An Unexpected Challenge for an Expat in Dubai

I am happy to participate once again in the Expat Blogger Link-up called The Expat Experience hosted by Molly @  The Move to AmericaFor this week's theme, we are to write about an unexpected challenge that we faced. Join in the fun by clicking here and share your thoughts.

The Move to America

The biggest challenge for me was {drum roll}

Acclimatizing to the complex work environment of a multi-national company in a new country

I was hired from my home country and was then previously working as an interior designer. At that time I had no experience in Interior Design Sales. Due to my design background I was hired and was flown in.

New in town, with no friends, no business contacts and with absolutely no idea how business relationships are conducted in this rapidly progressing country, I found myself learning the ropes one step at a time.  

There was pressure because I was in a six-month probation. My performance was based on closing project deals within 6 months.

The toughest for me  was adjusting to the diverse culture in the office. Throw in different individuals with different personalities in one office that are doomed to clash everyday. Throwing fits along the hallways seemed unavoidable.

In reality, I am an introvert, sensitive, emotional and not very confrontational who prefers and have always been used to a harmonious working environment back in my home country.  Imagine my surprise when I receive an immediate comment from my superiors on my first day saying, " I don't think you can make it in this business. You look weak."  

Hmm.. that made me think real hard.  Alone in a foreign country with people saying I can't make it.  I cried. Believe me, a lot!  Most days, it was my family back home who gave me strength as well as my goal to succeed. I have come this far, I can't give up.

Thinking back, this was my process in finally overcoming this challenge:
  • Prayer. I prayed a lot for strength and guidance. 
  • Communication with family gave me courage to move forward reminding me what I came here for.
  • Good random acts of kindness and good karma find their way back to you.  I found mentors in the company who taught me, as well as  like-minded people with similar values who believe in team work. I gave help without expecting anything in return and gave credit to those due. Somehow in the process, I gained their trust and this helped me win projects and form long term harmonious relationships within and outside the organization despite our cultural differences.
  • Accepting criticism I took them in and found ways to improve myself.  Sadly, to the point where I had to re-invent myself to fit the job from the way I communicate to everything, but it did work 100%.  I had to pretend to be 'aggressive' and  appear 'in control' in front of the mirror at first until I slowly absorbed it and became that character.  
  • Flexibility and Open mindedness I had to accept there are certain things I cannot change. Like a colleague's or a client's personality for instance. :)  I had to adjust and see how I can win this person instead. 
  • Take it easy.  Years down the line, that experience will just be another conversation laughing topic  (so true) so I guess I should just enjoy the ride and not get too caught up with all the drama. 
The whole challenge took me about 2-3 years to overcome.  It wasn't a walk in the park and it didn't happen overnight.  I failed. I made mistakes. I cried. I learned.  

Good friends and a healthy support system do help a lot too, but that was also another challenge because in such a transient city like Dubai, it is difficult to find long lasting friendships.  It took me years to find them though. Sad to say they still come and go because we all never know how long we all plan to stay.

Hope this post helps those who are going through the same challenges.
Love & light,

You Might Also Like


  1. Wow, I can relate to all of this right now. Jordan and I were both feeling pretty down over the weekend and we couldn't really put our finger on what it was... it's just adjustment. Missing the familiar, the routine etc. It all seems a bit new and overwhelming in the beginning but you just have to give yourself time - I love what you said about random acts of kindness - I might try this one! Thanks for the words Arni, they helped today!

  2. Great post, and I find your advice so useful as it can apply to life/expat life in general. It is also good you mentioned that sometimes overcoming something can be a work in progress and take time.
    Thanks for joining the link-up!

  3. great stuff, arni! i have my own experiences in the work place that i've been trying to find words to write for a long time. i think your posts are excellent. and your advice and tips are spot on!

  4. You're so incredibly right about being flexible and having a solid support system to lean on. I definitely would not have been able to make it without mine and I hope I let them know that enough and often

  5. Wow, that's a really tough journey. I don't think I would have made it if someone had said to my face that I would fail because of my personality - and I'm also an introvert, sensitive person who avoids confrontation.
    I'm always happy to read about your successes and I'm taking note of your advice :)

    Also, I agree with you that one of the saddest parts of being an expat is that friends come and go, especially if they're fellow expats.

    Have a great week, Arni! {Hugs}

  6. Sounds like you had quite a hard time...but I'm glad to hear you have overcome all the difficulties and proven all those people wrong! You are so strong.

  7. This would be hard for me too. The politics of people in groups has never been my favorite thing. I think you should give yourself a trophy for this one, Arni. High five.


Flickr Images