Please tell us a little bit about yourself: Where are you and your partner from? When did you leave Belgium and where are you now? How many children do you have, and what ages are they?
I am Belgian and a happy mother of 3 children. I have lived in the Middle East, Dubai for almost 5 years, where I totally feel at home.
Previously, I lived in Brussels for almost 15 years and my 3 children were born in Ixelles. They are now 16, 14 and almost 12 years old.
My husband is also Belgian from Brussels.
What felt like the biggest cultural difference between Belgium where you live now?
The cultural values in the Middle East are totally different, you can’t just act the same way as you would do in Belgium.
It’s not Europe, and the Emiratis – a minority amongst the expats – have their own lifestyle, own mindset and ways of doing things. The religious aspect was the biggest difference where you have the prayer times and the chiming Mosques 5 times a day!
How did your kids react to the move? How do you try to ensure your children’s connection with home and national pride? What language(s) do you speak at home?
My eldest was just about to turn 12 when we arrived in Dubai and she was quite unhappy about the move, frustrated to have leave her friends and family behind. It took her 2 full years to settle down and to start enjoying her new life as an expat.
The other 2 were much younger, they trusted us and therefore settled in quite quickly although they did struggle with the English language!
We speak French at home but they all go to school in English (except for this year, my eldest asked to go to the French Lycée to be with her french friends.
What do you miss most about home, in your case, Belgium?
The hardest aspect is to feel so far away from our family and friends.
What opportunities do you have now that you didn’t have when you were living in Belgium?
My expat life in Dubai has given me so many opportunities and I will never regret having left my home country for a couple of years.
To move to Dubai, I had to resign from my previous job in Brussels. I took a year off just to settle the family, helping the children to settle in and get to grips with the english language and the new educational system.
I also started making new friends and accepted all the invitations so that I could meet new people and settle in myself. During my second year, I studied Naturopathy, self-learning at home with an e-platform. I’ve always been interested about healthy lifestyles but I never had the time to jump the step when I was in Belgium as I was working almost full-time.
And then I was part of the Eco team at school and worked on some awareness campaigns with different environmental associations…I had the time to look for different opportunities and find a new personal interests.
Have you made friends with many ‘locals’ where you’re living now, or do you find yourself socialising mainly with other expats? Do you remain close to friends and family in Belgium? How often do you come back?
The real locals in the UAE, the ‘Emiratis’ make up for only 10% of the UAE population. And there are many European expats too which all live together in different areas of the city. The only locals that we meet is via the school. We tend to spend time with French expats as we feel close to their culture and mindsets.
We go home, back to Belgium, once a year only. We tend to travel over the holidays to go and discover other parts of the world. However, over the summer, I tend to go back with the children for 2 months, which compensates for the rest of the year.
But we do stay in contact with our close family and friends, via WhatsApp messages and calls via BOTIM. We also have family and friends visiting.
Have you learned the local language where you are now? What about your kids? What kind of school are they in?
The school where my children go is international (IB educational system) and they follow their lessons in English.
However, it is compulsory to learn the Arabic language at school, it is a requirement form the government. I haven’t learned Arabic as I don’t know where to practice as most people in the shops and even for the services, they all speak English.
What about food: do you still crave food from Belgium or have you ‘gone local’? What are some of your favourite Belgian food or drinks?
There are many Arabic restaurants with their own specialities and they cover not only the UAE but also the other Arabic countries.
They are many international restaurants and even Belgian restaurants where we sometimes go to indulge in our favourites dishes from back home.
We miss the Belgian chocolate and the beers!
Do you feel that living outside your home country has been enriching? If yes, how has it shaped you and your family?
It has definitely been enriching for all the family!
We live in an international environment with different cultures and beliefs, we have learned to be open, tolerant and respectful towards other nationalities.
We have also taken the opportunity to travel the world during our holidays and to establish strong ties with friends living in our neighbourhood. We support each other and we can reassure one another when needed as our families are far away.
What tips would you give to people who may be thinking of moving / planning to move country with a family in tow? How do you give yourself the best chances of a smooth transition?
But the move needs to be planned in advance.
Finding the right schools is a challenge and therefore needs quite a bit of investigation. And it’s not easy to know in which area to live in.
This is the reason why I took the services of a relocation who was able to guide me in the first few weeks and help me understand where to find things and how to fit in, in the new culture and way of living.
It’s also worth exchanging with people who already live there and can brief you on their daily lives so to have a positive picture in your mind. We decided to move, to take the chance, knowing that we could also turn back if the experience wasn’t a satisfactory one.