From the USA to UAE: Ann Benjamin
Hi, I’m Courtney! I’m an American living with my husband and our cat in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. We moved abroad in 2007 from Los Angeles, CA and have lived in Dubai, Doha and are now happy in Abu Dhabi.
1. Why did you move abroad?
My husband and I were traveling with my college roommate’s parents, who announced they were moving back abroad. We looked at each other and after coming home decided we shouldn’t be jealous, we should do something about it!
One CV and less than a year later, we were moving from Los Angeles to Dubai. (And then Doha and then Abu Dhabi!) We had intended a one year experiment, but now have no intention of returning home any time soon.
2. How do you make a living?
Although we moved abroad for my husband’s career, I like to stay busy! I worked in various administrative roles before deciding on a career in higher education. I was fortunate to work at the Georgetown School of Foreign Service in Qatar and have been with New York University Abu Dhabi for over a year. I love life on campus, and feel especially lucky to be around such a diverse group of students and faculty. If we were to move again, I would look for a similar institution to work at. Without children, I find that work is the best and easiest place to make friends as an ex-pat.
Oh – and I also write. Through the wonders of the internet, I’ve been able to publish six novels from overseas. My seventh book will be out later this year! I’d love to pursue writing as a full time career, but I’m not quite there yet.
3. How often do you communicate with home and how?
Facebook has been a wonderful way to stay in touch – no matter the time zone. I can reach out to friends in Sydney or Los Angeles on the messenger app. We tend to Skype with our parents about once every 3 weeks or so and e-mail in between.
4. What's your favorite thing about being an expat in Abu Dhabi?
The GCC! Even as the temperature creeps up for summer, there is a lot to enjoy about living in the Middle East. Personally, I love the access to travel. We are so close to so many destinations that would otherwise be out of reach. In the past eight years we’ve visited places I would never have had the chance to see if we had stayed in the States. And hey – the price of petrol here is something I’ll never complain about. In Doha, petrol was literally cheaper than water!
5. What’s the worst thing about being an expat in Abu Dhabi?
The weather is both a blessing and a curse. For example, we don’t have a heater, but it’s difficult to be comfortable outside between June-September. I also sometimes worry about our carbon imprint. I know there is a cost for all this building in the desert and wish there was more to offset our life here.
6. What do you miss most?
Besides our friends and family, I desperately miss Target. I’m not even kidding. It’s my first stop every time I go home to the States. Even with all of our shopping here, there is nothing like it here in the Middle East.
7. What did you do to meet people and integrate in your new home?
We’ve been so lucky to make a lot of amazing friends. Through both of our work environments, we made friends and expanded the circles from there. The thing that’s great about being an expat in an expat heavy city, is that you can just make plans with people – you don’t have to over think anything. For example, going to brunch (a weekend tradition here) is a perfect time to say ‘Hey, can I bring along so and so?’ The answer is always yes.
As for integrating, it’s been fun to ‘play house’ and get set up. Of course, that can sometimes mean waiting for curtains to be put in and getting woken up with the sun for almost a month, but I’ve enjoyed getting out into various shops to source everything for our home. Our household is an eclectic batch of things, but I love it.
8. What custom/ habits do you find most strange about your adopted culture?
Chaotic driving. While the UAE is considerably better than Doha, the aggression on the roads here is something I’ve never been able to understand.
Also, our work week is Sunday to Thursday, which took some getting used to.
9. What is a myth about your adopted country?
Interestingly, the geography. A lot of people think we’re in India.
10. Is the cost of living higher or lower than the last country you lived in and how has that made a difference in your life?
If I actually think about how much we’ve paid in rent over the past eight years, I would probably break down in tears! Renting an apartment in the Middle East can be quite pricey. We’ve sometimes been fortunate to receiving a housing allowance, but not always. It’s especially intense when you have to pay the entire year up front. Other things can be cheaper and we’ve definitely been able to save money, but with no rent cap in Abu Dhabi, our current apartment jumped 10% in one year.
11. What advice would you give other expats?
It’s going to be difficult at first. You’ll be put well outside of your comfort zone. In the end, it is so completely worth it. Also, be secure in your relationship before you move. I’ve seen how living abroad can both positively and negatively affect marriages. Know yourself and your limits. Also, always pick up champagne on arrival at duty free!
12. When and why did you start your blog?
I started it back in 2012 as a way to explore my author voice, but many of my posts end up being about living abroad or about my life outside of writing.
Courtney's blog, Ann Benjamin
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