Following the ups and downs of overseas parenting and life on the move
This week we have a special celebration – we have been running this blog for an incredible 5 years!
While the Globetrotters still live as expats in Abu Dhabi, we have moved house, Mr Globetrotters has changed roles – oh and we added another kid the Globetrotter clan! Expat life with all its ups and downs still remains dear to our hearts on a daily basis.
Expat Parent Interviews
One of our early projects on the blog was talking to other expat parents to share their experiences. We talk everything from birth to healthcare and schooling, and the important subjects of dealing with distance and isolation. As much as our story has changed, I was fascinated to know where all our original interviewees have now gotten to in their lives too – welcome to “Where are they now?”
Grab a cuppa, this is one of our longest posts yet but it’s a super fun, inspiring and eye-opening read as we take you across the continents revisiting some of our favourite stories from the last 5 years on the Globetrotters blog.
This post is part of our series on Expatriate Life – pop over to read all our interviews and advice aimed at this special group of global travellers!
Catherine – from remote hardship postings to the UAE
We’ll start with our very first interviewee Catherine. My first friend in Abu Dhabi and one of the sparks that started this series after hearing about her early motherhood experiences overseas. These challenges and cultural influences can really shape and change our attitude to parenting, as well as test our resilience.
OG: So we last chatted when you had relocated to Abu Dhabi, following stints in both Panama & Romania. Where are you now and how did you get there?
C: Goodness, Abu Dhabi seems like a long time ago now! We were delighted to be back in the UAE and quickly settled into life in Abu Dhabi. I had another baby (less stressful than giving birth to no 1 in Romania) and life was good. Abu Dhabi is an easy, calm place to live and we realised that we suit ‘expat lite’ destinations. We also felt safe and after Panama, that was a feeling we particularly relished.
Then after 2.5 years life turned upside down when my husband was made redundant. Out of the blue the government organisation he was working for pulled out of mega project and all the staff were let go. This made us realise how quickly your life can unravel when your life is tied to a residency visa from a company. Your job, house, schooling – everything. It was a stressful few months but fortunately, he found another role in Dubai – so we packed up and moved an hour down the road back to where it all began.
OG: Although Dubai & Abu Dhabi might seem quite similar to outsiders, what have you found are the big differences?
C: They are very different places to live in many ways. Our heart was always in Dubai as this is where we met and started life together. Of course, when we lived here previously we both worked full time and had no children – and a lot more disposable income! Now we moved back with a 3 and 6-year old so life was very different.
Dubai is a lot busier than Abu Dhabi and I seemed to spend the first month either being lost or sitting at traffic lights. There are many more things to do in Dubai – from free activities to super expensive ones – so we are never stuck for ways to pass the weekend. And the school choice! There are dozens of good schools we could choose from to send our daughters. In Abu Dhabi there was around 5 that we would consider and getting a spot was like winning the lottery. (You can read more about Abu Dhabi schooling here)
I think it’s fair to say that summer is miserable and winter is fabulous in both Emirates. We loved our time in Abu Dhabi and if someone said we have to move back tomorrow, it wouldn’t be a problem, but for now, Dubai is home.
OG: Dare we ask, what does the future look like at this point for you and your family?
C: We ask ourselves this question all the time. Do we buy a villa? Shall we leave for secondary school? Will there be any jobs in Dubai after Expo 20/20? Will school fees eventually drop? So we just don’t know. We’re also much more aware of redundancy after it happening before and that makes us more nervous about investing in property in the UAE.
We are lucky that our parents are still healthy and in a position to visit us regularly. If that changes it may well be a deciding factor in us making a move back to Europe, but for now, we are happy here and the UAE is home.
Julie – Expat parenting in hardship posts to empty nester
Julie has undertaken one of the most fascinating expat journey’s. She was the working mum who took on a career in public finance that has involved several hardship postings, often leading to periods of separation from her family.
OG: As we predicted at the end of your last interview in 2015, Abu Dhabi was not your last overseas posting! Where are you now?
J: Living in Amman, Jordan for the last 2 ½ years. Possibly be here for another 2 years. After that is anyone’s guess!
OG: And after 17 years as an expat family you are now a child-free couple with your youngest daughter off to University. How has this changed your expatriate plans, if at all?
