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Expat, Prep, Qatar, Travel

Pre-Repatriation Blues?

April 24, 2017

Pre-repatriation

Many expats talk about the repatriation blues after they return to their home country. It can be hard to adjust to life back in your own country since it is now not the normal or having the excitement of moving to a new country. I have what I am calling the pre-repatriation blues.

The What?

Since I am not technically repatriating, I am not even sure this is the right term! I am only returning to my home country to store my stuff and see my family. I am sad to be leaving Qatar. A few times right after I gave notice, I had the feeling I had made a mistake and that I shouldn’t go. It is hard to describe what I was feeling. It was a mix of anxiety, fear, and self-doubt. What was I thinking quitting this well-paid exotic local job? Then reality set in that, for me, living to work isn’t how I want to live my life.

Then came the reaction to my post about quitting my job. I expected some sad reactions and a few supportive ones. I expected the people who disagreed with what I was doing would not say anything. Most of that happened, but I was overwhelmed by the statements of support not only from friends and family but total strangers. Then the sadness really set in as the more people you tell, the more disappointed friends, coworkers and students I encountered. They aren’t disappointed that I am traveling, but that I can’t stay and travel from Qatar. I have been on the verge of tears many times. One student insists on giving me a hug every time I see her. Who wouldn’t be sad to leave after all the outpouring of love!

Just like with everything else, time helps. Every week gets easier, and I get a few more things checked off the long list of to-dos before I go. That last day, though, I am trying not to think about it.

It Would Be Easier to Stay

Part of these “blues” are because it would be easier to just stay in Qatar. So many things have to be done to be able to leave Qatar. The biggest thing for me is selling my car, which I managed to do yesterday. Because people leave Qatar in cycles around the school year, selling your car in the Spring can be difficult, and you are most likely not going to get as much money for it as you wanted. The other part of this is fielding the calls from people who know that you have to sell the car and making ridiculous offers for the car. I had some people be very rude as well. Like somehow, I owed them the car since they were willing to make an offer! (We won’t talk about the fact that I was also emotionally attached to my car!)

The next hurdle to jump is closing your bank account. That sounds so simple in theory. Go in and close it, right? Not so fast. First, you have to cancel your credit card. Credit cards here are attached to your bank account, so I can’t close my account till the credit card has been cleared for 45 days. Since I never picked up the credit card or activated it should be reasonable that I shouldn’t have to wait the 45 days, but no! So now I won’t be able to close my bank account until some time in late May. It isn’t the end of the world, but something I could take care of now.

Qatar uses a sponsorship system for expats working in the country. Basically, my company sponsors me to be in the country. Part of that includes getting a residence permit. This also has to be canceled before I go. My company needs ten business days to do that. Then once it is canceled, I have seven days to leave Qatar. Not stressful at all! This means I will leave four days after my last day of work. Again, it isn’t bad as I have started to pack, but it adds some pressure.

And I wouldn’t have to say goodbye!

Packing and Purging

The other part of all this is that I am determined to return to the US in my suitcases and not have to ship anything home. I am ruthless when it comes to getting rid of my possessions. Five bags of clothes and shoes have gone out the door and countless bags of paper trash. The rest of it will be sold or given away before I leave.

Packing has already begun, so that is the least stressful part about this whole situation. It also means I should know if I will need to ship some stuff. The only hard part will be getting it all to the airport.

Have you moved back home after being an expat? Did you have pre-repatriation blues?

Expat, Qatar, Travel

Relocating to Qatar – What to Pack

January 23, 2017

Relocating to Qatar - What to PackWhat everyone brings when moving abroad is going to differ from person to person and family to family. Many factors come into play when deciding what to bring. Will you be provided furnished housing? Does that include household goods such as sheets and towels? How much furniture will be included? Here is a link to what my first apartment looked like. When I relocated to Qatar, I failed to ask most of the questions and more. Most of these things are small items as most furniture items are available in Qatar. While I had done some research, I wish there had been more information on what was available in Doha. (The photo above is my stash pre-Christmas stock up.)

This post may not be helpful for all my readers, but I hope that you find it interesting to get an insight into what moving abroad entails and if you are thinking about it, that this will help you ask the right questions wherever you are going. I will point out that all things listed here are American focused since I am American. The list would be huge if I tried to include all nationalities. I asked lots of Qatar Expats for their opinions, and this is a collection of their responses. One person only said she wish she had brought less!

Clothing/Shoes

Seems a bit ridiculous as Qatar has clothing stores! However, I have struggled with this one more than I thought I would. This is due to a lack of familiar options, lack of sizing and the prices.

