6 years, 6 lessons from Dubai
DUBAI, UAE – It was March of 2009 when I packed my bags and journeyed 6,000 miles to Dubai. This was two days after I left my job as a marketing executive in one of the top record companies in Manila, which after 5 years, became – quite literally – my life.
Friends and family were left in a daze, as it all seemed unreal to me and to them that I was officially moving to the Middle East.
I wasn’t scared and I wasn’t that sad. You kind of stop feeling anything in those situations and try to get through it.
After a few hours on the plane (and several glasses of complimentary white wine), I caught myself crying non-stop. It was as if I was grieving the loss of my old life, and the fact that it would be a very long year before I can see my loved ones again. And even then I just knew it will never be the same.
So I cried until my tears dried, and by the time we landed I was somewhat relieved and cleansed thinking about the past, ready to move on to my next big adventure.
Six years of living here as an expat I have seen, done and gone through a lot of things that I probably would never would have thought about if I were still in my sheltered cocoon in Manila. Not all experiences were good, neither were they all bad. But I am happy and proud to say I regret nothing.
They say there is no better teacher than experience. Here are some of those lessons I’ve learned from my experience living the past 6 years in Dubai:
Lesson 1: To be a woman
It was here that I realized what it really means to be a woman, the advantages and the disadvantages.
It’s not easy to be in a country where they traditionally view women as a homemaker, as someone to be protected and cared for, and not necessarily someone who has her own opinions or someone who can take care of herself.
The Filipinas out here, many of them breadwinners for their families back home, are breaking that stereotype, to a point where an Arab colleague would ask me, “Where are the husbands? Why are they letting you work?”
To which I believe the correct answer is – because we can, and because we want to.
In my 6 years, I have met so many fascinating, inspiring, strong, independent, talented, beautiful (inside out) Pinays, and getting to know them has actually made me a better person.
Lesson 2: What it means to be Filipino
Living away from home made me realize what I love the most about Filipinos. Out here you will see first-hand how Pinoys cope with difficulties, their resiliency, resourcefulness and positivity, the best traits of a fighter.
On the other hand, I have also come face to face with our bad habits, such as “chismis” and the old “crab mentality.”
A French friend told me once that Filipino workmates are very easy to get along with. They were always happy and smiling.
They work hard, but she complained that they “chit-chat too much.”
It seems to be a hard thing to ask of Pinoys. We like to talk, and we are fond of talking about other people. Perhaps this is the result of living in such close-knit communities that we cannot seem to stop ourselves from being “overly-concerned.”
I am guilty of this sometimes, but I am proud to say that I have successfully managed to control this, thanks to the help of good friends who feed my thirst for sensible conversations. I would suggest that when chatting with someone you just met, kabayan or otherwise, be mindful of personal boundaries. There may be better topics to discuss other than “may boyfriend ka na?” (Do you have a boyfriend already?) or “when was your last relationship?”
Also, I learned that sometimes (surprisingly) the toughest relationships to navigate abroad might be the ones with your kabayan. Crab mentality exists everywhere, but it is a concept that I've seen to be proven true for Pinoys out here. I've learned that the best way to cope is just to be positive and helpful. Stay humble, do your job well and make an effort to reach out. Crack jokes, share your baon, bring chocolates to work and spread the love around. In fact, chocolates just might be the quickest way to anyone’s heart around here.
Lesson 3: Love more and judge less
Love is the simple solution to most things.
On an almost daily basis, you get to encounter so many different nationalities – Indians, Lebanese, Egyptians, Syrians, British, Dutch, French, Spanish, Ethiopians, Nepalese, Bangladeshis, you name it.
Coming from different backgrounds one can expect many annoying quirks. I learned that the trick is just to find the thing that makes them tick and from there build your understanding of them.
Living in a multi-cultural city such as Dubai, working side by side with different people, made me work harder at keeping an open mind.
Lesson 4: Music will keep you alive
I believe in music more so than I ever did before. It's true, music is the language that connects us all. It was and still is my lifeblood. It fuels me, it defines me, and I am a better person today because of it. It has helped me relate to others, even people who do not speak my language, better.
It’s great to note that there is not a lack of talented Filipino singers and musicians out here. In fact, live music venues and comedy clubs would almost always feature Filipino entertainers. It is not unusual to see other nationalities hang out and enjoy themselves in clubs dubbed as “Boracay” or “Metro Manila”. At the same time I get to go to a lot of other different venues and enjoy different kinds of music.
Also, truth be told, I would not have survived Dubai if not for my iPod. When there’s nothing else, find your song and play it loud.
Lesson 5: Be humbled by faith
I found that in your darkest days, when there’s really no one else, when there’s nothing or no one to hang on to, not even yourself, your faith will keep you going.
I found that life is only meaningless if you think that everything happens at random, if you don’t look up to something bigger than yourself.
Now religion is something else, sometimes people make it so complicated to a point where you only see their politics. I have found that my devotion should not be ruled by what other people have to say.
In an open city such as Dubai, where you find mosques right beside the Catholic church, where your Indian colleagues would bring sweets to the office celebrating their Diwali, and then next time exchange “Eid Mubarak” greetings with your Muslim friends, while they in turn greet you “Merry Christmas” a month later, I begin to realize that each person’s relationship (or non-relationship) with God or the Divine is his own, and as long as I have faith, let the self-righteous be damned.
Lesson 6: Respect and appreciate yourself
I learned my worth as a person and that I don’t need to settle for loose change from people.
In a city that is ripe for discrimination, gender or nationality-wise, you learn to stand up for yourself. You teach people how to treat you, so you don’t let them get away with treating you like crap. You learn the value of work and that you are a valuable resource.
As a Filipina and Asian woman, there were times when I felt handicapped, like I need to work 3 times harder than my male-Western counterpart if I want that management position or a better compensation. Even so, no matter the requirement, I made sure I was rocking hard as the best of them. So if after proving them my worth and they still don’t treat me right, I am able to walk away proudly.
So there you go, 6 years and counting. I doubt if I’d have come face to face with all these things if I didn’t leave my comfort zone. To all those who are thinking about taking the risk of moving to the Middle East or some other country, I highly recommend jumping off the proverbial cliff especially if you're single and in your prime. It may not be the safe thing to do, but hey, “you live, you learn!" – Rappler.com
Kristine Abante in a Filipina currently based in the UAE. An analog girl in a digital world, she has spent most of her career promoting what she loves the most: music.