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Katie shares her experience working in one of the biggest hotel chains in the world, working in the Middle East and Egypt.
Tell us about your experience working abroad?
Working abroad doesn’t really feel ‘foreign’ to me. It’s been almost 14 years since I first decided to move abroad and I’ve never looked back. The reality is, I have lived most of my adult life abroad and have had my biggest career successes whilst living abroad.
Why did you decide to move to the Middle East?
In order to answer this question, I need to go back to the beginning, to when I was turning 18 and my mum decided to surprise me with a holiday to celebrate my milestone birthday. I knew we would be going away, I just didn’t know where until we arrived at the airport. My mum handed me a piece of paper with the flight number on it and told me to look for our flight, which would, of course, reveal our final destination. Egypt.
My mum, her best friend and I arrived in Luxor to celebrate my 18th birthday. It was magical. It was during this trip that I felt the first stirrings of the possibilities of living and working abroad.
During this trip, we did all of the touristy things that you would naturally do when visiting Luxor. We went on a felucca ride along the Nile at sunset, visited the Valley of the Kings and the Hatshepsut temple. We drove 4 hours across the desert to Hurghada to snorkel in the Red Sea. We took a day cruise down the Nile, visited the Dendera temple, and we wandered aimlessly around the backstreets of old Luxor. We wanted to breathe it all in.
The hotel that we were staying at was fairly basic, not at all luxury, and the three of us were sharing a room. But it didn’t matter. We were experiencing Luxor in all of its beautiful, charming glory. The pool of the hotel was located on the rooftop, overlooking the old city of Luxor. I sat down quietly, by myself and I remember so vividly… The sun was setting with beautiful hues of orange and pink dancing across the sky. The air was still and the sound of the call to prayer was the only sound penetrating the stillness. My love affair with Egypt was just beginning.
What does a typical day look like working in the Middle East?
This question is difficult. I have lived in a sleepy resort on the Sinai Peninsula and basically spent 9 years in flip flops. Right now, life in Dubai looks very different. The two are extreme opposites, with a bit of Qatar thrown in the middle.
Currently I work for the largest hotel company in the world, and I have just been a part of the pre-opening team for a flagship hotel in Dubai. Working in hospitality is pure crazy. No day is ever the same. There is no denying that we work some of the longest hours. My work day starts at 8am and I am lucky if I manage to get home before 7pm. But, weekends in Dubai are made for brunch, beaches and shopping.
Four years ago, I would have never imagined that I would end up in Dubai. When I was living in Qatar, I would occasionally jump on a flight to spend the weekend with friends in Dubai. It felt like such a luxury, I mean who just does that really? But I never felt the need or want to live here. However, as so often is the case in this part of the world, a new opportunity came knocking and Dubai was the location.
I’m so happy that I decided to move here. Dubai has turned out to be hugely different than I had imagined. I am blessed to be able to afford to live on the same street as the Burj Khalia and count the Dubai Mall as my local shopping mall. I am lucky. But I have also worked hard to get here.
How did you get a job working abroad?
It was my second trip to Egypt. This time to a small place called Nuweiba. There used to be a Hilton hotel there right on the beach, where dolphins would happily swim up to the shores and frolic with guests brave enough to venture in.
The mountains of Saudi Arabia on the opposite shores of the Gulf of Aqaba, majestically turning red at sunset, casting deep shaded of crimson, pink and gold across the water. I was in love. It was during this holiday that I met a British lady that was married to an Egyptian man and together they operated the water sports center at the hotel.
They were looking for someone to work for them over the summer months. They offered it to me. What was meant to be a 6-month summer job turned into 14 years. The rest is history.
Was it hard getting a visa to work and live in Dubai, Egypt and Qatar?
Working in Qatar and Dubai is pretty simple if you are hired by a company. Generally speaking, visas are organized by each company or employer so as long as you have a job and no major diseases (getting a visa involves a blood test), the process of getting a visa is fairly straightforward.
What are some of the best things about living and working in the Middle East?
