From Dubai to Ghana, a real expats story
With our “Santa Fe Around the World” project, we want to give our customers the opportunity to tell us more about their moving experience. Because moving to a new place can be challenging, we wanted to capture our customers’ side of their journey with us. With this series, we will be discovering their expectations, feelings and fears.
Here we present Mariam and Martino’s relocation experience, who moved from Dubai to Ghana with their two children.
What made you want to move to a new country/home/city?
Mariam: This is a tough question to answer, as after 17 years, 9 countries and 4 continents, I am so used to moving that it is hard to imagine a life where I don’t move to a new country, but just stay in one place.
The reason I keep moving, is because expat life continues to offer me and my family so many great opportunities. Yes, it wreaks havoc with my sense of identity, my phone has 8 different time-zones on it, my bed linen bought all over the world doesn’t match (why can’t they make just one international size?), my kitchen appliances can’t run without adaptors, I’ve become an expert in butchering every new language I learn, I can never remember my new home address or indeed where I packed those suede boots!
But what makes me say ‘yes’ to a new move is the fact that I love the constant process of turning a new country into a new home. Of raising my kids in a new corner of the world, with several different languages and cultures. I love the spice, variety, fun and unpredictability it brings to my life. I love how moving to a new country is the best adventure anyone could ever have, because you open your hearts and minds to new places, people and ideas. And it changes you forever, in the most wonderful way possible.
How and why did you choose the destination?
We chose to move to Ghana, as my husband Martino was offered a job here. We usually get a say in the destination, but often times, it simply depends on where there is a job opportunity or vacancy or where he is needed. Usually it’s the other way around; the destination chooses us and we decide if we are ready or not.
Ironically, I was not ready to move to Dubai at all; a place which every expat considers “hitting the jackpot!” I made Martino turn down the job offer twice, before finally relenting that it was a good job offer and one that made sense for our family. I thought life in Dubai would be fake and superficial but I’m so glad I gave it a chance as I developed some of my most meaningful friendships in the desert and lifelong memories.
Making new friends in a different city/town/country can be difficult, how did you find it?
Mariam: I honestly think this is one of the best parts about moving to a new city and a new country – getting to meet new people and making new friends! By nature, I am an extrovert, so I love meeting people and getting to make new friends. I find it so interesting to hear about other people’s experiences and life stories, so I really look forward to this part.
After living in 9 countries, my modus operandi usually goes something like this: connect with people living in my new city before I get there. Ask people to connect me with their friends and family living there. I join expat groups, I post about the new country we’re moving to and usually by the time I land in the new country, I already have coffee dates set up with a few people. The rest then happens organically; meeting neighbours, talking to other parents at my kid’s schools, join international and local associations, join a fitness class, participate in a book club etc. I have always found like-minded people in every location we’ve lived in. In Denmark, I made friends with one of my neighbours, in spite of the language barrier (I didn’t speak any Danish upon arrival) but I asked her to teach me how to make Danish pastries! Needless to say, food is a great way to connect and make friends when you’re new in a place.
In Ghana, I’ve found it even easier to make friends. The local community here is very tight-knit and people are very friendly and welcoming. Ghanaians are some of the friendliest people I’ve met. Willing to help with a smile and share interesting aspects of their country.
Martino: I’m an extrovert too, but I struggle to make friends as quickly as Mariam does, as between work, business travel and family commitments, it is hard to find the time. I think many expat men feel this way.
How involved are you in the local expat community?
We are quite involved in the local expat community. My work as an expat writer and author means I love to connect with other expats living here. Talking to different people keeps me inspired and I enjoy being a part of the local expat groups – both online and offline.
The first few months here in Ghana have been hectic for me, as I’ve been working on finishing my book for expat families. ‘This Messy Mobile Life: How a MOLA can help globally mobile families create a life by design’ comes out next month and I have several talks and events lined up within the local expat community here to share tips on how to handle the messy factors that arise as a result of moving internationally and living this global life. In the next few months, I also have plans to collaborate with expats living in different countries in Africa to share the realities and daily life in this diverse and complex continent. Expat life in Africa is full of many myths, so it is important to raise awareness around this topic.
In your mind, what are the pros and cons of expatriation?
I actually write regularly about the pros and cons of expat life on my expat blog ‘And Then We Moved To’. I also try to show a realistic portrayal of expat life on social media.
How did you adapt to a new community? Have you been to any community events?
Finding a sense of community is key when adapting to a new place. We have been to many community events since we have moved. Most of these have been organised by our children’s school such as International Festival Day or concerts for Ghana’s Independence Day. I’ve also attended a community event to help raise awareness regarding Obstetric Fistula in Ghana at the residence of the Norwegian Ambassador here in Accra. There are community fairs, bazaars, talks, and cultural outings organised by many local groups here such as the North American Women’s Association (NAWA), so the opportunities to connect with the local community are endless.