J: Being empty nesters is an interesting experience. We miss our kids enormously, but we are also enjoying the freedom and fewer responsibilities. It’s great to have the time for just each other. Having said that, Sean has just returned to Australia for around 5 months to help our son out with a few things.
OG: Dare we ask, of all your postings, have you had a favourite – from a family perspective and a career perspective?
J: Abu Dhabi was a great place for the family, whilst working in Afghanistan was a career highlight for me.
Nicole – the Hoteliers Wife in China
Our effervescent hotelier’s wife is still making us giggle with her blog Mint Mocha Musings, and most recently shared with us her thoughts and feelings about repatriation to Australia. You can read Nicole’s original story from Xi’an here.
OG: When we last chatted when you were in Xi’an, China. Where are you now?
N: Yes, we stayed in Xi’an for 2 and a half years. A place that initially had us shell-shocked, wondering how on earth we would survive this new posting on the mainland became the place we called home. (Isn’t that always the way?).
I didn’t think I could replicate my ‘tribe’ or expat family I’d found in Hong Kong, so finding a few of the best friends I’ve ever had really was such a welcome surprise. When it eventually came for us to call it a day and head to Sydney for our next posting, we were all so torn. Leaving the adventure that was expat life was tough but leaving our friends was heartbreaking.
OG: What did you find the most difficult part about adjusting back to life in Sydney?
N: Initially, I was worried about the lack of adventure being back Down Under…as an expat you become a little bit addicted to living life on the edge, don’t you? Thankfully because my husband is in hotels, we’ve managed to keep travelling and doing new things, so that has eased the feeling of being back home. That said, I do miss being somewhere that’s just a little bit crazy.
There are definitely pros and cons. Being able to drive my own car after being driven around and not having my independence is one thing I’ve really savoured. Plus, after some of the worst pollution I’ve ever experienced in Xi’an, the crisp, clear blue skies in Australia are hard to resist. For the first six months, all I could do was look up!
Not having to worry about the language barrier has also been quite a relief. That said, when we first came back I couldn’t get over how much ‘small talk’ the Aussies loved. It was almost overwhelming!
OG: And what next? Do you think there will be another overseas posting on the horizon?
N: Never say never. As much as we are happy to be settled back home now in Sydney… I have a feeling once the expat bug bites, there’s no escaping it. It won’t be in the next couple of years, but I imagine in the future we’ll pack up again and head back into the unknown.
I have just finished the first draft of a memoir on our journey in China and hope to have this published next year, so stay tuned. It details life as an expat, the good, the bad and the ugly, plus lots of interesting things about the beast that is China.
Terri and the Travelling Foster Trio (or is that 4?)
Another of our Asian Adventurers was Terri from Australia who moved to Ho Chi Minh City with their brand new baby Bunny. Starting life as a new mum, let alone in a new country can be a daunting experience. You can read more about expat parenting in Ho Chi Minh City with Terri and her young family here.
OG: Last we chatted Terri you had just the one child in Ho Chi Minh City, where are you now – and what does your family look like!?
T: Since we last caught up we have said tạm biệt to Vietnam and moved home to the Gold Coast, Australia. Ash scored his dream job flying for our National carrier and it was simply an opportunity we could not pass up. We did manage to leave Vietnam with our very own “made in Vietnam” souvenir baby “Lottie” who was born in Ho Chi Minh City last year.
OG: What have you found the hardest part of repatriating?
T: The hardest part about coming home was the actual relocation and the short period of assimilation when we did get home. No amount of travel can prepare you for juggling 14 pieces of checked luggage, a two-year-old and a four-month-old over three non-connecting flights! And that despite the all the joy of finally being back in our own home and amongst our family and friends, the longing to return to that crazy hot, loud, motorbiked filled city was stronger than ever.
OG: Do you see yourselves living overseas again in future?
T: We’ll never say never to living overseas again. There is no place like home but there is nothing like living in a foreign country to make you appreciate home that little bit more.
Mariam – And Then we Moved To…
Mariam has kept true to her blogging pseudonym….. A life on the move has not ended and through her blog she’s been sharing her utterly beautiful, touching words on the emotions of expat life.
