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On expat children in Dubai

UNITED ARAB EMIRATES | Saturday, 4 June 2011 | Views [1668] | Comments [2]

The thing that cuts me up most about my students is that they're victims of circumstance. I constantly struggle with the idea that their parents have decided to meet the commitments of work and lifestyle by jetting around the world and not allowing their children to put down roots. Don't get me wrong, these kids are having incredible experiences and making phenomenal discoveries, you only need to see my last autobiography post to understand that; there's just this underlying issue that children don't like leaving home. They want stability, familiarity and the comfort of friends. They want to know that Grandma can be reached in a short drive, not on a flight home in the summer, and they just want to feel like they fit SOMEWHERE. In many an informal discussion, my kids will just sigh in exasperation and say nothing other than, "I just want to be home." It cuts you deep when you're in loco parentis and experiencing their sheer honesty; than honesty that doesn't fear hurting their parents.

Some of my students don't even know what 'home' is. Some go home only to find that they are  considered strangers there too. Some feel so remarkably out of place that they can't tell you where they're really from, but resort to identifying the countries that their parents were born in. In class we studied a poem on this exact topic, of being the outsider both at 'home' and in their home country, and they all understood the feelings and the suffering. Few are old enough to understand the concept of being a global citizen, but just want the comforts of feeling like they belong somewhere. Those kids cling so tightly onto their nuclear families for support and care in their primary years, that when turmoil, conflict and disagreements arise in their teens, their entire world view breaks down and they don't know where to turn. Being an expat child, from my point of view, is excruciatingly painful and incredibly lonely.

That said, I am not blind to the benefits. These children know the real meaning of culture, identity and acceptance. How many other children go to school and identify that their 'close' friends might come from four to eight other countries? Their world view is broader and their understanding of being 'different' is so much more flexible. Their minds remain open, and their experiences are valued beyond the world of school and into the great wide open that we call 'life'. They see everything through fresh new eyes, and the memories are forever carved into their identities. They see poverty, and they see wealth. They understand the value of possessions from the times they have had to give them up at each move, and know what makes an excellent friend through the pain of losing them. They are given lives filled with experience and knowledge, with the hope that it will help them be more flexible, open and adaptable in their future years.

For other students, their parents have worked impossibly hard to bring them to Dubai so that they have opportunity, knowing that poverty, violence and living conditions in their home countries would make life and education very difficult. These children, from Pakistan for example, know of home and have good memories of family back home, but generally regard Dubai as their real ‘place’. These students are not so heartbreaking. These kids know that they are in this place to send their lives thrusting into the future and are happy and content with the hard work and decisions of their parents. These ones smile when they talk of Dubai, and choose to write their creative pieces based on here, rather than the country of their passport.

So, all this said, I want to share with you an excerpt from a student autobiography I’ve read tonight. I am so incredibly grateful to my students who have shared all of themselves for an assignment and have truly embraced the nature of the task. They’ve taken the time to reflect on their strengths, weaknesses and experiences to evaluate where they have been, where they are now, and where they are going. Some are heartbreaking, and this is one of them…

When the time came, I didn't want to move to Dubai. Why did my parents want to ruin my life just when I had settled down somewhere? At that point I had decided that when I'm an adult, I wouldn't want my kids to suffer from moving around.

As time passed I finally accepted my new life in Dubai, however there was still some bitterness deep within me. I found a way to enjoy Dubai by shopping in the malls and other luxuries available on offer. Also, with time I saw the natural elegance of the desert. Don't forget that I could never have found happiness at all if it weren't for my friends.

The biggest joy in Dubai has been adopting our dog Momo, from K9 friends. She is lovely, loving and anything a family would want. We wouldn't have adopted her is I hadn't done an exhibition in school on abused pets. Maybe there is a point in going to school after all?

For my plans and wishes I would like to be able to keep in touch with all my closest friends all over the world. My life has been full of different places, people and changes. The worst thing in my life has been moving around and settling into new school many times. Do I hate my life? No, I feel that all these changes are somehow also useful to me in the future. Anyhow, this is something I still need to figure out.


E. H. ~ 12 years

E.H. was born in England, then lived in Bangkok, before moving to Finland, her country of nationality. Brought up by Finnish parents, it is her first language, yet she is incredibly skilled in English, a language which had been learned as a second language until the age of around ten. In two short years, she is toughing it out with the best of them at the top of the class, and I am sure her intelligence, dedication and motivation are what will keep her excelling well into the future. She is scheduled to move from Dubai in three weeks. I’m not sure where she’s moving to as yet, but I hope she gets to be happy and feels at home.




Yes, it is heartbreaking.

At a school that I worked in I asked a student where he was from and he proceeded to list a long list of countries. I asked him which one he felt was home and received a blank stare. He did not know where 'home' was. He spent most of his time after school in a huge house with only the maid and driver for company. Yes, his parents loved him and were providing the best education and experiences for him but what he really wanted was a real home and a family that spent time together.

The other thing that really saddened me is the way that the students were always having to say goodbye to friends that in all liklihood they will never see again - that is tough on a young child especially when it happens all the time.

As an English teacher I quite often read personal accounts, similar to the one that you have included in your post and it breaks my heart every time.

  Runaway Brit Jun 4, 2011 6:00 AM


It hurts to much to try and field their worries; to tell them it's going to be ok when you really don't know if it will. Some of the young-minded ones still talk about how Mum and Dad help to solve all their problems and make life better, but so many are questioning why their parents would do this to them. I just wanna give them a big hug :(

I know about the driver and empty house thing too. So many parents here get so financially committed that both parents work all day and afternoon so the kids just see the maid and their friends at school....then they wonder why the child is speaking in the native tongue of the maid, or calling out for her in the night, instead of the parent....

I've got other kids who have gone on the most incredible vacations: the Maldives, Seychelles, Masai Mara, you name it and they've been there...but all they really want to do is go camping with old friends or cousins at home. All those things we took for granted growing up in the same country for all our childhood....tough stuff.

  princess2802 Jun 4, 2011 6:06 AM



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