Reflections on our Nine Year Expatversary

Last month saw us celebrate nine years away from the UK. Our nine year expatversary if you will.

And yet it feels very much like we only left last week. Not two children and one country ago.

We’ve packed a lot into those years, moved out to Dubai as a family of three and now we’re in Qatar as a family of five.

And yet it still feels as though we only left recently. I still very much identify myself as being English, and having roots in a country that we don’t live in.

It’s only recently dawned on me that my children don’t hold the same identification, connection and roots that I just assumed would be as natural to them as me.

They’re very much third culture kids.

Third culture kids (TCK) or third culture individuals (TCI) are people who were raised in a culture other than their parents’ or the culture of their country of nationality, and also live in a different environment during a significant part of their child development years.

– wikipedia

With influences from mine, and my husbands, own upbringing and British culture, mixed in with cultural references from friends with different nationalities, the life my children are leading is nothing like the life I imagined for them.

Before leaving the UK I dreamed of lifelong childhood friends, the same school, the same teachers, watching them flow after one another.

I would have worked full time, in a London bank, juggling childcare and pick ups.

Our family would have looked very different as financial and space constraints would have changed when we were able to have children.

family of five, mum, dad, three boys, against red wall background

Making the decision to leave it behind.

Originally my husband interviewed for a job in Dubai when I was seven months pregnant. He didn’t get it. And quite frankly, at that point I was relieved. I did not want to be an expat, I didn’t have the same yearning that he did to leave and explore.

I liked to travel, go on holiday and come back home again.

It wasn’t until my eldest was 8 weeks old that the job came back on the table again.

And this time we were leaving for Dubai.

Kicking. Screaming. Reluctantly. But I was going.

What I didn’t know then, and what I know now, is the difference that living away would make to my life. To my husbands. To the children. Nine years has past in the blink of an eye.

I’ve never looked back.

The life we lead out here is one of privilege, of family. Where my husband is able to be home every day, for us all to have dinner together. A life where we aren’t spending hours each way on the commute, passing ships in the night, passing children between us.

Don’t get me wrong. We are still busy, we still have the same constraints in terms of children’s activities and social life ruling ours. With Beavers and cubs, swimming lessons, karate lessons, climbing, gymnastics, school, play dates. The list is endless of what they have us running round doing.

But we are able to manage it all because of our family set up.

Moving from Dubai to Qatar changed the dynamic again. We live in a compound that is reminiscent of the 1950’s, a village helping you raise your child, all families in the same boat so we support each other. The cup of sugar, sharing of lifts to school, feeding other people’s kids as they clamour for snacks in your house knowing they will then go on to the next to get the same again.

Yes my kids are third culture kids, absorbing influences from around them. They have an excellent knowledge of Ireland (Dublin in particular) are extremely interested in our various family heritage, have an understanding of Islam with Ramadan and Eid, have friends from all over the world and the international school American twang of an accent.

Yet they don’t know the nativity story. They have never encountered a harvest festival. For them, they know of two seasons – winter where it’s a lovely warm temperature and summer where it’s hotter than the sun and we escape to the UK.

We don’t know what the future will hold.

At least four times we’ve been headed back home to the UK to live and work. Yet here we are nine years later.

What I *do* know is that the past nine years have shaped us as a family, with the transient nature of expat life we’ve all made (and said goodbye too) life long friends, whatever happens next we will treat it as an adventure.

Wherever that may be.

three boys jumping into the swimming pool

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