For me, one of the best parts about living in the Middle East has been the opportunity to meet and work with people from all walks of life, from every corner of the globe. The team that I am part of at the moment at work consist of 12 individuals, none of whom are from the same country.
We have American, Belgian, Zimbabwean, Georgian, Serbian, Indian, Dutch, Ukranian, Filipino, Spanish, Egyptian and myself, British. In the past, I have worked with Syrian, Canadian and Romanian. It is literally a melting pot of culture. Working with such a diverse mixture of nationalities helps you to learn, understand and grow. You become not just a Brit, but a true global citizen. I now have friends that I consider family from across the globe. When a hurricane descends on the Philippines, it is no longer just a news story from a faraway land. When you work alongside Syrians that have not stepped foot inside their own country for fear of getting forced into fighting, the war in Syria suddenly becomes real.
Living in Dubai also makes it much easier and cheaper to explore Asia, and I have been lucky enough to be able to travel to Sri Lanka, Bali and India during my time here. Flight times are reduced and costs are much lower than traveling from Europe.
There is a lot of negative media around the Middle East. One major thing I have learnt from living in this region for so long, is never believe everything you hear. I have been blessed to call the Middle East home for almost 14 years and some of my closest friends are Muslim. I have been welcomed with open arms by everyone I have met. Don’t believe the stereotypes.
What are some of the challenges?
Sometimes, life here can feel like living in a bubble and it’s easy to get pulled into the superficial side of Dubai. Luckily, Dubai is growing and maturing as a city, and with more cafes, design & arts districts popping up, Dubai is heading in a more authentic and original direction.
Construction is everywhere as Dubai is growing at a rapid pace, so the city can get a bit loud at times, and you will meet a lot of people in day to day life that will require you to exercise patience.
Dubai has a reputation for being very expensive, would you agree with this?
Yes! Dubai can be expensive, there is no doubting this. However, salaries are tax free, there are numerous shopping sales and festivals throughout the year and more and more free events and local markets popping up.
The Middle East has a reputation of being a challenge for female travellers and expats, would you agree? How has your experience as a female living in Dubai and Qatar been?
I personally have not experienced any negativity. Both Dubai and Doha are set-up for expats. In both places, expats make up more of the population than the nationals. They really are international cities. It’s important to be respectful of local culture and customs, to understand what is acceptable and what isn’t. Once you have this mastered, there is no reason for female travelers to hesitate to visit this part of the world. I wouldn’t have lived here for as long as I have if life was a challenge.
You have lived in a few places, what has been your favourite?
This is a difficult question to answer. Egypt and Dubai are at extreme opposites, from a small sleepy town on the edge of the Red Sea, to a city with the tallest building in the world, and a bit of Qatar thrown in the middle, each country has offered something different and unique for me.
I loved that I was surrounded by such incredible people in Egypt, friends that I still call on today, and that I was literally a stone’s throw away from the Red Sea. Qatar was the country that really launched my career and helped me to build credibility and really shine. Dubai is amazing city to live in because it offers so much in term of lifestyle and opportunities.
For those wanting to visit the Middle East, what are some places you would recommend visiting?
My top 10 places or things to see & do from my experience in the Middle East:
- Dune bashing in the dessert in Qatar
- Stargazing with the Bedouins in Egypt
- La Mer – a recently opened beach development in Dubai
- Petra in Jordan
- Jerusalem in Israel
- Diving in the Red Sea
- An evening stroll along the Corniche in Doha
- Wandering through Dubai Design District
- Brunch in Doha or Dubai
- Cairo during Ramadan
What advise would you give others who want to move abroad?
Go for it!
Take the leap, dive in head first and never look back! A few points to consider – does your company provide health insurance, make sure that you have all of your college/university documents as these are normally required for visa processing for certain level jobs and have enough money to survive until you get your first paycheck. And do your research on local customs and cultures.
There will always be bumps and challenges, but the opportunity to experience incredible sunsets, make friends from around the world and be welcomed into the homes of Muslims breaking their Ramadan fast will be just a few of the lasting memories that you will cherish forever.
Go with an open mind and allow the world to guide you towards incredible experiences. Go with an open heart and allow the world to reveal itself.
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