– Unusual sizes – I am petite, and while there are petite sizes, they are not a lot of petite options. Almost all the pants I have bought here have had to be altered. Also, there are few plus size options, and a friend told me the clothes were not pretty.

– Familiar brands – We do have stores like Gap and a Banana Republic, but the selection is less than half of what you would find in the U.S. There is no Macy’s or Dillards here. However, we did get an Old Navy last year! This also applies to underwear. Only once have I bought underwear here and I didn’t like it.

– Shoes – There are familiar brands of shoes, but they tend to cater to local tastes. I have a hard time finding flats and shoes that aren’t covered in bling. Larger women sizes are also difficult to find.

– Prices – Clothes and shoes are more expensive here than in the U.S. There are also fewer sales because they are heavily regulated. This applies to children’s clothes and shoes as well.

Health/Medical

The orientation material I was given for my job gave me some sense that medicine availability would be different, but I didn’t expect it would apply to over the counter medication. Bring a couple of months supply of your prescriptions, so you don’t have to worry about that right away.  Since the list is long, I will just give you the list of what is unavailable or hard to find. (This photo is what I bought at Christmas, not including clothes!)

Relocating to Qatar - What to Pack

  • Tylenol – available but in blister packages of small quantity
  • Advil – same as Tylenol
  • Excedrin
  • Pepto Bismol
  • Alka Seltzer
  • Neosporin
  • Cortisone
  • NyQuil
  • Sudafed
  • Contact Solution – usually available, but frequently runs out, and brands are different
  • Ear/Eye Drops
  • After bite
  • Sleep medication (have only seen Panadol PM)
  • Tampons – rarely find them and not the brands we have in the U.S.
  • Monistat
  • Limited birth control brands – over the counter, though!
  • Benedryl
  • Mucinex
  • Heating pad – order one from the UK
  • Secret deodorant – we have it, but it double the price
  • Diaper Genie refills

Beauty

Fortunately, this not as much as an issue. However, some brands and things are hard to find.

  • Origins brand
  • Dry Shampoo
  • Non-drug store brands of shampoo and conditioner
  • Quality hair spray
  • Hair color
  • Travel sized toiletries
  • We have Sephora, but the product selection is limited

Food/Household Items

Items marked with an * are available here but are much more costly or are only sold in small sizes. Also be aware that sometimes you find an item, and it disappears for a while, or it never returns.

  • Tortillas – made without lard here and taste a bit like chemicals
  • Vanilla extract – not made with alcohol here
  • Arm and Hammer baking soda*
  • Chocolate chips
  • Crystal Light
  • French’s Fried Onions
  • Pumpkin Spice
  • White gravy mix
  • Pecans*
  • Hidden Valley Ranch
  • Decaf black tea bags
  • Frosted Shredded Wheat cereal
  • Chili Powder – what you see here is not what we are used to
  • Kitchen tools you prefer – I brought measuring cups since Qatar is on the metric system.
  • Dryer sheets*
  • Magic Erasers
  • Swiffers
  • Christmas decorations*
  • Foam mattress toppers – I bought mine here at IKEA, but it costs a fortuned. One person said they brought them one-by-one on trips home.
  • School supplies

Entertainment/Crafts

Finding DVDs that work here or finding a DVD player that works here is difficult. Bring what you really want to watch and us the DVD reader in your laptop to connect it to your TV. Bring the connector as well as the one I bought here cost and arm and a leg! Sign up for Netflix, Amazon or Hulu. If you have kids, this is especially important as many of the kid’s tv shows are in Arabic.

If you are a crafter, you will find limited supplies here. The quality is also not great. Although, you can find fabric here. Be prepared to order what you need or bring a healthy supply. One person said you needed to bring a whole Michael’s with you and that is not an understatement. Art supplies are also limited and are really meant for the hobbyist and not serious the artist.

Books are another thing we are lacking. There are not many bookstores and the selection is limited. Public libraries are non-existent.

As you can see the list is long and there is probably tons of things I have forgotten. A friend of mine here also wished she had brought 3-4 months of all of these things, so she didn’t spend so much time, in the beginning looking for them. If you have space, I would recommend it. Also, I cannot stress enough to ask for specifics on what is being provided to you. I arrived to find two of the smallest towels on earth in my apartment!

Have you relocated to Qatar? What do you suggest bringing? Share with us in the comments.

