Navine Eldesouki, founder of Coffee with Expat Women: "I am happiest when I help and support others"

Expat of the month
  • Navine, founder of Coffee with Expat Women
  • Navine, founder of Coffee with Expat Women
Published on 2021-06-11 at 10:00 by Veedushi
Navine Eldesouki is the amazing soul behind Coffee with Expat Women, a group providing support to expat women around the world. As an expat woman who built her life and family in different countries, leaving Australia at the age of 20, she is more than aware of the challenges faced by expat women around the world. So she decided to create a space where they can express themselves, share experiences, and get support and advice. 

Can you please introduce yourself and tell us about your background?

My name is Navine Eldesouki, and here is a bit about me.

At the age of 20, I boarded a flight from my hometown Perth, Australia to Egypt ‘for a few months'. Little did I know that this trip will change my life forever! 23yrs and 7 countries later, my husband and I have built a life together on the move and had 4 kids along the way. It has been a journey, a life journey that has challenged me in so many ways yet has deeply enriched me. I was young and quite naive when our expat life began, I grew as a woman during my expat journey, and it has made me the person I am today. 

Growing up, I wanted to be a successful advertising executive who travelled the world….and travel the world I did! Although I didn't make it into the advertising scene, my life centred around developing my parenting and mothering skills, management of multiple relocations, reestablishing homes and lives for my family and myself, etc. I gained so many life skills that can only be achieved through life and its challenges.

In addition, I worked and volunteered when I could, depending on my visa. So over the years, I worked at an insurance brokerage, as a nursery English teacher, school admin, fashion designer and a Realtor - getting my realtors license in the US was a proud moment of self-achievement for me! I also volunteered and became deeply involved with the refugee crisis while I was living in Geneva, the most fulfilling moments I have experienced.

Where are you currently based and since when?

I have been based in Dubai, UAE, since September 2016. It is the longest time we have lived in any location since we started our expat journey!

What made you want to leave your home country?

I'd say it was more unplanned than planned! After going to Egypt, I got married and had my first child there. I found it challenging to live in Egypt with my first child and did not have the support system of my parents and siblings. Consequently, my husband and I actually planned to move to Australia. However, our plans took a turn when his company offered him a position in France, and we decided to give it a go. Little did we know that this would be a stepping stone to the rest of our life.

You're the founder of a Facebook group, Coffee with Expat Women. What motivated you to start this group, and what was your aim?

The Coffee with Expat Women Facebook group was created under the umbrella of the Coffee with an Expat community platform I was creating in Dubai.

I realized I am happiest when I help and support others, so I decided I want to give back to the expat community that has given me so much. I founded a social and support platform called Coffee with an Expat, a safe space where expat women can build connections, engage in meaningful discussion, attend meet-ups, events and workshops. I wanted this social and support platform to be accessible to expat women globally, which led me to create the Facebook group.

How was the response?

The response has been amazing, and the group is growing every day. The women in the group are fabulous, and the feedback I have received has been so positive. The women really appreciate the authenticity of the group, which gives me the motivation to keep building it and offering better opportunities for expat women to thrive.

How do you actually support expat women around the world?

I started Coffee with an Expat to create a safe space for women to come together and have open discussions about all the different aspects of our expat lifestyle. These discussions are supported by an expert on the respective topic to provide their expertise, support and guidance to the attendees, a growing community of women with diverse backgrounds. Due to the pandemic, I decided to shift the talks online, which took place in the Coffee with Expat Women Facebook group with members from around the world. This move opened up the opportunity to have speakers from different countries and giving expat women from around the world to participate and have access to information and support.

Within the global Facebook group, which is based on supporting expat women and their various endeavours, it also provides different opportunities during the week to share and promote what they do, including (but not limited to) blogs, podcasts, businesses, hobbies, recipes and more. This provides the potential to create connections, sign on clients and create different business opportunities. 

Expat women in Dubai
Coffee with Expat Women

According to you, what are the major challenges for expat women, whether they have moved alone or with their partner or family? 

