Oct 23, 2020
Health & Lifestyle | Lauranne Heres
Wanderlust: This month, we talk to Jenny, a 30-year-old Drama Teacher and Cécile, a 40-something Education Assistant, who’ve lived extensively in the Middle East (and elsewhere!). They’ll tell us about their experiences and impressions.
Where are you from originally?
J: Long story short, I was born in Derby, raised in Kuwait, but would come back to England every summer for three months. Sometimes Christmas and/or Easter.
C: I’m from France.
Where did you study?
J: Went to school in Kuwait, went to university in Kingston, London.
C: I studied midwifery in Lyon, France.
How many countries have you lived in so far?
J: Just the two, Kuwait and England.
C: Four for now; France, Vietnam, the UAE, and England.
What is the biggest move you’ve done so far? (if there are several please describe all)
J: The biggest move was definitely leaving Kuwait. It was no longer a matter of just going back for university where I could leave all of my childhood stuff at my parents’ house. But seeing as my parents have now officially moved out of Kuwait as well, I had to pack up my entire life to come back to England.
C: Leaving for Vietnam was the most difficult. I was by myself with a nine-year old child, going over 10,000 km away from my family and home. But it was a great job opportunity, opening a French nursery there.
What where some hurdles you had to overcome?
J: seeing as I grew up there, the hurdles weren’t quite as obvious to me. However there still were things as an expatriate that could be difficult. It’s a Muslim country, so you have to make sure you cover up your shoulders and knees when you go out, and even for work I had to be sure that I was wearing appropriate clothing. For example, our school had a policy on women’s trousers that could not be form fitting. But that wasn’t too much of a problem for me because I needed loose tracksuit bottoms for my job anyway.
C: I’ve found it is most difficult to adapt when you don’t speak the language. I don’t speak Vietnamese or Arabic and learning basics has been quite difficult. The children are always doing much better than me! It’s also daunting to get used to countries where religion has a much bigger importance than back home. Moving to Vietnam, I often felt overwhelmed by the huge crowds! It also takes a bit of time to get used to the differences in wealth in Dubai.
How difficult was the visa process?
J: Growing up it wasn’t an issue because I was automatically on my parents’ visas. However, as a working adult, you can only get a Visa via the company you work for. My first year back, I had to work on a temporary Visa until all the paperwork could go through. I must confess, the bureaucracy of it all was very tiring. And frankly the place I worked for should have done much more to help me! I tried initially to get my Visa done myself, which involved going back and forth from Kuwait and London to the embassies. Eventually though, I let the assigned guy at school sort it out. Remembering to pay and renew the visas was essential, because work visas for international workers only last one year.
C: The most complicated visa was for Dubai. For Vietnam I already had a job offer and that helped facilitate the process.
Was it easy to find a new job, or did you move for work?
J: Mine was an unusual situation, because I already knew people who worked at the school, it was just a matter of doing a formal interview. However, at one point, I did go to an interview at another school, and because mine is a very niche subject, there weren’t many applicants (and, not to boast, I was fairly well known because of our amazing Drama department’s shows!). They ended up giving the job to an NQT from the Uk, who was much younger than me, and therefore much cheaper. As a British person in particular, there are only a certain number of fields you can work in in Kuwait. Education is one of them, banking another, and various other things like embassy positions and the military. But if you lose your job in Kuwait, you can’t just go out and get a new one by handing out your CV like you can here in England. You have to have a job, otherwise you can’t have a Visa. When the school need X number of new staff members, they do a sort of recruitment drive internationally. But those new staff members need to have signed their contract before getting a work visa (the contract is needed as part of the application process, as is a letter from the Chairpeople of the school in Arabic confirming that you’re working for them.) It’s a lengthy and infuriating process.
C: I took the job in Vietnam so that I could live somewhere new and also travel through Asia. While I was there, I met my now husband, and together we ended up moving to Dubai as we both had job opportunities there. The move to London was because my husband had a job offer, same with moving back to Dubai last year.
Why did you move?
J: I left Kuwait because it was just time for me to go. I’d been at that job for many years, and I felt it was time to come back home to the UK to be closer to my family.
C: I’ve always moved because of a job opportunity for me or my partner. I love exploring new places and I’ve been incredibly lucky to be able to travel around a lot while living in a specific part of the world. It also allows the children to be exposed to many different cultures. My youngest ones learnt English really quickly and are now starting Arabic.
Would you consider moving again?
J: Back to Kuwait? Never say never, but for the foreseeable future, no. That chapter of my life I feel has now closed. The money was great, but the work I was doing for it was a bit too much for me to maintain (I worked extremely hard, and did a lot of extra hours voluntarily because I wanted to and have high standards, but it wasn’t very good for my well-being.)
C: Yes, if another opportunity presented itself somewhere interesting, I’m sure we would move again. We loved Vietnam because life was much cheaper. If an opportunity would present itself anywhere in Asia, I think we would definitely go! It has been great for the children, they’ve become bilingual French-English, and they’re still learning new things on top of that. It has helped my eldest get in a good school too, which ahs led to great opportunities work-wise.
How has living away from home affected your relationship with friends and family?
J: with my immediate family, obviously it wasn’t a problem because we all grew up there. I’m very close with my parents, and my sister. However, only being in England for three months of the year means I’m not as close with my other relatives. Not alienated or anything, however some of the cousins have their established little cliques, but I get on with them very well. As for my school friends, there were only a few that I really was close with, and we remain close to this day. Growing up in a place like Kuwait, you make friends from all over the place, and that’s where we all ended up. But I still stay in contact with them, and when we can we visit each other. For the years when I was working in Kuwait after university, it was a similar situation with my friends from uni. But I would make sure that when I was back in England, I’d spend as much time with my friends as I could! I still talk to a lot of them today.
C: My parents took my departure quite hard. The distance and the long absences were very difficult for them. It did lead them to travel more often to come see us. Thanks to social media, Facebook or WhatsApp, we’ve been able to stay in touch and remain close, regardless of where we live. My kids have been ok, but my youngest did take it hard to leave London. She keeps in touch with all of her friends online and goes to visit them whenever we’re back in Europe.