My name is Grace and I currently live in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. I was born in the Philippines but moved to Japan when I was 19 and lived there for more than 10 years before relocating to Dubai with my family in 2007.
I loved Japan so much I changed my citizenship to Japanese after graduating from university through the Japanese government naturalization program. My husband is Japanese but spouses do not get Japanese citizenship, only children do.
When and how did you decide to move to Dubai? Is it complicated to settle down there?
I got a job offer in 2007 and we came here without any plans other than to just try it out. Japan will always be there, we thought and what best time to go for an adventure than when we're still young?
After 10 years in Japan, I was thinking of looking for work abroad, preferably in the US or Canada. One of the main reasons for wanting to move out of Japan to an English-speaking country was our then three-year-old who we really wanted to learn English. I posted my resume online and while we were quietly living in the beautiful valley of Nagano in Japan, a company from Dubai invited me for an interview, paid hotel and plane tickets and all…
I didn’t know anything about the UAE other than what’s written in the travel books. At first, moving here was the last thing in my mind. My husband and I both had jobs in Japan and had just bought our house less than a year ago; what would be our reason to move out? But when I got accepted for the job, we thought if we were going to see the world and have an adventure, we’d better do it while we’re young. And with that, in 2007, we packed our bags and flew out to Dubai.
It was a little bit complicated to settle down here way back in 2007 when there was a scarcity in (affordable) housing and poor public transport system. Now, it's really so much easier. I envy the expats coming now, it is so much easier for them.
Have you ever lived abroad before? How many countries have you visited?
I flew to Japan when I was 19 years old for a scholarship grant. After graduating from the Japanese university, I went on to live in Japan for 10 years and a few months.
I like to travel so I have visited a few countries. These so far: Philippines, Japan, Singapore, Hong Kong, UAE, Germany, Belgium, UK, The Netherlands, Austria, Czech Republic, Thailand, Turkey, Maldives, Sri Lanka.
What do you like the most about Dubai?
What I like most about Dubai is the weather. Sure it gets hot a few months of the year and you get cooped up indoors but it happens when you live in a place where there's winter too. In Japan, sometimes we become too lazy to go out because it's too cold or too wet. What's sure in Dubai? The sun shines an average of 330 days in a year. Big chances are, it won't rain on your parade, so to speak.
Personally, I love living here because hiring help around the house is easy. As a working mother, an extra pair of hands is a life saver. I could say I've been able to enjoy being a mom more because I am able to outsource the house work so I can spend time with children after work.
How is/was the cultural shock? What are the main differences with your home country?
The main difference between Dubai and Japan is the concept of time - in Japan, everything moves like clockwork (including people!). In Dubai, some things make you frustrated because time is not strictly followed (though it is improving).
We didn't feel much of cultural shock. I won't call it a "shock" but culture wise, it takes a lot of getting used to things like working on Sundays, hearing the call to prayer five times a day from a nearby mosque, pork not available easily at malls (only in licensed restaurants inside hotels)...
Do you miss anything from your homeland?
I call both Philippines and Japan as my "homeland" - I miss the 4 seasons in Japan while I miss all the tropical fruit and the beautiful beaches in the Philippines.
Any 'memories of an expat' you would like to share with us? Your best souvenir? Or maybe your worst experience?
My best memory of being an expat is definitely the time I was in Japan. I was young, home sick and didn't understand the language. And this was 1996 people when there was no Facebook or social media. No sms or skype. It was an ultimate test of resilience and character. Looking back though, it made me stronger and shaped how I am today.
I loved how I wrote handwritten letters to my parents and get on my bicycle to the post office every week and the excitement of finding a letter from my family at my school dormitory post box.
My worst experience of being an expat was in 2007, new in Dubai and waiting for the bus (we did not have a car that time) for more than one hour in the heat. We just came from Japan and I wasn't acclimatized to the desert weather yet. I cried at the side of the road and asked myself, "What am I doing here?". But right now with the fully operation Dubai metro, tram and whole new fleet of buses, life is so much better!
What does your typical day as an expat in Dubai look like?
My work is from Sunday to Thursday, 8-6pm with a 30 minute lunch break at midday. My typical day starts with waking up and getting ready to work, rushing to the nearby Metro station and spending the rest of the day inside the office. Not too exciting, I know ;)
When did you start your blog? For what reasons?
I started this blog in 2007 to document our new adventure. I continued writing my blog but didn’t just diary our personal moments. Readers found me on the internet and they were interested in reading about Dubai – the Dubai that is beyond what is written in the glossy travel books. The Dubai that’s not all about glitz and glamour or shopping. And that not all are well off here. Not all expats came here to seek greener pastures. Some like us are not generally richer or poorer here, just the same but the quality of life is better for us. For my family, our pastures is not greener, just sandier (thus the name of my blog, Sandier Pastures).
Did you make new friends with your blog?
Yes, a lot. In this digital age, I find I have more friends living inside my computer screen!
Why did you register on expat.com and what do you think of the website?
Expat.com is a very comprehensive sites for expats looking for information about their prospect city before moving in. I like that there is also a job search function for expats to explore other opportunities out there.
Which advice would you give to the other Expat.com members who would like to settle in Dubai?
Come to Dubai with an open mind. Leave your stereotypes home. There is no reason to be scared just because Dubai is located in the "Middle East". This is by far the safest country I've ever lived or travelled to. More than 80% of Dubai's population are people from 200 nationalities. It's a great mix of culture where you can learn so much about people, language and culture. Enjoy the sun, the beaches, work hard, save money and use that 30 days of annual leave (plus free tickets home) to go back home or explore the world. A few hours of flight time from Dubai and you'll find yourself in so many different countries.