The Truth About Being An Expat

Disclaimer: This is my own personal opinion based on my own personal life, circumstances, personality and other stuff.  This does not apply to any other expat except myself, unless that expat can relate.

First things first, what is an expat?  An expat is a person who is voluntarily absent from home or country.

I did not really choose to come to Kuwait, not directly anyway.  I never really wanted to leave Egypt.  You see I am one of those crazy people who actually love Egypt and want to stay and build a better country for the younger generations which will come after us.  I see huge potential in my country and believe that my generation can help start the fixing process.  After graduation I watched lots of young graduates leaving for better paid jobs or better opportunities and I remember having several discussions with them or people still considering leaving.  My argument was always the same, even if I did choose to leave I would go to learn something and come back and use the knowledge to help my own people.  I never wanted to leave for the money.  You have to know some more background info to know why I feel this way.  I was born in Kuwait, then moved to Scotland with my family as a child and then back to Egypt as a tween.  I suffered terribly from culture shock.  I spent years trying to fit in until I decided to stop fitting in.  I was a third culture kid, I was different, I had a different set of ideals and values.   Unlike the rest of the kids at school, I did not have a best friend whom I had been raised with and knew since Kinder Garten.  With every move I had to start all over again.  To be honest, all of this moving taught me flexibility, openness and tolerance which most kids my age new nothing about.  Unfortunately these skills are not very useful when you are 13 trying to make new friends.  My own father chose to leave a permanent job in the UK so that he could go back to Egypt to use what he learned to help Egypt.  The offer was he could become a citizen within a year and we would follow shortly after.  We grew up understanding and respecting his choice and thinking that this was the only right thing to do.  When I met the man whom I eventually married, he was already living in Kuwait and I understood that Kuwait came with the marriage.   At the time I was excited, happy and in love.  When we discussed where we would live, he too wanted to come back to Egypt but had to tie some loose ends.  Things happened, we got married and the loose ends sort of unraveled a little bit more and we still have installments to pay for which is basically why we are here.  My mom did warn me, but I didn’t really listen, she thought we should wait until he came back to Egypt.  Sometimes I think she was right.  But then again, she too resigned from a bright career in Academia (Medical School) to be with my father in Kuwait, so maybe it was a case of monkey see, monkey do.  She could have taken unpaid leave and spent half of her time in Egypt and the other half in Kuwait, but she just could not break up a family like that.  My husband himself told me if we postponed our wedding we might not have to stay in Kuwait.  At the time the situation just wouldn’t have worked out any other way.  I still believe I made the right choice despite everything else.

Now that you know the story let me tell you what I think about being an expat.

You are not a citizen and you will never be one

This is the case in Kuwait.  Unlike expats who live in the UK, US or other countries, who eventually choose to become citizens.  In Kuwait you do not have that choice.  So you know that it is a temporary situation that might last for a year or sixty.   Knowing that you eventually have to leave or get kicked out is a looming inevitabilty that everyone thinks about some time or another.  You can not own your house, you can only rent.  You can not make long term plans or goals because you know it just might not happen.   You have limited rights and you are not represented in parliament.  At the end of the day you are just a worker here, doing a job that is not permanent.  Since the economic crisis lots of people have lost their jobs, some chose to stay and take pay cuts and others chose to go back home.  It is sad watching someone fight the clock to find a job because their visa will expire and not only do they have to deal with job loss, but they might also have to deal with moving and other things.

You are also a stranger in your home country

Things change, you go back home to find people look different, buildings have been demolished and others replaced them,  relationships between people have changed; best friends parted, couples divorced, couples married, people have died and babies have been born.  You don’t know where the hip restaurants are anymore, you have no idea where to shop and you are totally lost.

You change

Change is natural, normal and inevitable.  But perhaps the scariest thing about change when you choose to become an expat is that you drift from who you were.  Let me remind you that this is a very personal thing.  But no matter how hard you try, things will change.  I am not talking about maturing and growing up kind of change.  But the kind of change that comes with new and different priorities.  Some people living in the gulf end up being very dull.  Shopping becomes their new hobby and restaurants are the only place they go out to.

