Happy New year (again)! Welcome to the January #TrailingSpouseStories blog crawl
This January we talk about beginnings. We all were there at some point in time. We all started out in strange lands. How was it like starting over in a new country – if you have done it multiple times, does it get easier or harder? And what are you building in this new year? This is my #TrailingSpouseStory…
My life has never changed in a major way then.
I studied in the same all-girls Catholic school for 13 years. My schools – kindergarten/gradeschool/highschool and college – were in the same city, just a kilometer away from each other. I played the same sport for 12 years. I lived in the same house for 18 years. I even had the same boyfriend for 9 years.
I loved that there were aspects of my life that were steady as a rock, but ,at the back of my head, I always longed for some change.
Be careful what you wish for they said. Then boom, change happened and it happened in the most radical way possible. Three days after our wedding, I found myself in a new country – without family, without friends – with a new husband.
I knew I was prepared.
In today’s Internet age, when there are countless websites, guide books, more books, forums, reviews, travel blogs, TV & YouTube shows, articles, social media updates and more, there was no excuse to be in the dark. I fell down into the rabbit hole of travel knowledge. And, on top of that infinite resource, there were the stories from a most trusted source – The Husband.
As the good girlfriend (then), I wanted to know EVERYTHING – the good, the bad and the ugly. I was insatiable to know what he was up to thousands of miles away – if even possible, every second, every minute of it. Though I’ve been to Dubai once for a company holiday, I couldn’t really imagine what everyday living was like. A few days wasn’t enough to truly know the daily Dubai grind and I wanted to paint a precise picture of it.
Maybe one day, the fates would conspire for it to be my turn to live everyday Dubai with my one true love.
So I gobbled up all his emails, chat replies, listened intently to those expensive minutes of long distance mobile phone conversation and asked a lot of questions. I loved knowing more about things as I believed (I still do) that knowledge is power. The Husband indulged me and didn’t leave any stone unturned about his Dubai life.
Armed with all the knowledge I had gathered, I stepped out of the airplane with newly minted husband in hand feeling oh-so confident I could hack this major life change with no hitches.
But somehow everything looked and felt different from what I’ve learned from The Husband and saw a few years back. Was it because I saw Dubai with different eyes? The highways stretched further and wider. Skyscrapers, albeit void of tenants, and shopping malls popped up like mushrooms. A railway system now ran through the city’s key neighborhoods.
Dubai was changing as fast as its desert sands shifted. It sure was so much shinier and glitzier than I remembered. The planner me was thrown for a loop.
I felt reborn, except that I was not brought into the new world with a blank slate, an entirely fresh start. Maybe reborn isn’t the word. Somehow I felt I was kidnapped with full knowledge that I would be taken somewhere, despite the black bag over my head. And once the bag is off my head, I’d blinded by the light. The kind of temporary blindness that renders you helpless for a while.
I wobbled in the dizzying amount of daily life I needed to take in in the least amount of time possible. I had to learn the ins and outs of our neighborhood – the pharmacy, the grocery, the path to the Dubai metro and Mall of the Emirates. I had to learn the currency, the UAE dirham – how each coin and bill looked like and its corresponding worth. I had to learn costs of all things, from the falafel to the taxi and Dubai metro fare to the cost of drinking water. No drinking water is free in the desert. (Duh.)
One of the most challenging things was to understand the Muslim culture because I grew up in a country that was pre-dominantly Catholic, where everyday things like non-working holidays (the most recent one included the Pope’s visit when people were off for 3 days!), Christmas bonuses given to employees, and other cultural nuances were built around the faith. On top of that, it also is not just dealing with the Arab culture, but learning to be mindful of hundreds more. The UAE is home to more than 200 nationalities. At the same time, I faced the reality of racial stereotype, which was alien to me since I interacted with fellow Filipinos 99.9% of the time.
I also had to adjust to the domestic life, a stark difference from the corporate working life, where I had a list of things to do that run my day. Oh, and I had to establish new friendships, a challenge for an introvert like me.
There were just too many adjustments I had to make. I’ve learned that in the expat life, though knowledge is indeed power, it can also be debilitating. One must learn to rid oneself of what you’re used to – habits, expectations, stereotypes and learnings – to open yourself to taking in the experience of actually living in the moment, basking in the newness of it all and picking up new knowledge as it comes.
And like a baby, months after the first landing, I started on my belly, then moved on all fours to crawl, fell down a number of times (with scars to show!), eventually learned to be on my two feet and maybe even started to run with the help of The Husband and his (and now my) good friends.
Has it been easier the second time around?
I wouldn’t say easy, but the shedding of that baggage, preconceived notions of the US life helped me get through. In the expat life, you will never be prepared for everything. I still am learning new things as I go. Handling this other major life change one day at a time in bite sized pieces is my new mantra, which is challenging to say the least for the planner in me.
And this is what I plan (ironic isn’t it?) to do this 2015. Albeit not as new, the difficulty of the challenge, calls for more time to practice until I get better and better. Hopefully no major changes soon…I don’t think I can handle it yet.
Read more about other trailing spouses’ stories about starting anew here:
- Issa’s story on You Want To Be Rich on how the #trailingspouse life seems to be painful than easier, being haunted by the possibilities and what could-have or might-have-beens.
- Yuliya’s story on Tiny Expats on what things made it easier for her to move to a new country. She’s quite the #trailingspouse veteran!
- Rachel’s story on Me, Myself & Atlanta on how leaving UK has led her to the best roller coaster ride ever.
- Tala’s story on Tala Ocampo on her “word” for intentions for a possible move or a possible status quo.
Are you a #trailingspouse too? Join us for next month’s #TrailingSpouseStories. Read more about it here