| Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Expat mum interview

Starting afresh in a new country can certainly have its challenging moments. Joanna England talks to four mums about settling down in Dubai

Debate team

• Originally from London, Kirsten Fairfield moved to Dubai in 2006. Co-owner of online children’s store Bubs Boutique, she’s mum to Jessica, aged two, and her second baby is due in October. She lives in The Lakes.

• Jacqueline Conroy is the newbie in town. She arrived in Dubai 12 months ago from Houston, Texas, but is originally from Scotland. The former teacher lives in Umm Suqiem and is a stay-at-home mum to her six-year-old daughter, Zoe.

• Lesley Cully moved to Dubai from Surrey four years ago and has two daughters, Lydia, six, and Esme, three. She runs the ‘Buckle up in Dubai’ car safety campaign in her spare time and lives in Al Safa.

• Originally from Australia, Samantha Davidson is a sports lawyer and lives in The Meadows with her family. She has two children, Zara, aged seven, and Toby, six. She arrived in Dubai in 2006.

What got us talking…

Did you jump right into the social whirl, make friends for life in your first week, and never look back? Or have you found it difficult to settle in a city where numerous cultures co-exist and reams of government red tape threaten to swallow you up? Living in Dubai certainly has advantages, but moving here and getting used to the place also has its challenges. We chat to four mums, some long-termers, some new kids on the block, over lattes at the LivingRooms games café in Dubai Festival City.

How long does it take, on average, to feel at home in Dubai?
Jacqueline: It takes about a year before one really feels at home in a new place. Because this is our fourth expat placement, I suppose I’m quite practised at it and so hit my stride about six months in. There is so much going on here – and that really helps. There are lots of opportunities to get out there and meet new people and make friends.

Kirsten: I found it quite easy to settle down because I knew someone here. This friend of a friend pointed us in the right direction for all sorts of things. All those questions you have when you first move somewhere, like ‘where do you go for this?’ and ‘where do I find that?’ were answered. If we hadn’t known anyone, it would have been quite difficult.

Lesley: It took me a year. My first six months were like; ‘Wow! Look at me! I’m in Dubai – isn’t it fantastic!’ You get a bit over-awed by the place. And then after that, you have to settle down to reality and I found that very hard. I got homesick, I missed my family, I wanted to see my mum and dad. So we went back and I loved seeing everyone, but I realised that everything was just the same, people were still moaning about everything, it was raining… After that, I was fine. I got back to Dubai and started enjoying it. Now I love it! I like to go back home, but I look forward to coming back to Dubai afterwards.

Samantha: That’s the acid test really, I think. When you can go home but still look forward to coming ‘home’ to Dubai.

Is Dubai a friendly and accepting place? Or can it be difficult to break into certain social groups?
Kirsten: I think it’s quite cliquey, and the expat coffee mornings for women can be quite intimidating. I found that mothers’ groups and activity classes really helped. You’d join one, and go along not knowing anyone, but there isn’t the same pressure to talk to people, because you’re there for the kids, or you’re there for the class. You suddenly have so much more in common, because you’re new parents, away from home and family, and you’re in this class together and it’s all common ground. I met some great friends that way.

Jacqueline: I agree. The expat coffee mornings didn’t work for me either. The people there just weren’t in the same situation as me. Their children were older and heading off to university, which was why they had the time to meet up, whereas I was at a different stage in life. For me, the social lifeline was Zoe’s school. I met other mums there who I became friends with.

Lesley: I know exactly what you mean. There’s nothing worse than turning up to a coffee morning with young kids in tow and feeling the hostility because you’ve brought children along. I felt so awkward once because I had Lydia with me, and even though she’s so well behaved, I could feel the other ladies bristling. These women were there to chat about golf and have coffee. It wasn’t an event for children.

Samantha: I have to say I’ve found everyone here so welcoming. We left London, literally bounced into Brisbane, had child number two, and bounced into Dubai. But I found Australia so cliquey. After the warmth of London, going back home and being back in the suburbs was extremely hard. But Dubai is so open and welcoming to new people because, I guess, it’s an expat city where people come and go. Friendships are made quickly and you are welcomed aboard. In other places, people have their established sets of friends, and they’re not so open to making more.

Time Out Dubai,

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