Life lacks balance

Life is work, end of story, full stop, period.   When I was in Egypt, I’d go to Sakiet el Sawi, Alexandria Library and lots of other places for cultural events.  We’d visit museums or just go to the beach at Montaza.  Most people here have limited options.  I am not saying that these things don’t exist.  I am just saying it takes time to find these events or a network of friends who are interested in these things.  Sometimes you change and stop caring before you manage to find them.

You can not choose your friends

You can’t choose your friends anywhere, but when the pool of available people is smaller it becomes even harder to choose friends.  Let me be very clear, there are acquaintances and there are friends.  Acquaintances are the people you can go out with or have a conversation with that usually revolves around the weather.  Friends are people you can count on to be there when you need them to.  Friendships take a long time to build, trust is earned along the years and memories forge this bond.  When you do not have that kind of time and history you end up with people who are closer to being acquaintances than being real friends.  Of course there are some people who are really good at making friends.  Unfortunately I am not.  It can be very lonely sometimes.

The money is not that good anymore

Some people assume that because I live in Kuwait that there is an oil field in our kitchen.  It is not true.  On second thoughts I am glad it is not true, can you imagine how much work running an oil field would be?  Salaries are higher than in Egypt that is true,  but so is the rent, food and all of your other expenses.  I am not trying to say it is a tough life or that we are poor.  Al Hamdu Lillah, we are not, this is not because of Kuwait anyway,  Allah gives what He pleases, to whom he pleases, when He pleases.  I am just trying to say that if people assume that just because they will be making 4 or 5 times more money than they are making in Egypt that that does not also mean that they will be spending 4 or 5 times what they already spend then they have no idea of what they are getting themselves into.  Just for example, rent is a big chunk of what we spend here.  My phone bill is crazy because most of my calls are long distance.

There is no support

For someone like me being away from family is hard.  We have a large tight knit family that act as a constant support group.  Living thousands of miles away makes that kind of support harder to get.

Conclusion

This is not a rant post or a complaint one.  This is just me stating the facts.  There are of course lots of good things about being an expat.  You get to experience different cultures and meet different people.  You learn to adapt and learn how to deal with life on your own without friends or family.  You have the chance to become so much more than you ever were and to rise up to that challenge, to grow and fulfill your potential or you can regress and become lesser of a person.  The choice is always yours.  You can choose to meet every challenge or obstacle by sitting down and crying next to it or you can turn them into stepping stones to your goal.  Whatever you decide in life you should always know that you are the one who will have to deal with the consequences of your decisions.  You should learn not to assume things but to question, research, learn and look into things with an open mind so you can make the right decisions for you.

21 Comments

  • At 2010.02.10 14:54, chikapappi said:

    Well put in words and I think the same way as well and I love Kuwait because it’s the only country I truly know – I’ve never been to Syria although I have a British passport. My father’s been here since 1965 but it makes me sad when we are treated like outsiders especially when they say “you take our halal” which is not true at all since we also pay installments so you see the money we earn goes back to the country!

    My fiance was discussing this with me (moving out) and I can’t imagine how i’ll manage but until then both you and I have to stay quiet :)

    http://chikapappi.com/2008/08/04/arabic-minds-and-racism-great-mood-spoilers/

    http://chikapappi.com/2007/12/22/show-me-the-real-you%E2%80%A6-the-ugly-face-of-racism/

    • At 2010.02.14 15:46, jessyz said:

      Heheheh I am being very very very quiet 😀

      • At 2010.02.10 16:05, Mona said:

        Really good post. You touched on many things I can relate to.

        • At 2010.02.14 15:45, jessyz said:

          I always feel that people in your situation Mona is even harder. You are an Egyptian, you look Egyptian but you come from a totally different background.

