Monthly Archives: January 2013

Recreating is Creative Recycling: an Expat Woman Experience

By Mohanalakshmi Rajakumar

I’ve lived in the Middle East for seven years. Along with appreciation for flexible ColorfulPencilsstarting times, humus with meat, and the women’s garment, the abaya, I have developed a list of axioms for success as an expat.

Many of these apply directly to the setting of the Arabian Gulf and specifically to daily events in Qatar.

One: In a high concept culture, the absence of a yes can be read as a no.

Two: The longer you sit, the wider your hips.

Three: Expat life is like a pressure cooker, the pressure of the unfamiliar forcing out whatever is inside.

Number three, however, could apply to any country in the world. What happens when your creature comforts- in my case catchall stores like Target, and a wide circle of friends- are taken away? When you find yourself in an entirely new environment and have to invent your own fun?

There are two stages. In the first you may find yourself working and sleeping in copious amounts. I alternated between an eighty hour work week and a docile weekend the entire first year I lived in Qatar. Coincidentally I also gained 15 pounds from my suddenly sedentary lifestyle.

Eventually (read two years later) I was literally sick of sleeping. I forced myself out of bed and took stock of the situation. This is when I entered stage two: the stage of invention. I wondered to myself what was interesting enough to keep me awake. None of the ladies coffee mornings or social groups had what I wanted, some expat grousing and home sickness mixed in with cultural stimulation.

I did the only thing I could: I created groups of my own. I put a small, free ad in the local events leaflet, advertising a writing group.

Writing, it turned out, was the first of many activities I would embark on to keep myself entertained. And in the process I not only found friends, but made several career changes. I went from being a university administrator to the editor of a series of books. A few years from that transition I found myself talking to the CEO who published J.K. Rowling and agreeing to work for his new company starting up in Doha. A few years from that (yes, I mentioned I’ve been in Qatar quite a while) I resigned from that job in order to pursue my writing full time and publish seven Ebooks on Amazon.

None of this could have happened if I didn’t live overseas. Or perhaps to state more accurately, none of this would have happened as quickly if I were shopping in Target every weekend or flying to my college reunion. Not that retail therapy or friendships aren’t important: I enjoy them on our holiday trips home.

But I found the treasure of expat life is the very fact of being taken outside your comfort zone. Once the irritation, anger, and realization hat in fact, no, your life is not “just like it was at home” because there is a McDonald’s down the street, wears off, you may find you have the greatest gift a person can be given. You have the time to mindfully choose how you want to spend your days, weeks, months – all those hours that stack up to years.

The first few months of a new year are the perfect time to ask yourself how you want to showcase the new you. What skills, passions, or projects have you been talking about for years that now lurk in a back closet, shaming you into silence with their persistent procrastination?

I’ve been writing since I was in my twenties. It took me a twelve years and another continent to recycle that passion from a hobby into a full time occupation. I now teach writing to undergraduates and stay up late at night scribbling away at my own work.

What is it you love to do and yet never have time for? That’s why they call it the gift of the present.

Mohana is still in Doha. You can read all about it on her blog: www.mohanalakshmi.com or follow her on Twitter @moha_doha.

Mohana is also a co-trainer for the “Living and Working in Qatar” cross-cultural course available online 24/7.

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What’s good about a disappointment?

Les Miserables came out recently and Anne Hathaway’s rendition of the famous

“I dreamed a dream” has been playing in my head ever since I saw the movie a couple of weeks ago. Of course I’ve been singing it to myself because of how beautiful and moving I find it, but after repeating the lyrics for the umpteenth time, I suddenly realized that there is a line in there that really speaks to me.

Remember at the end when she says “The life has killed the dream I dreamed”? Granted, the character’s situation has nothing whatsoever to do with where majority of people find themselves today. Comparing our lives to the misery on the screen would just be too far fetched. But what got me thinking is the idea of disappointment. Especially among expats.

  • How disappointed do we often feel that things we hoped for didn’t come to fruition?
  • How difficult is it for us to feel that disappointment?
  • How hard is it to be disappointed in ourselves and to think that people are disappointed in us?

As humans we always strive to be better, to achieve, to find, and to get somewhere. When we don’t, we feel that disappointment. Some of us feel it stronger than others. Some may even choose not to strive, to seek, and to try precisely because they want to avoid that feeling.

Which brings me to my point. It’s hard to be with disappointment. It sucks, it doesn’t feel good, and it’s something that we would much rather live without. But if we select to act with a goal of avoiding “being with disappointment”, how much of life will we experience? Can we actually live our lives fully if we keep trying to avoid things we find hard to be with?

Disappointment is there to teach us something. Other things we find hard to be with are there to teach us something. It’s our choice if we want to allow them in and learn – or to keep avoiding them at all costs.

What do you find hard to be with and how have those things shaped the way you go through life?

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