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From South Africa to Kuwait: Expat Panda

26 December, 2016 08:32  Erin Erin

Expat Panda A twenty-something nomadic panda born and raised in South Africa. Married to a risk-taking fox. A curious educator, zealous explorer & vociferous storyteller. Always trying to inspire and connect with people through my passions. A life liver & encouragement giver in the pursuit of perfection.

1.    Why did you move abroad?
While most little girls dreamed of their picture perfect wedding complete with fairy lights and a lacy white dress, I have been dreaming of crossing borders, filling passports and exploring the world ever since I hit double digits. After getting a taste of living abroad in 2011 when I moved to vibrant and culture-filled South Korea for two golden years, I moved back home to finish my Masters degree in South Africa and now I have moved to the quiet, not-so-conservative haven that is Kuwait. A long-standing need to discover, wander, dream and roam fuels my passion for travel and inspired this move abroad.

2.    How do you make a living?
I have four university degrees with majors in Media, Psychology, Education and Educational Psychology, which has led me to unearth a passion for teaching, educating and molding young minds. After five years of teaching various levels from elementary to high school kids, I am currently teaching kindergarten at an International school in Kuwait. I am lucky that the way I make a living is also my passion so I am happy to go into work everyday! Oh and do I need to mention the holidays?!

3.    How often do you communicate with home and how?
I am somewhat of social media junkie, utilizing everything I can understand from Facebook to Whatsapp to Snapchat to Instagram. Most apps out there these days offer some sort of chatting/calling/video calling facilities and I make sure I use them all. Skype and Facetime are my other favourites but really it just depends what medium the person I am communicating with prefers since I don’t mind anything! I try to stay in touch with people on a daily basis even if it’s just a quick message to my sister or a 2 minute video snap with a friend. I always get goaded about how my accent has changed and how foreign I now look (??) but despite the teasing, maintaining connections with people back home helps keep me grounded and less homesick.

4.    What's your favourite thing about being an expat in Kuwait?
My favourite thing about Kuwait has to be the convenience of doing basic things. When I order things online (I have ordered everything online here from groceries to an expensive camera), my orders usually arrive within 4 hours. Amazing! From drive through ATMs, petrol attendants, super helpful sales assistants to ordering food through various apps, life in Kuwait can be super convenient if you embrace the relaxed (lazy) lifestyle. The food in Kuwait also deserves a special mention; with an eclectic and diverse mix of expats here in Kuwait, you can find any type of cuisine to suit every budget.  Eating out is a favourite pastime here and can lead to the dreaded ‘Kuwaiti Kilos’.

5.    What’s the worst thing about being an expat in Kuwait?
The worst thing about being an expat is that despite a country full of expats, Kuwait is really not foreigner friendly. Stringent visa requirements means tons of paperwork which can leave you feeling a bit helpless in the first few months as you have no ID card, bank account, medical insurance or even your passport which is kept by the company while they process things. Kuwait does not have many activities or attractions to keep people entertained when compared to other Gulf countries, which can make it rather boring and not the ideal place you want to bring your friends and family over to visit.

6.    What do you miss most?
Other than my delightful friends and family who are back home, I miss the beautiful scenery and atmosphere of my hometown. A warm inviting ocean surrounded by pristine beaches forms the focal point of my hometown, Durban. Coupled with lush vegetation, succulent fruits, tropical heat all year round and the multi-lingual, multi-cultural society that we are famous for, the place is a gem, which can never be replicated no matter how many countries I have visited. South Africa as a whole is a magnificent country but Durban is special to me. In comparison, Kuwait seems dusty and drab and oh-so-cold during winter!

7.    What do you do to meet people and integrate in your new home?
I have joined a few Facebook groups, Internations as well as Meetup in order to meet new people. Kuwait is also a tiny country so its inevitable that once you attend one barbecue, you will meet people who will invite you to another event and as you meet more people, your social circle will grow. It also helps that I live in a building full of teachers from my school so whenever I need something or want to go somewhere, there is always close by that I can trouble.

8.    What custom/ habits do you find most strange about your adopted culture?
The Arab culture in Kuwait is very laidback and relaxed even about urgent matters. For example, nobody in this country is ever punctual, administrative matters take forever to process and car accidents happen all the time since they don’t see the point in adhering to the rules of the road. Everything will happen in “Inshallah” time. Inshallah means “God willing” and can mean anything between one day to one month.  I find this very strange, as I like to have dates and plans which I can adhere to but no one here has a similar mindset. Kuwaiti’s themselves complain about how inefficient they are which also confuses me as they seem to do anything about it!

9.    What is a myth about your adopted country?

I think there is a myth that if you live anywhere in the Middle East other than glittery Dubai, you are living in a conflict-ridden conservative war zone. This isn’t true at all! Life in Kuwait is quite peaceful and far safer than my life in South Africa. No law is enforced upon anyone for example, women are not forced to wear a headscarf and although alcohol is not sold in stores, drinking alcohol in Kuwait is not illegal. It is a very relaxed and serene lifestyle here as long as you respect the religion and local customs (no drunken behaviour in public please!).

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?
Well the cost of living in Kuwait is MUCH higher than it was in South Africa but to be fair, I earn a lot more so it is relative. Most fruit and vegetables are imported which can make groceries very expensive but on the other hand, petrol is far cheaper than it was back in South Africa. In general, there is something to suit all budgets when shopping from haute couture in luxurious malls to bargaining at the crowded local souk (market). The Kuwaiti Dinar is also one of the strongest currencies in the world which means it can take you very far when sending money back to your home country or are traveling out of Kuwait.

11.    What advice would you give other expats?
I would say being flexible, open-minded and accepting is super important but then again, if you’re an expat you have probably already figured that out. If you are planning to move abroad, just remember that there will always be cultural differences in different parts of the world, no matter how much of research you have done before arriving, and a big part of living abroad is expecting and adapting to them.

The most important lesson I’ve learned from living in South Korea and Kuwait is to accept what I can’t change and try my best to change things that are within my control. Moving abroad, especially to the Middle East is incredibly hard, bewildering, baffling… and ultimately, extremely fulfilling.  When you move back home, if you ever do, you’ll be a different person than you were when you first left.

12.    When and why did you start your blog? Expat Panda
I started my blog in July 2016 (yes it is still a baby blog!) while I was still looking for a job overseas. I wanted to document every aspect of my move from the job search to the packing to the actual arrival so that people could feel that they were a part of my experience.

From the time I moved to South Korea in 2011, I have always been inundated with questions from people about how to find a job abroad and what the experience was like which is why I started this blog to help them and others understand both the negatives and the positives of being an expat. Also, if you have a large family and social circle, having a blog is the easiest way to avoid repeating stories and answering the same questions all the time!

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