          • At 2010.02.10 16:12, Sameha said:

            Yasmine, to7fa as always :)
            Let me comment from down to up :)
            1-No support: Can you count me in, I really will be happy to be yr support if you ever needed anything.
            2-The money is not that good anymore: This is right as for ppl living in Masr even for myself, I think wht we need to buy is the quality time we can spend with our family.
            3-You can not choose your friends:
            Even now at least me, friends are already made long time ago and its not true that you are not good at making friends coz simply we might have never been intouch again if u were so :)
            4-Life lacks balance : same thing here..work ..work..work…especially for boys or men 😉

            Waiting for your new post :)

            • At 2010.02.14 15:47, jessyz said:

              Thanx Semsem I know you are there for me, as for being friends we go way back :-) doesn’t need someone good at making friends, just facebook so we can stay in touch.

              • At 2010.02.10 20:39, Jasmine said:

                Great post :) I’m Scottish so I’m pleasantly surprised to read that you grew up here – unless of course you hated it haha. Do you have a Scottish accent :)?

                • At 2010.02.14 15:48, jessyz said:

                  I loved it actually. I loved all my childhood to be honest.
                  Nope no Scottish accent. :-) pretty basic bland English

                  • At 2010.02.11 10:36, inas said:

                    eh el 7alawa de really i like the post for me it is very rewarding i think your fatjer and i were mowafa2een men allah to raise you the post reflects a balanced realistic thinking good luck life never standstill it always changes some time for the good some times for the worse but if you decide to accept it and be happy you really win

                    • At 2010.02.14 15:51, jessyz said:

                      True, life never stands still. I am always happy when you think I am balanced and that you like the way I think 😀

                      • At 2010.02.12 21:20, mony said:

                        all i hear here is “anywhere but the gulf”, and all i can say is:
                        AMEN TO THAT.
                        just kidding of course, but since i grow up here in the gulf i know how hard could it be, and it even got harder after coming back from college in Europe since they didn’t allow foreigners in, back in the days.
                        but in the end all i really hopped for is to blind in like u did but fortunately i couldn’t so im getting the hell out of here ASAP 😉

                        be safe.

                        • At 2010.02.12 21:36, mony said:

                          *blend in

                          • At 2010.02.14 15:53, jessyz said:

                            Blending in is so overrated. I learned the hard way that sometimes you just have to learn to accept that you are different and with time others will too.

                            • At 2010.02.14 11:49, Mahy osman said:

                              You definitely don’t know me, I just came across your blog, and I really liked it.
                              I just wanted to say that I felt every word. We, me and my husband, always have that discussion, about going to work and live abroad, in the gulf or any other place. I always say that I don’t want to spend my life outside Egypt, I wish I could go OUT for a couple of years to learn get a PhD, but that’s it. I feel all what u said. One year becomes 5, u change, people change, someday u’ll find out that u don’t fit here in Egypt anymore. I always see that in my uncle’s eyes (who has been living in Dammam, Saudi Arabia for like 20 years). He just doesn’t fit anymore, and he misses every important event happening here. I feel sorry for him and his family, and I wish that I won’t be in his shoes. But who knows, If my husband gets a good offer somewhere far away from Cairo, what would we do…
                              The ironic thing is that my husband doesn’t feel any thing like that at all, he speaks about living as an expat like we would be in heaven!! I just look at him and I say to myself :I’ll be watching you just after 6 months of living away :)))
                              Anyway, thank u for sharing ur experience with us, really thanks

                              • At 2010.02.14 15:55, jessyz said:

                                I love the fact that you mentioned missing important events which is another thing. I missed lots of weddings, births, engagements and a death or two (not that I like those, but I would have liked to offer condolences in person). I didn’t even talk about how being an expat affects your children. You raise them in once place and expect them to fit in another one when you suddenly yank them from the country they know to the country they belong to because they need to go to college or because you need to leave.
                                It might be easier here in somethings but it is not heaven.

                                • At 2010.02.23 17:48, Mohamed Aboul Eneen said:

                                  I Love Egypt, I love any thing relevant to home, Great country , Great nation….

                                  1) I’ve been touched by you post , simply it reflects not less than 70% from my inner emotions,
                                  Although I grew up in Kuwait, now I’m 32 years old… divided in to 25 years living in Kuwait and 7 years only
                                  in Egypt ( 2 during Iraqi Invasion & 5 years during college period).

