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Pre-Repatriation Blues?

April 24, 2017

Pre-repatriation

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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

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!

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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

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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!

Expat, Qatar

My Qatar 2 Year Anniversary

August 7, 2015

2 Years in QatarTwo years ago today, I landed in Qatar. The small details of that night are a blur, but I do remember that my jeans stuck to me from the humidity as I walked down the stairs from the airplane. Then I was driven through the night to the wrong apartment, and it was only realized after most of my very heavy bags had been hauled up the stairs. After I was taken to the grocery store, I was desperate for a shower, and when I got out I couldn’t find my hair dryer in the six suitcases I had brought. The air conditioning was so cold, and I had no idea how to turn it up or off. I put on one of the few winter sweaters I had brought and hoped I wouldn’t get sick. Despite the rough first night, I have made Qatar my home.

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I have been thinking all week about what I want to say about being here for two years. Being in Qatar has taught me so much about the world and its people. I am not sure if I have the right words to describe my experience has been as an expat, but I will do my best to share my thoughts and experiences.

Being an expat is to be on constant learning curve and I love that. I can see why many people in some countries go on a gap year. It opens your eyes to so many things to move to another country. I immediately jumped in and started to experience the culture of Qatar. The second weekend I was here, I was at the Inland Sea, which borders Saudi Arabia. Both at work and in social gatherings, I met people from all over the world such as Lebanon, the Philippines, Italy, Austria, Egypt, Ireland and the list goes on. You could travel the world without ever leaving Qatar. Each person is willing to share their story and the story of their country. Everyone is proud of where they are from and I want to know about it. My favorite thing is when I go out to eat with my friends here and I am the only American. The rest of them are from somewhere else. One time this led to a discussion on what kind of road kill is common in their home countries!

Being an expat requires you to adapt. Things don’t work the same way that they did in your home country. Buying a car for example, in the U.S. you could walk into the dealership and walk out a few hours later with a car. Here, it took about two weeks. Not a problem and the process was simple, but different. Most things are standardized here so getting car insurance is easy because the price is the same everywhere and I bought this year’s car insurance at the traffic department. However, I was the only western woman in the building and the Qatari women there were working. No one is allowed to pump their own gas here, so you are reliant on someone to fill your gas tank and they also only take cash. Slowly you learn how things work and you adapt and accept. Some expats never adapt or accept and that makes their life hard and they usually don’t stay very long. The serial expat though has become the best adapter and in some ways probably thrives on it. I like change to some degree, so some of this hasn’t been an issue. Although, I still have only gotten a haircut once in Qatar because I have heard horror stories from too many people.

Being a single woman expat is a challenge. I would actually say being single expat is harder than being a woman expat. Especially here in Qatar. Qataris and some other nationalities find it hard to fathom that you are here alone. Based upon the looks some have given me when I tell them I am here alone, I think they think my family must not like me or I have done something wrong. It also makes life a bit harder. For example, when your car breaks down and you just leave it because your friends can’t come jump the battery until later. Or when you take a cab to the emergency room because you know everyone is already in bed asleep. Being a woman is another thing entirely. Eventually, you get used to men (and some women) staring at you because in their culture it is normal, and there is no harm in it. As a blond in a city of brunettes, I am the “exotic” one. You learn to stand up for yourself when getting a car repair done or getting the car washed, even more so than in your home country. But you also are relieved to know that if you have a flat tire on the side of the road, several Qatari men (and other nationalities too) will stop to help and you don’t have to worry about being attacked or kidnapped. I know that I can walk through a parking lot at night here, and no one will bother me. After my car battery had died, one of my male Arab friends brought me a portable car battery charger so I wouldn’t be stuck again or dependent on someone to help me. I think he knows me well. What all this has taught me is that I am stronger than I realize and the moment may be hard, but I can handle it.

Being an expat has made me want to travel even more. Learning from the other expats about their home countries has led me to add countries on my must see list. I have also had the great experience of visiting a few of these countries with these friends. They fill you with a great appreciation of their country that visiting on your own could never achieve. Being in Qatar has also made me realize that to truly know a place you have to visit for more than a week or a month. Being an expat is the ultimate in slow travel. Too bad I can’t live in every country for two years.

Being an expat changes you. When you go home, you realize your life experience is never going to mirror any of your peers’ experiences. Unless you happen to have a ton of expat friends, but even then their experience will be shaped by the country or countries they lived in or where they are from originally. This is not a bad thing, but some people will find it hard to relate to you or they will smother you with questions. Other cultures have now shaped your thoughts and beliefs. It even comes down to simple things like you are always shocked to see people in so little clothes during the summer in other countries because everyone is covered here. You may also be behind on things going on in your home country. For example, I don’t know who all has declared their run for President. I am sure I will pay more attention once we get closer, but until then I will remain blissfully unaware about who is slinging mud at who.

I wouldn’t change any of this. Yes, I miss my family, friends and my cat back home. Yes, I know I may have a hard time moving back to the U.S. one day, but to have experienced this is something I will never regret. I understand different cultures better, I know world politics, I have friends in multiple countries and am traveling to them and all the while learning even more. I will not die saying I wish I had gone…