We previously interviewed Mariam about her time in Singapore as a new parent which you can read here, but it was what happened next that has shaped her future.
OG: When last we spoke you had left your Singapore posting and started and started a new family life in Dubai. Tell us a bit more how the experience in Dubai differed to Singapore / the changes in your family and how you as a multi-cultural, multi-lingual family found living in one of the world’s most diverse cities!
M: Gosh, it’s amazing to look back at our journey over the past few years! Our expat posting to Dubai ended up being four years, so we lived there from August 2014- August 2018. It was in Dubai, that we welcomed our son, going from a family of three in Singapore to a family of four in Dubai.
In an uncanny resemblance to our experience in Singapore, I arrived in Dubai 5 months pregnant and then gave birth there. Both birth experiences were similar – it felt like I gave birth in a 5-star hotel instead of a hospital! Dubai was a great place to live as a family with young kids – we never ran out of things to do! The opportunities for travel were amazing and we made full use of Emirates and its expansive network. Instead of learning Mandarin in school, our kids started learning Arabic and developed a great love for it. We also found that as a multicultural couple raising mixed race kids, Dubai with its diversity was a great fit for our family!
However, Dubai was also one of our most trying expat postings in terms of the lack of stability around job security. About two years into our time there, my husband’s company had a major reorganization and reshuffling. The oil price was down, it was expensive to maintain employees on fully-fledged expat packages and unfortunately, they made the decision to shut down their Dubai headquarters. Overnight 45 people were without a job; we were one of the lucky few who still had employment and remained there and went on to complete our contract, but those were uncertain times and living with that uncertainty proved difficult on more than one occasion.
OG: And now tell us about the next chapter that has just begun. And then we moved to….?
M: And then we moved to…Ghana! 2018 has been a big year for us, and we had anticipated that we would make an international move this year, but as usual, we didn’t know exactly where it would be. One week we thought we would move to Kenya, the next back to Denmark. Panama was also on the table and my head was spinning from imagining our lives in different continents.
When Ghana came up as an option, it was exciting. After carefully considering all the pros and cons and making a “go-see” trip to assess schooling, housing, medical facilities and safety, we said yes.
We have now been living in Accra, Ghana for the past two months. It is my 9th country to live in (after Bahrain, US, UK, Pakistan, Germany, Denmark, Singapore and the UAE), but my first time living in Africa. The past two months have been both chaotic and wonderful. We have been deep in the throes of transition and have experienced every feeling from loving our new country to feeling culture shock all at the same time.
Our first impressions of Ghana though are very favorable – its cleaner, safer and greener than we expected. And we can already see that the expat community here (although not so big or diverse as Dubai) is lovely and close-knit and very friendly. We had massive issues waiting for our container to arrive from Dubai, but the support we received from both locals and expats is what got us through this transition.
Both our kids are happily settled now in their new schools (our oldest is in 1st grade at the American school here, while our toddler is at a wonderful kindergarten close to where we live). We have unpacked the last of the boxes and are really looking forward to enjoying our time here, in a completely new corner of the world. Ghanaian culture is fascinating, we are learning lots about the local food, dress, customs, traditions, the local language (Twi) and everything from chocolate tasting to African drumming!
From a cultural point of view, this is one of our most exciting postings yet. We are also excited to travel around the area, explore more of Ghana and West Africa.
OG: You are still quite early in the next chapter. Your last two posting has been to dare we say it, quite glamorous expat locations. How does this posting to Ghana differ?
M: Yes, to say Ghana is massively different from both Singapore and Dubai is an understatement. Unlike Singapore or the UAE, Ghana is a hardship posting due to its lack of infrastructure, medical facilities, health risks such as Malaria and other challenges commonly faced by developing countries. To accept a hardship posting to a country in West Africa was a big decision for us to make as a family with young kids (6 and 3 years old).
Our preparations were completely different to our previous moves. We took our children along on our “go-see” trip to give them a chance to see the country too before we moved here. I reached out to many expats who had done a hardship posting for advice to make sure we went in with the right expectations and attitude. In fact, your attitude is key. You can’t get frustrated about things not working or taking too long. Simple tasks like grocery shopping can take me almost a week to organize here! That’s because there’s no one-stop shop like Carrefour here; I have to go get fruit and vegetables from one supermarket, fish and seafood from another and meat from another! If I want eggs or fresh cheese like mozzarella, I order that separately. If I’m cooking Pakistani food, I need to go to the Indian store to get specific spices I need.