                                  2) Large part from these emotions happened as a result for the nature of my career, as you know
                                  my job is to think deeply, to build up a futuristic look ahead plans, establish a proper Evaluation
                                  systems for the others, these scopes can be summarized in 7 words (Make the dreams come
                                  true…in Construction), this is what I’ve been paid to do for a long time ago…around 10 years ago.

                                  3) But, one day I’ve decided to apply the same methodology for my self personally, this was 5~6
                                  years ago…since then I’m seeing every thing in my life in a very different way than before.

                                  4) However I’d like to thank Kuwait….or being Expat because I’ve learned a lot from being so, which is
                                  not limited to the following :
                                  * Money is not every thing, our life is full of unseen values…so search for it.
                                  * Security, Safety and Comfort ability …can’t be compared or even replaced
                                  with any thing else in our life
                                  * Every Success has its own price which may be bigger than the success it
                                  self. So before you make a wish be careful from its price.
                                  * Any Decision will have 3 stages of consequences & 3 affected parameters
                                  A) 3 stages :
                                  – Immediate Consequences
                                  – Short term Consequences
                                  – Long term Consequences
                                  B) 3 Parameters shall be affected :
                                  – You
                                  – Your Closed Parameter….your own family
                                  – Your Extended Parameter….Your friends, …..etc.
                                  * Being Fair will protect you generally
                                  * Don’t be selfish, neglecting the others needs. Later on you will regret for
                                  such a behavior and it will be toooooooo late for your regrets or even
                                  apologies because you will have no place in the others hearts any more.
                                  * No thing Constant in our life , Days can change any thing you can imagine
                                  even beyond your imagination.

                                  5) I’m really scared from several questions :
                                  A) If what happened with me repeated again with my children are they
                                  going to forgive me ?!! Are they going to pray for their father mercy?!!
                                  B) Can the days change somebody 180O….??!!! Can the days and its
                                  effects makes me for example; unable to see any thing except
                                  money (to be money absorber) and not to trust any one ..any one
                                  except my money…?!!!!!!!!!!!!

                                  6) The above mentioned are part of old Expat taxes, if they were lucky they will fall in (A) only and bring/ Oblige their
                                  Child to return back and repeat their parents tour again, again and again. But the majority in the GCC usually fall in
                                  no. (B) …they have unsecured emotions that every one want to steal their money. And 50% from our nation in Egypt are
                                  Thieves and the rest 50 % are beggars. Or part of the old expat classify it as follow: 33% Thieves, 33% Swindlers and crooks,
                                  33% are beggars and 1% or less are kind people…!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Could you imagine ?!! This the opinion of the
                                  majority of those they spent their life in GCC…

                                  7) An old man told me before Expat = Stranger every were even in his country

                                  8) Finally, I’m not a pessimistic person…but, I’ve seen a lot and a lot in my life….friends…coworkers…relatives…..etc. not only
                                  in Kuwait but also in the rest of the GCC….

                                  • At 2010.03.04 16:07, jessyz said:

                                    Ah ya Mohamed enta wel deqa. I agree but I don’t think you should be worried, we know what we want and we are being very careful about what we do. 😀

                                    • At 2010.03.09 11:54, Mohamed Aboul Eneen said:

                                      I- If you want to gain success you have to :
                                      1) Think hard
                                      2) Work hard
                                      II- We can Guarantee our Life(Boat/Ship) direction, simply we know what we want …as you said but, we can’t even expect the comming waves, direction or volume…..or it’s effects.

                                      • At 2010.04.05 18:15, Mohamed Aboul Eneen said:

                                        Yasmin….I’ve read your post again..as a result for gmail alerts due to new comments…and again I’ve been touched as if it is the first time to read it …I’ve read it all till its end, although I know that I’ve read it before.

                                        You are creative person …I do really mean it, it is very hard for me to Repeat read/do some thing 2 times but, however I couldn’t do any thing except enjoy it again and again…

                                        • At 2010.05.03 15:47, jessyz said:

                                          I am flattered 😀

                                          • At 2010.03.26 17:36, sara said:

                                            I live in Ecuador and it is a wonderful country. Its people are so nice and kind, they will give you the most warming welcome. I have put together a helpful fact sheet, and also an article on Ecuadorian manners and customs.