Expat, Qatar

Expat Life, The Reality

May 16, 2016

Expat Life, The RealityThis week I heard two things that prompted me to write this post. Two of my blogging friends, Two Fat Expats, here in Doha were talking about an article on a popular Australian website; that will remain nameless. The article was talking about that expats have this amazing life and we get everything done for us by our companies and that we are stars in the foreign countries we live in. While there is some truth to the statement, most of it is far from the truth. Another thing I heard this week was that someone asked my Mom if I actually worked! I was slightly embarrassed by this question, and I have no idea of the tone the question was asked in, so I can’t judge. I can see why this person asked this because if you look at my personal Facebook account or the one for my blog, I am usually posting pictures from vacation or a work trip. It can seem very glamorous, but I am going to talk abou the reality of expat life. Some other Qatar blogger friends also said that they would like to see more of my personal life on the blog. This is an attempt to show you what expat life in Qatar is actually like for me. Not sure how much I will do, but here we go!

Work!

Yes, I work! This makes me laugh a little because I wouldn’t be able to be here otherwise. Qatar has strict resident requirements that you have to meet to be here. For most, this means working. Some are here under the sponsorship of someone who is working. Qatar or my employer, depending on how you look at it, controls my leaving the country. We all have to have exit permits to leave. I have a yearly exit permit, but some people have to ask for it every time. This can make it difficult to go as you have to ask for the exit permit a few days before you go and hope that your employer agrees for your already paid for trip. The exit permit is supposed to be going to a different system, but I am not sure when or if it will happen.

But you are always traveling!

It may seem that way, but I am really not. Because I work at a university, I have more vacation that most Americans do. I get the equivalent of about a calendar month off a year. I manage to combine those with holidays and university closings to travel several times a year and go home for Christmas. Some trips are also working trips. Like last month’s trip to Slovenia. I even mentioned that in my post. Research is a part of my job requirement and so is presenting my research. Keep in mind that I space out blog posts about trip specifically because of this reason of not traveling all the time.

Okay, but that’s expensive!

This is the tricky part to talk about. Yes, I do make more money here than I did at home and we are given a travel allowance that is supposed to be used to go home once a year. Because I am single, I am able to use that money to go home and to travel. I still look for airfare sales and good hotel deals, though. I am not living it up at the Four Seasons when I travel! The hotel I stayed in for my last night in Slovenia, which was on my dime, was $34 a night!

That all sounds amazing!

There is a downside that many expats don’t talk about because people are always saying how great our lives are. It is also because we don’t want to be seen as complainers since we should have nothing to complain about. So here are a few things that can make living in Qatar difficult for me. I say me because these may not annoy everyone. Keep in mind these are all minor things and not reasons to leave. We all have issues with places we live.

Not picking out my own furniture – I live in furnished accommodation, which sounds great and to some degree it is. The apartment is large and has four toilets! However, I wasn’t able to pick the furniture, mattress included and it was used.  My mattress was so bad; it gave me shoulder bursitis. Also, everyone’s furniture is the same in the whole building!

Gas stations are few and far between – And you aren’t allowed to pump your own gas. Since the stations are so far apart, there are lines at almost every station and the one near my house blocks my way to work. Recently it has gotten so bad; I started going a different way. This also takes me past a gas station but seems to be less crazy than the other one.

No self-car washing – In what I assume is an effort to control water waste; there are no self-service car washes. Again lots of lines ensue! I have waited over two hours to get my car washed and I could have done it in 30 minutes.

Produce doesn’t last – Eat the berries before you leave the store! Okay so maybe within a day or two. It took them forever to get here and in the summer that sat in the sun for a while before they made it to the store. You do not want to eat moldy berries, trust me!

No Benedryl or Alka Seltzer – Medication is heavily regulated so for some reason we don’t have these at all! And pharmacies are not located inside grocery stores, so there is another trip to you have to make. Most grocery stores are in malls! I hated grocery shopping and malls before I got here, so even more UGH!

No left turns – Okay not no left turns, but very few. This means it takes longer than it should to get most places and lots of u-turns. Like when I go to the pharmacy!

No petite sized clothes – This perplexes me to no end! Many Qatari women are short and most everyone else is Asian, so not tall either and yet, we have no petites anywhere! Last night, I went on a long mission to a tailor to get pants hemmed and ended when I discovered the building had been torn down at some point.

Last, but not least and probably #1, No Street Signs – Well none that anyone actually uses! Lots of streets have names, but none of us has addresses! When I tell people where I live, I tell them by the closest hotel and mall! We do not get mail delivery in the traditional sense either. I really wanted to title this post, Where Streets Have No Name! Anyone who gets that song reference and has made it far into this long post gets a prize from Qatar!