Going in with the right expectations is key. I had prepared myself for the worst; (some expats had told me things such as “oh I even bring all my favorite shampoo and conditioner with me from Spain!”) so when I got here and found Dove soap I was pleasantly surprised. Also, my childhood in Pakistan had prepared me for many of the challenges or restrictions I face here, such as having a driver to drive you around, having a generator at home in cases of electricity shortage for example, so I’ve drawn a lot on my previous experiences in adjusting to life here.
I have to say though that there is a little-known secret in the expat world: often times the hardship posts end up being some of your favorite ones! Just stepping out of our front door every day feels exciting, not knowing what the day will bring. In the end, the best preparation for this job is to focus on the good and keep a healthy attitude to dealing with the inconveniences. Its often easier said than done, but I just think every challenging experience will become a story I write about or tell over the dining table one day.
Living in Ghana is giving me great material for the book I am in the middle of writing! I started writing it in Dubai and now will finish the book process in Ghana. It’s a book about living a ‘messy’ international life on the move. If you are interested in reading more about raising your family around the world, and how to deal with the challenges that arise from this globally mobile lifestyle, as you blend in different cultures, nationalities, languages, experiences, identities and a sense of belonging, you will find it a helpful and practical read.
Mariam’s book is due for release in early 2019 – we will link to it here and of course, share this through our social channels when it is released.
Laura & Life with Baby Kicks in the Middle East
Laura’s first interview with us was a great reminder of how we can be grateful for the things expat life can bring us. She was very happy with her expat parenting experience in Dubai and the recent arrival of her second baby boy – even describing it as a “child’s paradise” (you can read why here!) – but where is she now?
OG: Of all our original interviewees, you seemed one of the happiest with your situation in Dubai. But not too long after your interview it all ended. How did you cope with this phase of leaving your expat life and starting a new chapter?
L: Around six months after our original interview, we found out that my husband was being made redundant. A year after we actually left Dubai for good with no idea really where we were headed next.
As it turns out everything happens for a reason. Even if those reasons are unknown to us at the time.
We were both pretty sure that we were ready to leave Dubai, but not 100% sure that we were ready to leave expat life behind us. My husband was an expat kid and we could see the benefits for both our boys. Nevertheless with no new opportunities arising in Dubai and the contract on our house due up we sold off our belongings that we were sure wouldn’t fit into a UK house, then packed up the rest to be shipped back to the UK before moving into serviced apartments for our final weeks.
Two weeks later, with all our stuff on a ship somewhere, we find out that my husband has a new job in Qatar.
Emotional rollercoaster begins as we talked (and talked and talked) through whether that was the right step for us, we flew across for the weekend to see what Qatar was like as a country (before the blockade where you could still fly between Dubai and Doha).
And we decided to take it.
The biggest thing during this period was the uncertainty. The living out of a box. We went from the end of March until the end of September without our familiar furniture, the kids toys, or even a place to call home. We knew we were moving but we weren’t sure when or exactly where.
I spent most of the time in the UK, away from the 50-degree heat and outside with the kids, which threw up another question of whether we should pull them away from that life or whether we should embrace.
All in all it was a pretty harrowing few months where we questioned ourselves over and over.
OG: Going into expat life the second time around, what did you do differently? Did you find it easier or more difficult than the first time / what were the challenges?
L: Second time around I knew more what to expect. Having not wanted to be an expat (AT ALL) at least this time I knew I was where I wanted to be. I was more prepared to head out, to say yes to everything, to start driving immediately, to navigate the way. I prepared in advance, I joined Facebook groups, Doha Mums. I put out pleas to anyone who may know anyone in Doha. I wrote blog posts about my experiences and met people that way.
Then I went out and met everyone. Which is something I didn’t do early on in Dubai.
I met person after person, who introduced me to other people, and friendship groups. I got settled on the school run and organised play dates. We went on family bonding trips with other families, and got to know people like that rather than me having “weekday mum” friends and my husband having “work friends”. We went for barbecues, breakfasts, lunches.
