From Derby girl to Desert Dweller
Our guest in the hot seat for this month’s Global Parenting interview is British Expat and fellow Blogger Laura Powell-Corbett, who along with her husband and young boys swapped their UK lives for The Sandpit in 2013. Find out why Laura loves the city of Dubai so much and why it might just be the perfect place to raise young children.
BG: So Laura, how did you find yourselves with a family in Dubai?
L: I was born in a place called Wirral, near Liverpool in the UK, then my parents moved to Derby when I was 6 – this was considered a big move! Later, after university I moved to London which is where I met my now husband when we were working together at a bank.
I knew it was in my husband’s head to move to the Middle East after he grew up in Bahrain, but I never actually believed it would happen – I thought we would continue with our life in London, have more children in the capital, then retire and travel the world!
Then one snowy January morning he rang me and uttered those life changing words “So, we are off to Dubai”. We came to Dubai, as a family of three; me, the husband and the toddler who was only 6 months old at the time.
If anyone ever says to you they are doing anything crazy like emigrating with a baby, just outsource everything you can and hide with the baby when anyone tries to pack. And don’t do what we did, which was also plan our wedding extravaganza at the same time. Nothing like doing too much at once, it was a hectic few months.
Still, it’s been worth it and being in Dubai has meant a lot for us as a family. I have settled down as a stay at home mum (and new blogger) and we have been able to have our second child a lot sooner than we would at home. I am grateful for the opportunities which have come our way since moving here and how life has panned out.
BG: What was your first impression?
L : We arrived in April, expecting it to be hot. I didn’t expect the sand storms and rain. That wasn’t what I signed up for!!
After a hellish 3 hours through customs with a screaming, tired baby, forgetting to stop at duty free and meeting the husband on the other side after a week apart all I could think of was going to bed.
That first drive up to our serviced apartment was a blur of neon lights and high rise buildings. I don’t think I was prepared for how cosmopolitan Dubai would be, in my head I was expecting camels and desert. Don’t get me wrong there is that element of Dubai but there is so much more to Dubai.
Dubai has a tendency to want to be the biggest and best. The world’s tallest tower with the Burj Khalifa; the only seven star hotel with the Burj al Arab; the world’s biggest mall with Dubai Mall! I completely overlooked this side until my first days here and then when I realized it was overwhelming and I felt very insignificant.
BG: What are some of the lifestyle changes you needed to make living in the Middle East?
L: Covering yourself up in public places and showing some respect is important. I generally wear western clothes, making sure to cover my shoulders and knees when going out. I learnt this the hard way when I was going through the visa registration process and wore a dress that was down to only my knees. I had to walk in to have my fingerprints scanned with sick stained muslins tied round each knee to cover them.
Covering up is the least you can do in a Muslim country to respect their religion. It can be hard when it’s hitting 50 degrees but it’s so important. I don’t need to wear an abaya or a hijab. I am still able to drive unlike in other Muslim countries. It is no big deal to me to cover up a little which is why it makes me angry when I am walking round malls – where it’s clearly signposted that you should dress respectfully – yet people still walk around with spaghetti straps and shorts up their bum.
Public holidays follow the Muslim calendar and I find it quite frustrating that these change every year with the moon, a bit like Easter changing every year throws me off balance a little. As well as that not all public holidays are given to every sector and recently a lot have been hailed as a Saturday which, makes no difference to me, but means that my husband gets no coveted time off.
The big one is Ramadan and Eid. No eating and drinking in public whilst it is Ramadan, which sounds fairly easy but is actually a lot tougher than you think. And at least we can eat and drink at home as we are not practicing. It seems that the second you are told you can’t drink is the moment that you want to drink water in public. Though the other kind of drinking also becomes restrictive in the usually liberal Dubai with no brunches taking place and a curfew on when alcohol can be served.