I am writing mainly about expat women with family here as this is my experience and what I have mainly been exposed to.

Expat women face quite a few challenges after moving to a new country with their families; although the challenges faced are common, how each individual experience it may be quite different. Setting up home, establishing an entire new life, ensuring your children's well-being, attending to their mental, emotional and social needs, supporting your husband /partner in their new role…all at the same time navigating your own mental, social and emotional needs and the unfamiliar environment around you.

Who am I? Loss of identity and purpose is very real among expat women. They have uprooted their lives, left behind family, friends and often a career to accompany their husbands willingly. Once the expat honeymoon phase is over, reality sets in and they often find themselves at a loss of what to do, what is their purpose and who are they really? Although this may be emotionally and mentally challenging, on a positive note, it provides an opportunity to rediscover yourself after being exposed to new experiences.

Loneliness is quite a common issue that expat women / spouses deal with - I certainly had my fair share of it. It's a loneliness that is different to the common ‘loneliness', coming in waves at different stages of your expat journey. It is part of the unspoken expat package that you need to be aware of and learn to manage. 

Making new friends in a foreign country. Easy for some, not so easy for others. There are many factors that can contribute to this like language barriers / non-expatriate community / cultural differences and personal circumstances among other things. In the beginning, it's doable to stay connected regularly to friends back home, but with time you need more than just a Skype call. Face to face interaction is a different type of connection that you begin to miss and need, which brings the need to make new friends. It may require stepping out of your comfort zone; however, I encourage it. That moment could define how your expat journey turns out.

Loss of career and independence is a big one for expat women who sacrificed their careers to support their husbands. They suddenly become dependents, often with no right to work or have access to income in their host country which unfortunately has long term consequences. It puts the expat woman in a vulnerable position in a foreign country, raising many concerns that need to be addressed.

Feeling guilty, we are riddled with guilt. We question ourselves about this feeling.

Relocation is one of the most stressful and difficult things to do. The reality is that relocating is an emotional rollercoaster that you have no control over, and you will have some low moments even if you may be moving to a great location filled with exciting experiences and opportunities, an expat package, travel and adventure, etc. We often feel guilty for having negative emotions when everything around us screams positivity. You have just left your entire life behind. It is important to allow yourself to grieve. The key is to be aware that it will happen; it is normal, and allow yourself to feel without guilt.

Have you noticed any particular changes since the beginning of the pandemic, especially with stay at home moms and those who are working remotely?

The pandemic has certainly changed so much in people's lives globally. As expats, freedom to travel easily around the world is a part of our lives - that was literally taken away from us. Although travel is starting to pick up again, we are still in the pandemic, and with it comes concerns and restrictions when travelling. It's hard to pinpoint any particular change for stay at home Moms and those who are working remotely - I haven't noticed any general trend. I feel it's so individualistic in this particular circumstance and so different across the world as countries cope with the pandemic. The pandemic has proven to be both very challenging for people and at the same time has given others benefit. The benefit of time with family, to work on untouched projects, new business opportunities, etc. Challenges being health, loss of income, business closures, family separation… 

According to you, what are the key things to consider as an expat woman?

Expat women should consider the same global issues that non-expat women also experience but may be more prominent due to the different restrictions, cultures and laws of their host country, such as discrimination, inequality, sexism, safety, being financially dependent on their partner, to name a few. Expat women should be aware of the different challenges and benefits that come with relocating and how that applies to their host country. Knowledge and awareness is important, as well as the willingness to explore and discover.

Is there any advice you wish you had received before becoming an expat woman?

Oh yes, so many - but there is the beauty of growth through experiencing and learning. The advice I would have loved to receive and one I have written and now share with others is: “Live as if you are staying forever. Explore as if you are leaving tomorrow.”

What has living abroad taught you so far?

It has taught me that the expat journey is a journey within ourselves and that change touches you, alters your life and creates an enriched version of you. Ultimately it has taught me that all humans are equal.