I could go on, but then I would be complaining! There are definitely things about my life here that are easier as well. I have a housekeeper that comes every two weeks to clean the title floors, which I hate doing, but so do many of my friends and family back home. As a woman, you are sometimes allowed to go first in line at places and many salons and areas of restaurants are women only. Qatar is incredibly safe and I feel comfortable going out alone at any time of the day or night. Best of all, Rome is a 6-hour flight away!

Is there anything about my expat life you want to know about, but are afraid to ask! Go ahead, I don’t bite. Ask me anything you like in the comments.

 

Expat, Travel

My Original Travel Buddy: A Remebrance

September 9, 2015

Travel Buddy

Last week the hardest thing that has happened to me while being an expat, my beloved cat died in the U.S. while I was here in Qatar. I realize that many people are going through things you might consider harder or worse than this, but for me this was heart wrenching. Sophie and I have been together since 2001, and she was my original travel buddy.

Sophie was a birthday present to myself that year. I returned the sweater my mother had bought me and bought Sophie instead. Please forgive me, I was in college and buying a pet was perfectly acceptable to me at the time. I had also lost a kitten that summer due to a “kennel cough” and wasn’t ready to trust the shelter again. She was a mix of stray cat and purebred Himalayan. She was the friendliest of her litter. I gave it lots of thought and even slept on it overnight before going back the next day to get her.

Immediately, I started taking her on trips with me. I was in my second degree at college, so these were mostly road trips. Sometimes these trips were just on errands around town. I was determined that she wasn’t going to mind riding in the car. As long as she was not confined to the cat carrier she loved it. Going home for Christmas that first year was the real test, as that was over a six-hour drive. Luckily, I had a car that the back seat laid down. Her carrier, litter box, and my suitcase loaded into the back and off we went. It didn’t phase her at all. She sat on top of her carrier to see out the window or slept in the front passenger seat.

When I moved to New York, the trend continued. My Dad and I drove from Texas to New York City with a cat in a moving truck! She loved every minute I think. There were times she slept on the dashboard. Yes, I know we weren’t very safe with all this cat moving about the car thing, but you drive for two and half days with a cat howling in her carrier.  Most of the time, she was asleep in my lap and I enjoyed watching her reactions to the world whizzing by outside the window.

The adventures continued when I would fly home for the holidays from New York. It was much cheaper to fly her in the cabin with me than it was to board her. For many years, Sophie flew home with me. Now lots of people fly with their dogs, but I know that not many people fly with their cats! Going through security was hilarious. I was required to send her carrier through the x-ray machine and carry her through, but for my piece of mind, Sophie was always on a leash, which set off the metal detectors. Sophie also had her own plane ticket. It is just too bad she didn’t earn frequent flier miles! In the terminal, I would let her out of the carrier on the leash so she could stretch her legs while we waited to board. That alway elicited lots of stares and questions. Sophie was a beautiful cat and everyone commented on the length of her whiskers. On board, she was under my seat until take-off and then I would usually put her carrier in my lap, so that way she knew I was there and I could pet her. Not once on any flight did she ever cry. The flight attendants would pet her after the food service was over. This all ended when I had lady get very upset that she was flying next to a cat that she was allergic too. Sophie was not able to come out from under the seat that trip and I decided that wasn’t fair. Luckily, we moved back to Texas not long after this and she went on another epic road trip that last five days.

Sophie was almost 12 years old when I moved to Qatar and had not been well before I left. I always knew that she would probably pass while I was living here, but my plan was always to be home when that time finally came. I am a control freak and thought I would have control over that too. I figured she would decline slowly and that I could make it home and be there with her. Unfortunately, this didn’t happen. Whatever it was that took her, it took her quickly, which was a blessing. We are pretty sure it was cancer, but keeping her alive till I could get there was not fair. It wasn’t till I saw how bad she was doing on FaceTime that I knew putting her to sleep was the right thing to do. It didn’t make it any easier. I cried for hours and am pretty sure my body was in shock as kept shaking.

While it is just been a week, I am doing better now and can actually talk about it. Sophie was my best friend. She always knew when I needed a cuddle or a laugh. She gave my parents great joy by living with them. I also know that I made the right decision to leave her at home when I moved to Qatar. She enjoyed going outside and pretty much having free reign of my parents house for two years. When I would come home to visit, she would come running when she heard my voice, but after few minutes, she would run off. I am pretty sure she was afraid I was there to take her back to living inside all the time, so moving to Qatar for Sophie was never an option. Hopefully, one day I can accept that making that decision was right and the best thing for Sophie. Now I will take Sophie on all my trips by keeping her memory with me always.

The lovely photo of Sophie is courtesy of my Dad.  Thanks, Dad!

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