and the advice i’d like to pass on to anyone about to embark upon a similar way of life needing a bit of friendly guidance.
Get your bearings early on. When I arrived in Melbourne on New Year’s Day in 2008, I spent a couple of weeks walking for hours on end and wearing out two pairs of flip flops all around the city getting familiar with the layout, this was also a great way of seeing who was hiring and what sort of accommodation was available. In Bahrain however, there aren’t many pavements and the only way to get around is by car. It can feel quite impenetrable and isolating if you’re relying on other people, so I had to bite the bullet and get to grips with the whacky races style of driving. Although the left-hand automatic way of life was a bit daunting at first, having wheels was invaluable in speeding up my independence and enabled me to have more of a social life.
Go out, even when you don’t feel like it. Take up any and all invitations when you first arrive even if you’re not sure about whether the person who’s invited you out is going to become your next best friend or not. You never know, you might meet them there! Usually, expat circles overlap so you’ll quickly meet more and more people from different groups. When you eventually find people you click with, it’ll dispel all those doubts you had about moving to a strange land. You’ll meet a lot of new people and faces. Even if you don’t feel like you’re connecting, persevere you’ll find your kindreds eventually. Be open to new people and don’t burn bridges early on. Expat communities can be small so it’s likely you’ll run into people again or move in similar circles.
Moving yourself to a new country is a big undertaking and remember that the ties and foundations you built at home took years to perfect. This life will also take time to finesse. Ties in expat land don’t take as long to build, things tend to move at a faster pace but that means the highs and lows are more intense too. Ride through the lows as the highs are worthwhile.
Get online – tune in to what’s on and where via social media. Instagram, Facebook and Twitter are all great ways to get dialled in to events, venues and various happenings in your new city. Hunt out the best publications and listings sites to keep you up to date and in the loop or you might really regret missing that Phil Collins tribute gig amongst other things!
Work hard and take positions and opportunities that you wouldn’t get offered back in the ‘real world’, even if you’re not sure if you can do it. Try. This is the time and place to get invaluable experience and take on responsibility that wouldn’t be offered back in the UK. In places like Bahrain, word of mouth and who you know is invaluable so go out, be sociable, network! If you’re looking for a new job, be aware of religious holidays where you are as the working world grinds to a halt over Ramadan and Eid, plan accordingly and be patient.
Be careful entering into a romantic relationship. Meeting an exotic stranger with a funny accent might be deeply thrilling at first but be wary of falling down the rabbit hole. Meeting someone as an individual with no context, familiarity or connections in common can make an expat’s romantic quest a complete minefield of deception and false pretence. Unfortunately it seems it’s almost a rite of passage here as a wide-eyed expat femme to be duped by a married/ engaged serviceman of the 5th Fleet (God Bless America). This unfortunate and somewhat sleazy cliche is perpetuated by naivety and a lack of common ground so if you have any suspicions, trust your gut and get out of there! On the other side of the coin, the benefits of dating in such an environment include meeting interesting people from all over the world who you would never have met otherwise so I would say put yourself out there but be cautious, heartache’s still heartache whether you’re at home or not!
Look after yourself mentally and physically. Bahrain is full of fast food, with a constant stream of motorcyclists delivering a variety of cuisines at all times of the day and night. It’s very easy to fall into bad habits with the cost of burgers, pizzas, schwarma and curries minimal in comparison to a weekly shop at Alosra for your fix of quinoa, kale and almond milk. Be organised, instead of grabbing a handful of items every day, find the cheaper alternative hypermarkets, meal plan and get creative. Make the most of the abundant spices on offer in Lulu’s and expand your culinary repertoire! The same goes for physical exercise – so it might be a bit intimidating sharing a gym with 20 Navy Seals in Juffair, there are pools galore and women only yoga, health club and exercise classes at Dessange which is also a great way of meeting new people. In the (slightly) cooler months, take advantage and get outside. There are great routes around Amwaj Island for running where it’s rare to have anyone stare at you and there are actual pavements so the risk of being run over is small! The added bonus of being in the Waj is that the sea is all around you so, provided there aren’t any peacocking Jetskiers around, the water is gorgeous to swim in and so salty that you can always just float around instead, I first tried paddle boarding when I moved here and love it! Wherever you are, although you might feel like you’re using up a lot of energy getting to grips with your new lifestyle and it’s just so hot and sweaty ALL THE TIME, it’s immensely beneficial to take even half an hour every day to get your heart rate up and focus your mind on something else.
Finally I would say that it’s a privilege being able to spend time in another country and culture, respect the traditions of where you are and be mindful that there will be an adjustment period. A complete life overhaul isn’t going to be smooth sailing but try to remain positive, treat yourself, be open and make the most of the adventure. It’s perfectly normal to have doubts but try to remind yourself of your reasons for moving in the first place, sooner or later, you’ll find your groove and there will come a point where you won’t want to leave, perhaps one sunny day in January when you’re sitting by the pool checking the weather forecast back in Blighty!