As an expat teacher, how do you know when it’s time to go home?

This is a question that always lurks in the back of my mind. I’ve been an expat teacher for 8 years now – I spent 4 years in Qatar and I’m now in my 4th year in the UAE. In between Qatar and the UAE, I spent a year in London doing my MA at King’s College London. If you’d asked me 9 years ago when I first moved to the Gulf if I saw myself still living overseas, I’d have said probably not. 9 years ago, I was a bright eyed 25-year-old, delighted at the opportunity to earn great money and travel. I never thought I’d be a single childless 33-year-old living and working in Dubai… but more about that later!

During my stint in Qatar, every time I went home, I was always asked, “When are you planning to come home?” My answer was always the same, “One more year.” That was until I decided I wanted to save €100,000 before I was 30, so then it changed to, “Until I reach my saving goal.”

My reason for leaving Qatar to “come home,” wasn’t because I became fed up of my job or of Qatar. It was because quite a few of my best friends had left the year before and the phrase, “Would the last one to leave, please turn off the lights?” constantly ran through my mind. I decided to leave while I still loved my school and the country. I handed in my resignation, sold what I could, shipped some precious items back to Ireland, cried my eyes out on my last day at my wonderful school in Doha, and flew back to Ireland that June.

I’d planned to have “a year out” travelling the world but that soon shortened to 6 months, then 3 months. I’m a serious planner who loves being busy, so spending that much time without a definite schedule became too overwhelming, so I scrapped that idea! I looked back at my bucket list and remembered that I’d always wanted to live in London and I’d always wanted to do a MA. Mid-August, I applied for the MA in Applied Linguistics and English Language Teaching at King’s College London and got accepted. Long story short, I loved my year back in the UK. It was the year that I and many of my Irish friends were turning 30 and one even got married, so I loved being able to fly home easily every time to celebrate their special occasions. However, I didn’t enjoy the wet and cold British weather or having to keep a close eye on my money all the time. That December (literally 6 months after leaving Qatar), I decided that I wanted to teach abroad again after completing my MA. I’d become too used to the tax-free salary, free accommodation, sunny weather, and easy lifestyle, and I wasn’t ready to face the reality of paying high rent and losing my work-life balance..

I began to update my CV and cover letter, ready for the January when many schools abroad start to advertise. I ended up being offered 7 amazing teaching jobs around the world (Senegal, Shanghai, Nanjing, Singapore, Qatar (unable to accept it due to their strict labour laws at that time), Oman, and Dubai) and eventually chose Dubai as I felt it would be the closest thing to my experience in Qatar. Side note: it was not! Even the best laid plans and all that…

Fast forward 4 years and I’m still in Dubai, even after swearing I’d only do “one more year” every year and being close to resignation a couple of times. I even bought a place in Spain over a year ago with the intention of moving back to Europe last year for good. Sadly (or luckily, depending on your perspective), my personal plans changed so I’m still in Dubai, happier and more settled than before. Now when I’m asked how long more, my answer has become, “At least 2 more years” or “2 years max,” depending on the day! I feel that allows me to plan more long-term in Dubai rather than feeling that there’s no point in doing X, Y, or Z because I’m only here for “one more year.” When asked the same question, a wise (expat) friend of mine has changed her mantra to, “Until I am no longer happy here,” and I think this is an answer I will adopt in 2020. 

Now my plan is to enjoy Dubai more, live in the present rather than always planning for the future, tick more experiences off my travel bucket list, and enjoy my life to the fullest for the next 2 years until I am no longer happy here.

In 2 years’ time, I’ll be 35. Do I fancy being a single childless 35-year-old living and working in Dubai? I don’t mind being single but I definitely don’t plan to be childless. If that’s the case, then it might be time to “head home.” Fellow female expat teachers who are in a similar situation, watch this space… This is our story, to be continued.

So to those ex-expat teachers, when did you know it was time to go home? To us current ones, when will you know it’s time to go home?

Let’s continue the conversation on the Empowering Expat Teachers FB group here.

Be sure to share this post with all your expat teacher friends who are asking the same question.