From Washington, D.C. to Kuwait: Nutritionista Abroad
Hi, I’m Sheli. I moved from Washington, DC to Kuwait. I am a wife, a dog mom, a dietitian, a cook, an occasional baker, a health and fitness enthusiast, a wannabe yogi, and, of course, I love to travel.
1. Why did you move abroad?
I met my (now) husband only a few weeks before he left to study abroad for his junior year of college. When he got back, he couldn’t wait to move abroad again. So, moving abroad has always a part of our plan. Once my husband completed his PhD in International Psychology, moving to the Middle East was a natural next step as his research is focused here. Obviously safety was a high priority, so Kuwait was a pretty easy choice. Luckily, working in health care allows me to work pretty much anywhere!
2. How do you make a living?
I was really lucky to find an amazing clinic to work through a connection with the University where my husband works. I love the clinic itself but I also have a really great Kuwaiti coworker. I don’t know how I would have learned about the Kuwaiti foods and customs without her. She is still a constant wealth of new information. Plus, she’s a new graduate so she’s able to learn from me as well. We have a very good thing going there!
Working with Kuwaiti families is a very different experience than working with Americans. One of the biggest differences is that most people here have a personal cook. So, people don’t necessarily know exactly what they’re eating even if they usually eat at home (but most still usually eat out!). In some instances, it’s easier though because you can just give the recipes directly to the cook and they take care of everything!
3. How often do you communicate with home and how?
We usually video chat with family once a week with Google Hangouts. We also email, use Google Chat, Whatsapp, and Viber to keep in touch. Of course, Instagram, Facebook, and Snapchat definitely help to keep everyone in the loop. I can’t imagine living abroad before all of the convenient technologies we have now! Except for a slightly longer time difference, we communicate almost just the same as we did when we lived in DC.
4. What's your favorite thing about being an expat in ?
Since this is my first time as an expat, I just generally love being able to get a real feel for a culture that’s so different from my own. Traveling is great, but it’s a really different experience when you’re living somewhere full time. It just really cements the fact that we really are all so much alike, no matter where you come from.
5. What’s the worst thing about being an expat in ?
Being a dietitian, I would be remiss if I didn’t say how disappointed I am in the meat industry here. In the States, we were quite used to only buying local, free-range, grass-fed, talk-to-the-actual-farmer at the market meat, eggs, and dairy products. That style of farming and raising animals definitely does not exist here. I thought that the meat industry in the US was really bad but, apparently, it’s significantly worse in Kuwait. Several expat coworkers were forced to become vegans after moving here because the meat was making them sick.
That said, I’m sure there are restaurants that are able to get high quality meat. We rarely eat out though (which is definitely against the grain here in Kuwait) so this has been a tough adjustment. Luckily there is a nice variety of fruits and vegetables brought in so we definitely won’t starve!
6. What do you miss most?
Besides family and friends, of course, I am still really missing Amazon.com and stores like Target! A lover of shopping I am not (again – very against the grain here! Maybe I’ll be converted before we leave), I’d much rather chose a few things online and have them delivered. For example – I need a new workout armband that fits my phone. You can find anything in the world for iPhones here, but accessories for any other phone is like finding a needle in a haystack! Amazon would have had my back though. Throw pillows and cloth napkins? One stop shopping at Target for those plus the week’s groceries! No luck here though. You’re looking at a minimum three-hour mall trip.
One thing I do not miss though, is pumping my own gas! Only full-service stations here and I don’t mind one bit!
7. What did you do to meet people and integrate in your new home?
Luckily I have some really great co-workers, both fellow expats and Kuwaiti’s. I’ve also met some friends through the American Women’s League events. Most couples our age here have children so it has been a little harder to find couple friends.
One thing that made a huge difference on integrating here was being able to bring our dog over. We had to wait about two months, but a house just isn’t a home without our little hairball. Having our family back together again has been amazing.
8. What custom/ habits do you find most strange about your adopted culture?
Weddings, modern “arranged” marriages, and the family style living arrangements are all a little mind blowing. I have the best in-laws in the world, but I would still feel some anxiety if someone told me we had to move in with them and live there for the rest of our lives. I hope to be able to attend a wedding while I’m here to see everything first hand, but the descriptions and pictures I’ve seen are really interesting and not at all the same as a Christian wedding.
9. What is a myth about your adopted country?
One myth is that Kuwait is unsafe just because it is in the Middle East. This couldn’t be further from the truth. I feel much safer here than I ever did living in DC. I can walk the dog any time of day or night without a second thought for my safety. Crime (other than a ridiculous amount of traffic violations) is virtually non-existent.
I’m not sure if this actually a myth, but I assumed that Kuwait would be essentially devoid of Christmas. We brought over a few ornaments with hopes that we would be able to find a tree somewhere. But the entire Christmas season turned out to be one pleasant surprise after the next! Not only is every type of Christmas decoration imaginable available, but we attended a Christmas concert, and several bazaars, among other things.
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?
Overall, our cost of living is lower in Kuwait. Cost of living in DC is extremely high. There are some things that are more expensive here though. I really miss Greek yogurt – Chobani is the only brand available and it’s 3 times the price here as it is in the States so I just can’t justify buying it. For many other things I think it just depends on where you go.
The lower cost of living here plus the fact that we’re in a more central location has allowed us exponentially more travel opportunities than if we were still in the States – and we definitely plan to use that to our advantage!
11. What advice would you give other expats?
No matter what you think it’s going to be like before you move, you’re going to be wrong. It’s so important to keep an open mind. I also think it really helps to keep yourself busy. Even without human children I rarely find enough hours in the day to turn on the T.V. (and I only work part-time!) In fact, I’m trying to schedule some time to start the new Gilmore Girls this week – wish me luck!
12. When and why did you start your blog?
I started the blog as soon as we moved to keep myself busy and also as a way to keep family and friends updated. When we moved I didn’t have a job yet and I was still dog-less. Now that I have both my dog and a job, keeping the blog going has been a serious challenge – but I’m actually enjoying it for now! But, even if the blog ends up being nothing more than a travel diary for us to look back at, I’ll be happy to have it.
Sheli's blog, Nutritionista Abroad
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