As I say goodbye to 2016, I’m naturally finding myself in a reflective mood. Taking stock of what this year has been like and looking forward to what the new year will hold for me. In this past year I have traveled through 4 continents and visited 9 different countries around the world. I have made many new friends through my travels and have also stayed close to the ones I left behind. I also got to spend time with family. A feat in itself given they live across the globe as well.
While I have a lot to be thankful for, the expat life has not come without obstacles. And for that reason I am left feeling at a crossroads and wondering what the future holds for us and perhaps more importantly- where to next as I search for the Holy Grail?
The Holy Grail
What is the Holy Grail you ask? For us it is a place in the world where we can obtain a work-life balance. Inclusive of good healthcare, education and transport and complete with our favourite people and we’d be set. However we all know this is never going to happen hence why I have coined this the ‘Holy Grail’. I know.. what we are searching for may well be a bloody unicorn.
I know this is a common feeling for most expats at some point but lately I’ve been having that ‘sh*t what have I done?!’ feeling. Why have I been feeling like this? I’ll get to that soon. But I guess it has left me reflecting on why we set out on this expat adventure in the first place. I will admit that I may suffer from the ‘grass is always greener’ syndrome. So this was a difficult yet important exercise for me.
We used to live in London, England. A place I had called home for 10 years after I returned back from my expat childhood in Canada. Things were good in London. We both had good jobs, great friends and lived in an amazing world class city. What’s not to like? Well London has this bad reputation of being expensive. And while I would wholeheartedly disagree on this given the other countries I have lived in. London is expensive when it comes to transport and housing. We could afford the life we were living, but nothing more. There was no room for expansion for both housing or our family without moving further out of the city. And that would mean commuting. We were already commuting slaves so the thought of moving further out just didn’t appeal.
We were looking for the Holy Grail. And so we looked further afield across the channel to far off worlds.
And then we ended up in the desert. it all happened fairly quickly. I got a teaching job with an inclusive package that supported my husband (medical etc) and we were just playing the waiting game for my husband to find work.
Most people err on the side of caution when thinking of moving to the Middle East. With it’s Sharia laws that are, for lack of a better word, completely foreign, to westerners, it seems easy to get into trouble. But once you were aware of where the lines were drawn in the sand, it was easy to live a simple, straightforward life without getting into trouble.
Life in the desert was slow and dusty. While my work had it’s challenges, our biggest challenge was the oil and gas market crashing and thus having a ripple effect on all other industries in Qatar. This meant all projects new and old were at a standstill and hiring was too. We waited patiently for things to change but after a year of nothing, we knew something needed to happen.
On one salary we weren’t living the life we expected to live. We were still in a one bedroom apartment and due to finances we did less in Qatar. There wasn’t much to do for free in Doha and so we chose to spend most of our money on trips outside the desert.
So we re-evaluated and decided that if the economy in Qatar wasn’t due to improve we would need to look elsewhere as we were more likely better off back in the UK.
When opportunities come your way, you take it. And with that in mind, we moved further east to Singapore in August. This was a risk. A huge risk. Singapore is known to be the most expensive country in the world. And the job package was not nearly as lucrative in comparison to the Middle East. In the most expensive country in the world we now had to pay for our own accommodation and pay for our own healthcare.
But in order to live in a warm climate, in the heart of Asia, it was worth it. Right? We could now walk outside, wear whatever we wanted anywhere and drink alcohol (although that cost a fortune so we were still stringent).
There are a lot of fantastic things about living in Singapore. The food is delicious, the taxis are cheap to get around the city. It really is a melting pot of different cultures and it is a great travel hub for the rest of Asia.
But… and you knew there was a but coming up… after the health scare with healthcare we had in October and our lack of savings, it’s hard to see if we are achieving our goals or any closer to the Holy Grail.
Where to next?
So I find myself uttering the 4 words most expats end up uttering at some point in their journey (albeit in our case it is of our own accord) … ‘We might be moving‘.
This is not because we haven’t given our expat life a chance. As we both do realise it takes time to establish yourself in a new country. However, what we were hoping for has not materialised. Sometimes the hardest part of a journey is knowing when it isn’t quite working.
So where to next?
Well we are fortunate to have two great options. England or Canada. And I suppose anywhere else that comes up as an opportunity.
While my heart sometimes aches to return home to London, I have a feeling we wont find the Holy Grail there. And so the search continues… watch this space.