An initiative by a Dubai resident provides a platform for expat women to build a community

It's for newly relocated women who might be struggling to find their feet

By Navine Eldesouki

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Published: Thu 6 Apr 2023, 3:03 PM

I have been a global nomad for over 24 years and lived in eight countries. In September 2016, I moved to Dubai with three teenagers and a newborn baby. My only focus at the time was to be a mum to my children, who were settling yet again into another new school, and to support my husband in his new role. While I am not a novice when it comes to relocating, it is still challenging!

My own journey as an expat spouse culminated in the creation of a community for like-minded women. I established Coffee with an Expat in 2019 to help alleviate loneliness and provide a welcoming space for women to be themselves, providing them with a platform to express themselves. The idea was to foster a culture of openness and inclusivity, where women could share their experiences, ask for advice, and feel supported in a non-judgemental environment.

Making the move

Relocating to a different country as an accompanying spouse or partner is a significant lifestyle shift that requires emotional and mental preparation. When relocating as an expat spouse, we leave behind our careers and familiar surroundings. Consequently, many expat women become financially dependent on their partners. They struggle to find their identities and often hold on to past roles. Leaving behind your career means you are also leaving behind a part of your identity and financial independence. While there is nothing wrong with being financially dependent, it does leave you vulnerable in the event of unforeseen circumstances, such as divorce or illness. Hence it is essential to continuously upskill yourself, take courses and learn something new.

Tackling the challenges and living the adventures

You suddenly find yourself in an unfamiliar territory, a different language is spoken and a new culture surrounds you. As much as it is a challenge, it is exciting too! The adventure, the travel, the different cultures, the music of different languages, the amazing stories you hear, the friends you make — all this can be enriching. Relocating to a destination with an expat community can facilitate connections with others who share similar experiences, making it easier to forge new friendships; whereas integrating into a long-standing local community, where individuals have an established network of friends and family, can prove to be more challenging, requiring more effort to form friendships. It's important to acknowledge that creating friendships is a learning process that comes with its own beauty and challenges, but the experiences gained from this leads to personal growth and development.

Creating a community

As I settled in and caught up with the Dubai ‘vibe’ after our move, I started to notice other women struggling, as I had in the past when relocating to another country. I began to explore how I could support expat women, and then in 2019, the opportunity presented itself, and before I knew it, I was hosting my first event.

That first gathering was a defining moment. A group of women, many strangers to each other, came together. We connected, opened our hearts, laughed, cried and felt safe. I had found my purpose. From that moment onwards, we continuously evolved — from monthly meetings with speakers to introducing coffee mornings to socialise. However, our plans had to shift when the Covid pandemic emerged, prompting us to transition to a virtual format via our Facebook group, "Coffee With Expat Women". As soon as it was safe to do so, we resumed face-to-face meetings, needing that human connection.

As the community continued to grow, I felt a desire to offer more opportunities. So, at the start of 2022, I introduced our membership programme with the backing of a remarkable group of women who shared my enthusiasm for supporting the community.

Forming lasting friendships

The transient nature of expat life means that we often have to say goodbye and move on. Too often people don’t invest in potential friendships for that reason – it is understandable, we are protecting ourselves. We don’t want to get emotionally attached only to have to say goodbye, and who knows when – if ever – we will see each other again. However, this is a part of our life.

Making friends in Dubai can be a daunting task, it is actually quite a lonely place for many. Despite meeting a lot of people and having a plethora of acquaintances, it's rare to encounter that one genuine, true friend. Few will become The Friend. My advice is to embrace the present, nurture friendships, create memories, and enrich your life.

Navine Eldesouki is the founder of Coffee with an Expat

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