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Why I’ve Come Back to Wellington

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It’s apparently 13 degrees as I type this, although it feels much less. Overnight, it will feel like three degrees. I’m grateful that I have enough money to be able to afford to sit under a heat pump, but I’m reminded of the sorry state of New Zealand housing. You don’t realise how bad it is until you have travelled the world. You can sit in an apartment during a snowstorm in Moscow and be perfectly toasty. But New Zealand housing? It really doesn’t seem to cope with the cold. I’m not sure what temperature our houses were built for, but it’s definitely not for a Wellington winter.

Comfortable is a very subjective term. There are many things about my life in Dubai that are comfortable. There are also many things that are difficult, and it’s often hard to explain why. Despite this, why would I give up my comfortable, three-bedroom, climate controlled apartment in Downtown Dubai to come back to New Zealand to work for six months? I’ve been asked this question a bit lately. Despite how first-worldy my response is going to seem, I hope it provides you some insight to my thinking.

I’ve discussed living in Dubai before. As I mentioned, it is comfortable, but not without its challenges. We have a nice apartment, paid for by Matt’s job. We eat well, and we have opportunities to travel. The travel is obviously the highlight for me, and the possible career progression (and challenge) a highlight for Matt. Outside of this, life is very similar to New Zealand. We have a small group of lovely friends who we spend time with. We cook meals at home, we read books, we go on our computers. Matt studies for work, I write my blog or paint.

Although my last job (in Dubai) became overwhelming in a very short period of time, I am the kind of person that enjoys working. I like the gratification of creating something, of finishing work or developing solutions. Seeing tangible outcomes from my work. I didn’t quit my job in Dubai because I wanted to be a Jumeirah Jane. The decision to quit was made because my body, and my mind, couldn’t cope with working massive hours each week, bundled with a lack of organizational direction.

I made the decision to seek work in New Zealand because I wanted to be able to contribute. This has multiple meanings. For me, in New Zealand, I enjoyed the fact that I did a job that I felt had purpose. I worked in social investment in tertiary education, and I knew that the decisions I made in that role had a tangible impact on many New Zealanders. I suppose this  fulfills an intrinsic need for relevance, but I also hope that my work helped students – and organisations – achieve better outcomes. It wasn’t always easy. Sometimes it was stressful. But I did enjoy it. The work I was doing in Dubai just didn’t provide that sort of gratification. Attending conference after conference, all talk and no action, is not my idea of progress. I believe this is part of the nature of the UAE – it is entering the maturation phase where action takes place. But this did not sit well with my action-oriented mentality.

Secondly, I like to contribute financially, where and if I can. When I quit my job, I wanted to travel for a few months. I took my last salary and transferred the equivalent of three months savings to our joint bank account. Wanting to travel, I had to know that I had contributed just as much as if I had been working. This is the part that people seem to miss about my lifestyle. Someone actually has to pay for the things I do. I do not receive free travel. Every trip I do is paid for by myself, or by Matt. While it is great that I can travel at a large discount, it still costs money. Matt’s salary is good, but its not infinite. The flashy Dubai ex-pat lifestyle is long dead, unless you’re piling it all onto a credit card. We are not.

Despite this idea of the Dubai lifestyle, I live fairly plainly. I try not to buy anything I don’t really need. This means I dye my hair from a box, I fix my ripped clothes, I do my own nails, I tend not to drink when I go out to save money. I use my money to travel, and while we live well, you should be under no illusions that I am living the high life. If you read my previous article on living in Dubai, you’ll know that things can be hard living away from your home country. Things get lost in translation. It can be frustrating, and lonely. The benefit is, the ex-pat friends you make completely understand your situation – and you find strength in the people around you. It’s taken me awhile to understand that ‘living the dream‘ means different things to different people, and part of my happiness involves mental stimulation and a sense of contribution.

Many people would look at my situation and wonder why I feel the need to contribute financially. We moved to Dubai for Matt to work as a pilot, right? Well, that is how I used to feel. It’s taken over a year to realise that I moved to Dubai to support Matt, and that can be expressed in different ways. Sometimes, this is not financial support. It’s making sure the groceries are ordered so he doesn’t have to worry after a flight, or sewing on his buttons when they fly off his (rather flimsily made) work shirts. He is not forcing me to come back to New Zealand. He knows that it is good for me to keep myself active and my mind busy. I made a decision to come back, and he fully supports me.

To be clear, I’m not writing this post because I am lacking support. Across the UAE and New Zealand, I think I’ve had about three people not support my situation, and I suspect their lack of support reflects their own personal insecurities. Most people have been absolutely wonderful, and welcoming, and supportive. Besides, I can muse over my desire to provide a financial contribution to the relationship as much as I want, but when it comes down to it, it is just who I am. There is no point fighting it – instead, I’ve found a solution that helps me be at peace with the situation. And, I strongly suspect after six months of working, I’ll be quite ready to go back to my home and my husband – in Dubai – once more.

Coming back to New Zealand means I can keep my brain active, and help out some wonderful people through a busy time in their organisation. I can save some money to both contribute to our savings goals, and to put away for travel next year. I’ll take a full year off from full-time work. I can start to study my Masters Degree. Hopefully, next year, I can earn a little money from freelance work or travel writing, or a part-time job. I’ll contribute what I can to our savings. The year after, I’ll return to full time work, if I can. The reality is that nothing is certain in Dubai. Maybe I won’t find work. But you know what? If that happens, I’ll figure out some other plan of action. Life goes on.

And for those that ask whether I will miss Matt – yes, of course I will. Matt will miss me. We have managed our schedules to mean that we don’t go two months without seeing each other. I’d take this opportunity, though, to remind you that Matt and I are the lucky ones. Do you know how many people work overseas, and might see their family once a year, or once every two years? There are thousands of workers in Dubai in this situation. Taxi-drivers, builders, maids, flight attendants – they all sacrifice so much to be able to support their families. Many have young children that are left with family while the parents work overseas for a better future. They don’t think twice about making that sacrifice, and who am I to complain when I am lucky enough to make a choice to do what I am doing? I am extremely fortunate to be in a position where, if I need to, I can fly back to Dubai in an instant. There is no way I will forget that.

I also see my time in New Zealand as an exercise in gratitude. Yes, I can see you cringing. But think about it. When you are able to hop on a flight with an hours notice, you sometimes forget that others cannot do this. All of your friends are able to do the same, and they’re also living in company provided apartments and villas. Most of us have cleaning ladies, and brand new cars. You forget that your husband is actually footing the bill, and has to pay for the things you have. Being a pilot sounds very glamorous, but it’s actually just a lot of hard work and fatigue.

So, why would I fly 17 hours to live in the buzzing metropolis of Paraparaumu, commuting three hours a day to Wellington, to work at my old job? Because I need to be reminded that everything is earnt. Nothing is handed to you on a platter. And because sometimes, you have to go through hard to get to easy.

Remember that experiment where they told kids they could have one marshmallow now, or two later? Most of the kids took the single marshmallow, wanting it straight away. Ok, so that experiment turned out to be focused mainly around socio-economic background, but still, the idea of sacrifice is foreign to a lot of people. To experience the things I want in the future, I have to sacrifice something now. So I’m giving up my comfortable, if not slightly challenging, life in Dubai, for awhile. I want two marshmallows.

Why I've come back to Wellington

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The 58th Floor is the travel and lifestyle blog of Belinda Birchall, based in Dubai. It provides advice and information on travel throughout Europe, Asia and the Middle East, as well as useful information for living in Dubai - and anything else of interest!

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