Who Am I ?
LOSS OF IDENTITY IN THE EXPAT WORLD.
Loss can take many forms and cover not only the passing away of a loved one, but also in the expat world it can be the loss of identity and a form of bereavement can take place when you leave family behind and move abroad. In this article I want to talk about loss of identity and the bereavement we feel as expats from leaving behind everything that is familiar to us.
So you have arrived in Qatar, unpacked, found schools for the children, RPs sorted or in the process of being sorted, husband is busy getting to grips with his new job or if he was here ahead of you is already up an running with his routine. If you had a career in your home country you might have been lucky enough to continue your career here.
For those of you who have chosen to suspend your career and become a full time mum or use this opportunity to change careers or find a new direction, this can quickly become a minefield of confusion.
It’s all a mixed blessing really. Never before have you had the opportunity to devote your time to going to the gym everyday or meeting up with friends for coffee and a chat, browsing the Souqs and the joys of wandering through Katara Cultural Village. To your families and friends back home you have the life they would love to have. But after a while the shine goes off and as the dust settles on your new life, you find yourself questioning who you are, what you were and what will the future hold for you as woman, identifiable primarily as a mother and wife. It sometimes might even feel that you have stepped backwards in time to the fifties. You have become a proverbial Stepford wife, creating this lovely life for your family. Everything is good, more money, more time with the kids,more spare time for you. After all, life is fantastic in the expat world, isn’t it?
But the homesickness will not go away. And you think the life back home was not so bad, after all everything was familiar and comfortable. You had a place in society either through your career or through your family and connections.
The loss of identity is a common feeling for a lot of women as trailing spouses.
Let me be clear, not every woman feels like this. Some women arrive in the expat world and thrive on the change and turbulence of negotiating their way through a different culture. Some just get in and get on with it. They are the survivors and swimmers. You could put these women in a mudhut in Swaziland and in no time they would either have a job or a coffee morning organized. Good for them. We need women like that. However it takes all kinds to make a world and if we were all survivors and swimmers we would be beating each other to the frontline every day. Not good for society.
So what about the women still trying to find their feet, missing home, shyly sweating it out at the gym?
You want something, but you don’t know what. The word ‘more’ may pop into your head regularly. But ‘more’ what? More friends? More fulfillment? More joy? There must be ‘more’ to life than this?
It’s got to be fulfilling, enjoyable, make money, meet people, make new friends, give you status and raison d’être, but not encroach on your time with the kids because of after school activities and not intervene on your evenings and family time. Oh and no weekend work, that’s sacred time.
If you find one, can you let me know if there is a vacancy. That’s my dream job there.
Seriously though, it’s out there if you look hard enough and are ready to grab it. And you have to be quick because those survivors and swimmers are going to be after it also.
In the meantime, whilst you are waiting for the flash of inspiration, you can start preparing yourself for your new life. The path is easy if your intention is strong.
Your old life is no longer your present one. It’s not gone and you can reignite it anytime you go home. Its still a part of you and what made you ‘you’. Now the focus is on what is in front of you everyday. Sounds obvious, doesn’t it? Yet it’s easy to lose sight of what is in front of us while we wish we were somewhere or someone else.
TOP TIPS FOR THE NEW YOU.
Connect. Connect. Connect.
Get out there, join clubs, take up sport , join a gym, volunteer for something. Be prepared to move out of that comfort zone and step into the unknown.
If you have kids in primary school then you have an instant advantage. Look at the mums around you milling at the gate or classroom door. Too shy to just walk in on a convo or introduce yourself? No problem. Dress to impress. I don’t mean dress up. Wear something that will draw attention like a bold or unusual piece of jewelry. Something that will encourage or leave the doorway open for a comment. I know many conversations that have started with ‘Oh I love that pendant’ etc. Not got anything striking enough yet? Get down to Souq Waqif or Al Raunaq or Oriental Carpets ( yes they sell way more than carpets) and start browsing. It doesn’t have to cost the earth. In the meantime look at what other people are wearing and be the one to admire something. It might sound frivolous, but trust me – it works.
Exchange numbers at every available opportunity. The woman in front of you might be the one who introduces you to your next best friend.
Never say no to any offer to join with a group. You might hate the idea of coffee mornings, however remember you are now amongst the most amazing group of people you will ever meet. Expat women are often the friendliest, the most well educated and culturally diverse women you will ever get to know. Join in a few coffee mornings with different groups and see which ones you can identify with. You never know you might meet your expat BFF there.
You will also meet women from backgrounds you might never mix with back home. Be open to new cultures, be tolerant of differences and enjoy this wonderful opportunity presented to you.
Start up a group of your own with your own interests through either a hobby or a need. Whatever you are experiencing, you are not alone, there will be at least one other person out there looking for something similar.
Become self employed or develop a skill you have that you can earn an income from. However do familiarize yourself with the law regarding small businesses in Qatar, beforehand.
Keep regular contact with your family back home. Initially, this is done without thinking because you miss them. However as your life takes off here and you settle in to a new routine, time zone and weekend differences can take their toll. Sometimes that call to Mum or your sister can become a chore. Especially as you have this new exciting change and they…well they haven’t changed one bit. And have you noticed the silence when you talk about the places you have been and the things you are doing, (even getting a medical done here is a colourful story in itself). Be patient and understand that you are in a world they might (or have not yet ) seen. Remember to acknowledge their everyday life as it was once yours.
A word of caution…
Some of you may have some very priviledged positions here. You will have house help or a driver. There will be someone to wash your windows, carry your groceries, fix your air conditioning. Be kind to those around us who make our lives easier. They are human too. And we are all here for the same thing – to make money and memories.
Be present 100% in your life from this day forward. Your children will only be this age and in this stage for a very short time. Enjoy them. No really enjoy them. MORE.
So now you have more time to;
Stand back and quietly watch them play and chat. Listen to them without judgement. Revel in the time you have to just sit and be with them, to play with them or read stories. You now have to opportunity to parent your own children. This is a luxury a lot of us couldn’t do in the west. It was all work work work.
Enjoy and I mean really enjoy your time in the gym and with friends you make here. Feel the difference.
Enjoy the book, don’t just read for the sake of it.
Revel in your leisurely breakfast. Remember all the rushed cups of coffee grabbed as you went out the door, still munching toast as you started the car or boarded the bus. Those days are gone.
One of the things that used to annoy me when I first came to Qatar was hearing women say things like – Oh I like to do X because it fills my day.
Even as a new expat, I felt really strongly about this. Why on earth would anyone be happy with just ‘filling’ their day. Live your day. Live everyday as if you had a time limit on it.
Love to the max, play to the max, live to the max. You will be pleased you did.