Living Abroad with Children: It’s Easier Than You Think! – Part 1

Are you crazy?  Aren’t you worried about Annie? Don’t you know how they treat women in the Middle East?  Why would you ever want to go there?  They hate Americans, you know.  It’s awfully hot.

Several variations of these comments and questions greeted me when I told my family and friends that I was moving to Dubai, United Arab Emirates.  Few people could believe that my husband and I had willfully chosen, and were thrilled to be moving to, the Middle East.  Even fewer shared our excitement.

My husband, Andrew, and I had lived in the Far East for two years before returning to the United States.  Several things prompted our return—wanting stability for our daughter, Annie, who was born on Okinawa; job dissatisfaction; and the feeling that it was “time” to go home.  People had always asked when we were coming back to the US, implying that travel, a frequently changing address, and distance from the extended family clashed with good child-rearing.  We didn’t necessarily buy into this, but I missed my stuff (kept in storage at my brother-in-law’s house) and thought that with an infant life in the US might be easier.

After only two months in small-town Ohio, I knew we had to get out.  In many ways it actually felt more foreign than Asia—we felt more comfortable with the values and cultural atmosphere of Tokyo, for instance.  We missed the excitement, the entertainments, the artistic life, and the dining of a dynamic city.  So after only a year back in the US and with only 6 weeks’ notice, we sold most of our belongings, shipped 22 boxes to Dubai, and left for the Middle East.  We’ve never been happier.

Although I love Dubai and know I could live here comfortably and happily for many years, I don’t think we’ll stay beyond my husband’s three-year contract.  There are so many other places I want to visit.

By living in an international community, my daughter will have a rich cultural experience and will develop a more cosmopolitan outlook.  Dubai is a multi-cultural, multi-lingual, extremely tolerant city.  We have friends here from around the world.  The guests at my daughter’s 2nd birthday party were from Canada, India, Iran, New Zealand, South Africa, Puerto Rico, the Philippines and Turkey.  Increased cultural awareness helps to eliminate prejudice.  Living in a culturally and racially diverse city gives us the perfect opportunity to teach our daughter about equality, respect, and tolerance.

Living abroad will also teach my daughter how to adapt to new situations and, as a result, she will become more responsible and mature.  Since Annie will be sharing her experiences with her father and I, her relationship with us will be strengthened.  Unlike some of her peers, her travels won’t be limited to Disney World and other child-friendly resorts.  We just returned from Muscat, Oman and will spend a month in Italy this summer.  Next year we’re planning a trip to Cairo and possibly a return trip to Okinawa so that Annie can visit her birthplace.

I don’t think a child needs to live in the same house, city or country in order to have a sense of stability.  My daughter has the stability that comes from two loving parents ready to explore the world with her.  I have found that living abroad is, in some respects, no different from living in the US.  When you first move somewhere new, you find a place to live and move your stuff in.  Then you find the local supermarket, dry cleaner, video store, Movie Theater, book store, hospital, pharmacy, post office, bank and coffee shop.  After a while you find favorite restaurants, make friends, and feel at home.

Excerpted and adapted from “Living Abroad with Children: It’s Easier Than You Think!” by Maura Madigan in Escape From America Magazine, Issue 22.