One year ago, I was packing as much as possible into a single suitcase and moving halfway across the world. Here is what I learnt and what changed for me after one year of living in Dubai.
A brand new person
Looking back at the person I was last year, I can barely recognise her. In December 2018 I was depressed, unemployed, I had just left a flat share with a flatmate from hell and had gotten rid of half of my things to move back to France after two and a half years in London. I was so lost and had no idea what my future was supposed to look like, in a country so far away from home and where I didn’t know anyone. Would I even survive the weather?!
The weather is still a pain, mind you. But so much else has changed since that it’s harder and harder to remember the person I used to be before Dubai. I now have two cats (rescued and adopted, of course), friends I made for life, a lovely and amazing boyfriend, and a job I love. I’m still not quite sure which part is the most surprising one.
But, most importantly, I now have the privilege of putting myself first. A healthy work-life balance (finally!) means I can prioritise some aspects of my life in a way I never could before. I have hobbies again, I have time to go to the gym and to cook healthy food, I can go home and simply relax, enjoy myself, do things I like. I can leave work at work, and it has had such a massive and positive impact on the rest of my life. The friends, love and cats could not have happened without that.
Living in Dubai and money
It’s always the first thing people from back home ask. How much are you making? Do you really not pay taxes? Is everything super expensive? The answer is, more than I could in the UK, yes, yes. Everything is relative, I supposed.
Having a higher salary, on top of not paying taxes or rent (thanks, one-bedroom flat that comes with the job!), means I can save more, live more comfortably, and pay back my student loans more quickly. I don’t have to worry about the end of the month and I can afford to take care of myself in a way I never thought would even be possible. I have time to go to the gym and to eat more healthy food, to take care of my skin, hair and nails with better products, and to overall afford to take care of my body.
And sure, the brunches and the visits to the beauty salon add up very quickly. But I learnt early on that Dubai is what you make of it. You don’t have to spend all your money if you don’t want, no matter how tempting all that capitalism can feel at times. Not only because there are so many apps (hello, Entertainer!) and ladies’ nights and special promotions going on all through the year to help you save money but also… because Dubai really is what you make of it. And you can decide not to spend hundreds in parties and going out, and be just fine with it.
I would rather save money and travel to new countries during school breaks. Which is another perk too — so many amazing countries are only a few hours away, when it would be a long-haul flight from Europe. Which means it’s faster, cheaper, and easier to travel now. What’s to complain about!
Will I stay in Dubai?
The answer, quite frankly… is no.
Don’t be mistaken, I love my life here. I love my job, and the kids I am teaching — they are funny and smart and great, and it rekindled my love of teaching, instead of just playing cop and being abused by teens in an English classroom. I love my life here, the opportunities this city is offering me, the gifts it has given me. I love how I am a better person every day thanks to it.
But I miss walking around in a normal weather, or going to the theatre, or not feeling like I need a loan to buy a drink. I miss the freedom that comes with a non-conservative country – to be myself, to kiss my boyfriend’s cheek in public without risking getting arrested, to not feel trapped from one place with AC to another.
I can’t see myself spending more than a few years in Dubai, least I lose my mind in the desert. Dubai is the beginning of my international career, but it sure is not the end of it.