Every week I talk to a Belgian who moved abroad and built a new life there. This week Veerle tells us about moving to Abu Dhabi.
1. Hi, Veerle! Please quickly introduce yourself. Tell us who you are, where you’re from, where you moved to and when/why you moved.
Hi! My name is Veerle. A year and a half ago, I moved to Abu Dhabi together with my husband Didier and my three children Nell (5), Tess (8) and Wannes (10). My husband was offered a contract here and a month ago I started working here as well. Abu Dhabi is the capital of the United Arab Emirates in the Middle East.
2. What did you expect from Abu Dhabi and life there before moving? Did those expectations hold up?
The Middle East still equals veiled women, a driving ban for women, and strict rules concerning Islam to a lot of people. I was particularly curious about the dress code for women. The impact that religion would have on everyday life was something that was hard for me to guess. We had only been in Abu Dhabi for 6 days in total during the selection procedure. Based on those 6 days we formed an impression of the country and took the plunge. We don’t regret it!
3. What’s the biggest difference between life in Abu Dhabi and life in Belgium?
The weather and the international relations. We were living, working and going to school in Brussels. Not really the countryside, but still, here we are really experiencing the advantages of living in a multicultural environment. We do still regularly participate in activities organized by the local Belgian association.
In addition, we have made a lot of foreign friends. My best friends here are Irish, Scottish, Swedish and Indian. We are learning a lot about both local and other cultures that way. I am noticing that both my children and myself are more open to new experiences. My view on Islam and the local people has changed and improved a great deal.
4. What’s the best part about living in Abu Dhabi?
The weather, without a doubt! We haven’t had a spat of rain since march 2016. My youngest daughter even said to me in an alarming tone, when we were in Leuven during the Christmas holidays,’Mom, somebody spilled some water here…’.
Almost every day, we get to wake up to clear blue skies. By the time we have to leave for school, at 7 a.m., it’s already light outside. In the evenings it always gets dark at around 6.30 p.m. and seasons don’t really exist around here. The locals just call it summer 1 and summer 2…
5. What do you like least about living in Abu Dhabi?
We do miss our friends at home. The children miss their friends as well, but it goes both ways. During summer they miss their friends in Abu Dhabi and during the rest of the year, they miss their friends in Belgium.
Luckily, we’re still in close contact with the school principal, who is very kind. Whenever our vacation starts earlier or later, the children get to go to school for one day in their old school.
6. What do you miss most about Belgium?
Our friends! Besides our friends, we miss chocolate sprinkles (‘muizenstrontjes’), the powder that is needed to make yellow custard and the flour from AVEVE to make bread. Luckily we can import all those things, so we don’t have to miss them that much. All the other things actually can be bought here.
In some supermarkets, there’s a separate room where only non-Muslims are allowed, which is where we go to buy our pork meat. If you want to buy alcohol, you need a license to go to a specific store where you will find everything you need. Except maybe for Orval beer, but that one can be hard to find in Belgium as well sometimes…
7. Is there something about Belgium that you don’t miss at all?
Oh yes! The rain and the traffic jams are the two things we don’t miss at all. When we were in Belgium for two weeks last Christmas, it almost seemed like the traffic jams had doubled. There are a lot of highways here in Abu Dhabi that have seven sections, so traffic jams only occur at peak moments.
8. Do you think you’ll stay in Abu Dhabi? Or is there a chance you’ll move abroad again someday?
At the moment we are having a great time here, both professionally and in our private life. Four members of our family have already acquired a taste for life abroad, so who knows, maybe we’ll find a new destination to live in the future. One thing’s for sure, we will not be living here forever.
It’s great to travel from here. We have had the chance to visit Oman a couple of times and in a month we are traveling to Sri Lanka. Jordan, Azerbaijan, Nepal and Seychelles are still on our wish list!
9. Do you have any tips or advice for other Belgians who consider moving to Abu Dhabi?
Try to get into contact with Belgians who are already living here. It makes everything so much easier when you don’t have to figure out everything on your own. There’s a local association, called Belgolux, that organizes activities and is always willing to provide newcomers with information.
10. What are some tips you would give to people who are traveling to your region/city? Things they should visit or eat?
When you’re visiting Abu Dhabi, you have to go see the Grand Mosque. According to my youngest daughter, it’s a real princess’s castle. Even after having seen it over seven times already, she still loves to go there.
We like to go to Masdar City as well, it is a self-sustainable city. You’ll find a lot of information on the billboards that are placed all over the city. Top of the bill is the self-propelled cart hat will bring you from the parking lot to the city.
Dune bashing is another thing you shouldn’t miss. It’s a ride in the dunes with a jeep. Of course, then there are the great restaurants and beautiful beach clubs and beaches of course.
There’s something for everyone and the nice weather is guaranteed!
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This interview was done by Paloma García Miranda, a talented Master’s Student of Business Communication who’s helping Sofie out here on WonderfulWanderings.com.