(BG: For more on customs and observations during Ramdan see the Visitors Guide to the UAE)
The cost of living out here is a lot more than we were paying back in London, but the pay that we receive and the NO TAX element means that we are more than compensated for our lifestyle. People generally come out here to save and that is what we are doing, we’d be saving a lot more if I didn’t keep spending money on the latest baby accessories though!
BG: How does your expatriate family life compare to a typical Emirati’s?
L: Local Emirati families, from what I can observe, tend to have a more extravagant lifestyle. Bigger houses, bigger cars, lots of extended family and family gatherings. And a lot of domestic help – a nanny per child in some cases! From a family perspective it’s a very different world.
That said a lot of expat families tend to have foreign domestic helpers too. Most families I know at least have cleaners come in once or twice a week to help out, the rest tend to have full-time maids. Maids generally are Filipino or Sri Lankan and work up to 6 days per week, taking care of the cooking, cleaning and childcare. I’d love to tell you more about this but it’s not something we have looked into in great detail preferring just to stick with just the part-time cleaner. Ask me again in 6 months and we will probably have a maid! (BG: I can almost guarantee it!)
BG: Tell us more about your typical day?
Much of my day is spent wrestling with my toddler, getting him out the door to nursery or on non-nursery days getting out of the house by 9am (have you ever tried to spend a whole day inside with a toddler?!). On the days he’s at nursery I work on blogging and commenting, making sure I am up to date and scheduled in advance. Throw into the mix a lot of newborn feeding at the moment, our days are very busy.
Weekends, Daddy is home and we try to do a couple of family activities, going to the beach and eating pancakes, off out for lunch, trips to the park, trips to the markets. We also try to carve out some “me” time, be that a trip to the spa (me) a round of golf (the husband), seeing friends. I think it’s very important not to lose yourself as a parent, although it’s tough at the moment to get time together as a couple while our youngest is so tiny!
BG: Have you considered working in Dubai or are you happy now as a SAHM?
L: Women in the workforce are not frowned upon, but are not very well accommodated. Maternity leave is poor at 45 calendar days per pregnancy, I’d have used all of that up before Baby Boy arrived having been signed off from anything stress related!
I was offered a job when I found out that I was pregnant with my second. My pregnancy was given as the reason why the job offer was not completed as per policy. So while women in the workforce are plentiful you do need to be mindful of pregnancy issues and child care. As well as the fact that part-time roles don’t exist. I think this is probably why you see more and more SAHM’s out here.
Other expats in Dubai have been the reason I haven’t been homesick. There is a massive British community in Dubai, and the majority of mums I have met have also been stay at home mums (SAHM’s) so I have managed to form some wonderful bonds of friendship. Now I am coming up to two years out here I am able to start offering the same hand of friendship that was offered to me. The best thing is that everyone is in the same boat so everyone is so accepting and helpful.
BG: What facilities and activities exist for young children?
L: Dubai is a child’s paradise, mainly because of the culture and attitude towards children. There are countless nurseries, toddler classes, soft play and other children to play with. Except in the summer when the mass exodus to escape the heat occurs!
We have never been stuck for things to do, and the best thing is that the country is set up to be hot and understands the pitfalls of summer heat. Air conditioning is your best friend and worst enemy – keeping us cool yet spreading germs and colds like wildfire. Pretty much like soft play. Although they are plentiful it is a relentless merry-go-round in the summer, I get pretty fed up, luckily the toddler doesn’t.
From October/November through to March/April each year though is a wonderful, outdoor time. There are plenty of parks and green spaces to choose. Swimming, in the pool and at the beach; though taking one child to the beach was tough, I’m not sure I’ll manage two! Butterfly houses, zoos, Miracle Gardens, aquariums, places to lunch that are child friendly, places to Brunch, Dubai has it all.
BG: Your children are still very young, but what schooling will become available to them?
L: Expatriates in Dubai can only attend private school, public schooling is not available to them (Though this does solve a long-running debate I have with my husband over public v private schooling!).