It was chaotic but fun.
And the best thing we have ever done.
People often ask me to compare my life in Dubai with my life in Doha, and both are so different. Not just in terms of the glitz and glamour of Dubai. The Atlantis’ of the world, the waterparks, the thousands of things you can (and do) spend your money on. But in terms of the people we have met. Doha seems a much smaller expat community, there always seems to be a connection when you meet someone knew. They know someone who knows you, or your kids go to school together, or they’ve seen you on the nursery run.
We seem to be busier here at the weekends, even though there are fewer attractions. We go out to the beach with friends, to breakfast, to peoples houses. We have parties. Last weekend we went to the waterpark and saw at least seven other families that we knew.
The main difference seems to be that this time around we have embraced expat life from the start and had more of an idea of what we needed to do to settle ourselves so became settled a lot faster. The main challenges remain, living in a country where you don’t speak the governmental language can be tricky even when the majority of people speak English, the paperwork in order to be able to stay and the red tape you find when you least expect it. But these are true of every expat destination and in one way add to the experience.
OG: And any new additions to share?
L: I think my original interview was just after I had my youngest child – and now we’re expecting our third baby boy. Three little boys, each born in a different country!
Clara and Expat Partner Survival
I’m going to finish up with Clara – author of expat book Expat Partner Survival Guide. I “met” Clara online when she was first starting her blog, to market her book – supporting expat parents. She has previously talked to Our Globetrotters about her struggles as an expat partner in St Lucia, and her time in Islamabad cut short by the terrifying Marriott bombing.
Since writing her book, Clara has lived and breathed her own next expat chapter – and a further repatriation! We join up with Clara in England to hear how this all came about…..
OG: Since we last spoke, your book has come to life and been changing expat lives – including living your own new expat chapter. Where was your next posting?
C: After publishing the Expat Partner’s Survival Guide we were able to put into practice everything I had learned while writing the book with a posting to Pretoria in South Africa. This was an amazing posting, we felt so lucky. I fell in love with South Africa almost immediately – it’s hard not to.
The sunshine, the friendly people, the incredible wildlife, the beautiful scenery, the birds, the food, the wine….the girls went to an excellent International school and made some friends for life and generally, we had a really great circle of friends. This was by far my best ever overseas posting and I still miss it every day.
OG: And this all ended a bit over a year ago and you found yourself repatriated back to the UK again. Having gone through the repatriation process a couple of time before, how did you find this experience third time around?
C: This was a very different repatriation process for me because I came back alone with just my two daughters. My husband stayed on to finish his posting and in all we were back in the UK without him for about five months. In a way it was very difficult, just things like trying to unpack 150 boxes on my own, and get my youngest daughter’s bed built, was – to put it mildly – taxing.
I also had to juggle a lot, with both of them swimming several times a week (including for my older one, before school), looking after the dog, getting them both settled into school, unpacking and just generally trying to run a household on my own I certainly had my work cut out for me. But I have realised how much easier it gets as the children get older and you don’t have to be with them *all* the time.
I do think as well that having read a lot about repatriation I was prepared for it being tough so actually it probably wasn’t as hard as I thought it was going to be. I am lucky and we came back to the town where we had lived before we moved so had a good group of friends here already. One or two, in particular, were amazing when I was on my own and it really goes to show how important those friendships are whether you are moving abroad or back home again.
OG: What lasting words would you leave with other expatriates, particularly those already on the journey who don’t know when it will end?
C: It’s a cliché but it is true – everything will get easier. I can’t put a time limit on it because it is different for everyone and each situation is different but time is usually all you need. For me, here I am a year on from moving home and I have started a new full-time job that I love (and I never thought I would work in a full-time role again!), the girls are happily settled back into school and swim training, even my husband is close to being told what his new permanent role will be.
I would never say it was like we have never been away because that is never true – moving abroad changes you in ways you might not even realise for years to come – but if I look back even six months it feels amazing how far we have come.
We have thoroughly enjoyed getting to know all our expat parents over the past 5 years and hope you have too. The stories and the friendships that have come out of these interviews has been a real highlight and we thank all our interviewees for sharing a little snippet of their lives with us.
Global Parenting Interviews