Look back: six months in Dubai

January 16, 2021
Personal Growth

I remember the moment Matt and I decided to move to Dubai. We were walking to Peckham Levels and had a moment of clarity: screw it, let's go. It was by no means a spur of the moment decision, but once it was taken, it felt like a switch had flipped.

Moving at the start of the year felt like a huge adventure. I would love to say that it was all plain sailing but that wouldn't be strictly true. My family and friends were so supportive, but I could tell the distance (7 hours flight from London) was playing on their minds, even before Covid. Telling my boss and my colleagues was heart-wrenching, as was pulling together handover documents. Sorting through the flat, packing my clothes away and deciding what I would and wouldn't take with me was anxiety inducing.

I was stepping out of London life, away from the place I'd grown up, for the first time since I'd lived in Paris 8 years prior. I was leaving behind friends, family and a job that I loved to try something new. I was terrified - What if I hated it? What if I regretted my decision? - but it also felt like the right time to go.

Penultimate day in the office

Matt had left a few weeks before me, so on my last day of work, I said goodbye to my colleagues, left the office at 4pm and was on the 7:30pm flight... I'm nothing if not efficient! Four months of sorting and packing all culminated in an ordinary Tuesday evening where, instead of going south to Forest Hill, I went west to Heathrow. When I fell asleep, I was somewhere above central Europe; when I awoke, I was about to touchdown in Dubai.

Heading to the airport... and settled on the plane

And it felt amazing. I grinned from ear to ear as I went through immigration and baggage reclaim, excited to dive head first into my new life. As I stepped off that plane, the possibilities seemed endless: I would get a job, find a beautiful place to live, and brunch as often as I wanted. Meeting Matt in the airport felt like the most normal thing in the world. "I'm home", I thought.

Without realising it, I'd created a timeline for myself. It looked a bit like this:

The first few days were a bit of a blur. I'd moved in time for the Ras Al Khaimah Half Marathon as I was desperate to take part. In hindsight, racing a few days after a long flight was probably not the best idea, but it gave me something concrete to focus on and I'm still so glad I did it.

Getting across the line at RAK Half Marathon

After a few days break, the focus shifted to recruitment and, totally unexpectedly, building The Assistant's Handbook. I had followed the advice and made sure I had at least 3 months of savings to tide me over whilst I interviewed. I rewrote my CV to make it specifically EA focused and got to grips with how to interview here. I quickly learnt that applying through LinkedIn wasn't feasible and that the interview process can be slightly more convoluted than in London. It felt like I was doing everything right and slowly starting to gain traction.

But then to say things didn't quite go to plan is an understatement.

Like for many people, lockdown came as a complete and utter shock to me. All my best laid plans came to a screeching halt. The reaction here was strict: 24 hour curfews, movement permits and mandatory masks. What followed felt a bit like Ground Hog Day. Wake up, work out if I need a permit to go out that day, spend time on Codecademy, work on my Notion course, build The Assistant's Handbook, puzzle, Netflix, sleep. Luckily, I have a very patient boyfriend who not only answered my incessant questions about code but was willing to be a guinea pig for all the new recipes I was testing out.

This wasn't the Dubai I was expecting, the Dubai I'd experienced at Christmas, but at least I had a support network. Did I think about going home? Yes, of course, but I was also determined to make it work.

Getting used to wearing masks everywhere

And little by little, I did. Lockdown eased and slowly things started to open up again, like green shoots after a particularly hard frost. Marina Promenade was busy again, coffee shops and malls began offering seated service, I realised I'd missed the ding ding of the tram. The first time we went to the beach after months of staring at it, we raced in, only to be flummoxed that it was now the same temperature as soup.

Recruiters started contacting me, remote interviews happened, and I secured a role.

And so, after 6, very strange, months in Dubai, it's starting to feel like home. I've learned that Talabat, Careem and The Entertainer are three apps you'll use more than any other. That the desert is more expansive and extraordinary than you can possibly imagine. That giant locusts are a thing. That your hair will be different here: whether it's the water or the sun, I "moult" far more than I ever did at home. That the summer is no joke and the humidity hits as soon as you walk out of your building. That there is such a thing as having a favourite mall. Mine is Ibn Batutta and I'm going to take every single person who visits me. That coffee culture isn't like in Europe, but there are some amazing coffee shops if you know where to look. I love: Tom & Serg, Friends Avenue Cafe, Common Grounds, Cassette, Boston Lane and Spill the Bean.

The desert

But by far the most important lesson I've learnt is this: no matter how scary or difficult a situation seems, you are so much stronger than you think.

I am so thankful that I'd made it to Dubai before lockdown; I would have hated being in London with Matt here in Dubai. I'm also so lucky that my best friend (who has lived here for 3 years) is a fountain of knowledge. But even with all that, moving to a new country will always be demanding. You're getting to grips with a new culture, working out where to shop, learning how to get from A to B. You might also be grappling with a bit of homesickness and the little voice in your head saying "are you sure this was a good idea?".

Writing this in August, I cannot believe it has been 6 months since I moved. When I say that, I really, truly, mean it. Time has felt elastic and trying to create a timeline of events is almost impossible.

So no, the big move didn't go as planned and yes, it was the worst possible timing. And yet the excitement I felt when I first arrived hasn't completely gone away. It is a little battered and bruised but just like those green shoots, I can slowly feel it coming back.

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