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Expat Advice: Culture Shock in Dubai, UAE

What is the name of the city or town that you are reporting on?

Dubai

Did you receive any cross-cultural training for your move abroad? If yes, was it before or after the move?

No. Have lived in 3 countries as an expat and neither I nor my spouse have received any cross-cultural training.

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If they speak another language in your new country, do you speak the language? If yes, did you learn the language before you moved or while abroad? If no, are you planning to learn the language?

The local language is Arabic, but in a city of 90% expats from over 150 countries, the common language is English. Have learned a little Arabic, but without the need to use it regularly it's hard to develop any level of fluency. Have given up.

Were you worried or concerned about culture shock before you moved abroad?

No. Was not aware it could be a problem.

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How significant was the culture shock you experienced when you moved abroad?

UAE was our third expat assignment and probably the easiest to adapt to due to the very western lifestyle. In both Egypt and Azerbaijan developing a network of friends and overcoming language barriers were the most difficult.

Expats often talk about going through the "stages of culture shock." Examples include the honeymoon phase, the irritation-to-anger stage, the rejection of the culture stage, and the cultural adjustment phase. Do you feel like you went through these or any other stages as you settled into the new culture?

In Azerbaijan and Egypt I don't remember a "honeymoon" phase - it was more a sinking in the pit of my stomach "OMG what have I done?" sort of feeling, lol! In both cases I do remember the lightbulb moment when it started to feel like "home." That probably took about 6 months.

What, if any, were some of the changes you noticed in yourself that might have been caused by culture shock? These might include things such as anger, depression, anxiety, increased eating or drinking, frustration, homesickness, etc.

Apathy, lethargy, lack of enthusiasm.

What are some things you appreciate most about the new culture?

In all 3 countries we've lived (UAE, Azerbaijan, & Egypt) teenagers seem to have a much better relationship with their parents. The less people have the more generous they seem to be. Slower pace, more balanced life in Azerbaijan and Egypt. Appreciation of the arts in Azerbaijan.

What are the most challenging aspects of the new culture?

Slow pace of life, lol! Corruption, unevenly applied justice.

Did you "commit" any embarrassing or humorous cultural blunders? If you did and you'd like to share them, please do tell!

In Azerbaijan - Standing at the side of the road on my own, waiting for a friend to meet me in her car - I was mistaken for a prostitute! I should have been more discreet, stood in a less visible spot and not had my coat unbuttoned (it was warm).

Do you have any advice or thoughts about culture shock you would like to share?

In all our postings, I've noticed that "cultural burnout" starts at around the 3 year mark. At that point you stop being a curious observer and start to get upset or cynical with some things - corruption, lack of social justice, bureaucracy, etc. Eventually the bad starts to outweigh the good. Once you reach that point you really ought to leave.

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