The schooling industry is fast paced and there is high competition for certain schools, there are assessment processes, payments to go on waiting lists, payments when you accept a place, payments every term. Unluckily for us, schooling isn’t included in my husband’s work package, it really is luck of the draw and varies from employer to employer about what is and isn’t included. The cost varies from school to school and some of the highest fees I’ve seen hit 99,000dhs for the year, the equivalent in British pounds at the moment is around £17,000 for a THREE year old! We are not looking at that school…
My oldest son is 2.5 years old and we are already on the wait list at two schools. Crazy. But what is crazier is that had he been born 6 weeks earlier he would be starting school this September as they start Foundation Stage 1 in the September after they turn 3. I am thankful he will be nearer 4 when he goes as when all is said and done he is still only a baby!
BG: How have you found health services in Dubai and the recent arrival of your second baby?
L: My second pregnancy here was a little different to my first experience in the UK. I was under a high risk OBGYN my whole pregnancy and small things like sending him Whatsapp messages with my blood pressure readings when I was trying to stay out of the hospital at the end of my pregnancy were amazing.
In terms of care, I was consultant led in the UK so spent a lot of time back and forth to the hospital. This time my appointment levels were much more frequent. I had more scans here than in the UK – having scans at each appointment. I didn’t think it would be possible to have more scans than I did in my first pregnancy, then I came to Dubai. The other difference I found was for aftercare in Dubai I had a private room after delivery rather than a postnatal ward.
On top of that I also had access to a range of specialists I saw a cardiologist for a lot of my pregnancy which was amazingly reassuring. And of course given my birth story this time when I had a silent rupture, the medical expertise of the hospital was incredible. I was up and walking within hours and discharged in three days thanks to their care. (BG: Laura was under the care of Dr Amir Nasseri who is licensed at City Hospital, Dubai)
Following on from birth I am breastfeeding for the second time around. Being in a Muslim country means that breastfeeding is promoted and encouraged as long as you cover up so I am having a wonderful response to feeding. Plus the feeding rooms in the Malls are beautiful, nothing like being sat on a dingy plastic chair in the toilets as may be the case in other countries!
BG: What are the biggest challenges as a parent in this country?
L: To be honest, I find that the biggest challenges are parenting challenges rather than expat challenges. If anything the support network we have here is better than we would have at home as everyone is in the same boat and understands when you need help, babysitting help or recommendations for example as no one has their mum just down the road.
BG: Would you recommend living in Dubai to other expats?
L: I love living here. The quality of life and the options that it has opened to us have been incredible. Without being here I wouldn’t be a stay at home mum, I wouldn’t have had our second baby boy when we did.
To live here is to love it but you need to embrace it fully otherwise you will never make the most of the experience. Yes it is hot, yes it is sandy, yes it is different to the UK, that doesn’t make it bad, it makes it an experience. One which I am proud to be living and giving my kids, I am thankful every day that my husband and his job have brought us out here.
BG: Your move out to Dubai has also given you the chance to establish your blog, Life with Baby Kicks, tell us a little more about your blog?
One of my friends started writing a blog and the more I thought about it, the more I thought “I could do this too”. So one night I wrote a post and it’s kind of spiraled from there. The best thing is that I am no longer sending people back home the same message or photo about what the boys have been up too because it is all there on the blog!
I’ve filled my little corner of the internet with everything I love, my family, food and travel. One of my favourite features running at the moment is my “Travel with Me” series as others share their experiences about travelling with babies; guess what, it is possible and it’s not just me! The only thing with that is that I have now added about 7 new places I want to go to an already long, long, long list….
Thanks to Laura for taking the time to be part of the Global Parenting series – especially with the arrival of baby # 2 only weeks ago!
Don’t forget you can also catch up on past stories from expats across the world on our Global Parenting page. Want to be a part of it? Email Keri at [email protected] with a brief outline of your story and I will be in touch!
Pictures courtesy of Laura & sophiamattiaphotography.com