After graduating college, I spent 8 months living in Doha, Qatar – a very small country, yet one of the richest in the world. Doha is very close to Dubai and Abu Dhabi, to put it in perspective. I was ready to explore the world, and yearned to live someplace new. After being accepted to a graduate management program at the St. Regis Doha, off I went. I left the comfort of my beautiful home in Orlando, and incredible family and friends to live in the depths of the desert in the Middle East. Hands down, it was the most challenging experience of my 25 years on this earth. I was alone, scared, and honestly couldn’t stand it at times. Reflecting on this journey, it was the most rewarding and beneficial experiences of my life.
1. HOW TO TALK TO PEOPLE WHO ARE TOTALLY DIFFERENT FROM YOU
I’d often find myself surrounded by people who had nothing in common with me. People who didn’t speak English as their first language, who were from a country I had never heard of and lived a life so foreign to anything I could imagine.
I found these individuals the most intriguing, learning about their culture, and way of life in their home country. One conversation especially stands out to me, when I was sitting next to a man from Uzbekistan (a country I didn’t even know existed before living in Doha) whom expressed to me his fascination of the United States. From Disney World, to the Hollywood sign to how incredible the freedom of speech is. He told me he loved watching Will Smith movies because “he liked his accent, and wanted to talk exactly like him.” It was such a casual conversation, but so special to me.
2. HOW IMPORTANT YOUR CULTURE AND TRADITIONS ARE
Like they say, you never know what you have until it’s gone. Holidays were tough, because I was often the only one truly celebrating them. In November, someone asked me what Thanksgiving meant and why Americans celebrate it. I had never been asked a question along those lines, and really made me value and appreciate my family’s and country’s traditions.
3. HOW TO ADAPT TO ALMOST ANYTHING
Let’s just say seeing a man dressed in a dish dash riding a camel in the middle of the day, was nothing out of the box.
The every day dress code was having my shoulders and knees covered-even in 120 degree heat! Talk about having my world flipped upside down, coming from Florida – all I wore were crop tops and high waisted shorts!
4. HOW TO STRETCH YOUR COMFORT ZONE
Uncomfortable is a word that comes to mind when describing my life as an expat. Being forced to meet new people and live through things you would have never imaged is all part of the journey. You don’t have the comfort of old friendships, familiar areas and knowing everything like the back of your hand. But that’s the fun of it, trust me.
5. FIND A BIT OF HOME WHEREVER YOU GO
Search for that something that reminds you of home, whether it’s a certain food, a hobby or even seeing a movie. I’m ashamed to say it, but my saving grace was Papa Johns. Pizza 100% became my comfort food (and I never outgrew that coming back to the U.S. hehe)
6. THE VALUE OF FRIENDSHIPS
Moving to a foreign place alone, you come to really value your old and new friendships, and genuine company. Even with the eight hour time difference, I always found time to maintain relationships with my loved ones back home. WhatsApp and FaceTime are a lifesaver!
7. EMBRACING DIFFERENCES
Living in Doha I was surrounded by new culture, a religion I wasn’t familiar with, a restricted dress code, and honestly a totally different lifestyle. there were many restrictions on the lifestyle, compared to my life in Florida. As time progresses and you adapt, the differences become easier and even second nature. It’s important to always respect the traditions of the country you’re in, as you’re a guest.
Some of the differences I faced: Pork overall was not an option, and wasn’t served anywhere(RIP to pepperoni pizza.) Alcohol wasn’t sold freely; there were no liquor stores, breweries or boutique wine shops. There was one mega liquor store on the outskirts of town, that required a liquor license to purchase alcohol. This license had to be obtained through your job, and you paid an annual fee for it. You could only drink at 5 star hotels, and yes, it came with the five star prices. When Ramadan and Eid came along, I was surrounded by friends and colleagues who were fasting (some didn’t even drink water in the midst of the summer), the city became like a ghost town, restaurants and stores closed, and there was absolutely no alcohol served in the city. Mostly everyone spoke English, but that didn’t mean their accent was understandable. More times than not, I found myself smiling and nodding.
8. HOW TO CREATE NEW FRIENDSHIPS
My biggest tips for making friends – be patient, open minded, and judgement free. My best advice: join a networking group in the industry you’re in, join a women/mens club, subscribe for Meet-Up (an app that connects you with like minded people), join a sports club
9. FIND WHAT MAKES YOU HAPPY
No matter where you are in the world, take those hobbies with you and act on them.
10. TREASURE YOUR NEW AND ONCE IN A LIFETIME EXPERIENCES FOREVER
Living and working abroad automatically gives you experiences that very few people will ever experience. Explore a new part of the world that you never would have before. Fully embrace it and immerse yourself into the culture and new experiences as much as possible.