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.
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.
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.