Why do so many expatriates stay here for so long?

Expatriates enticed to the UAE are not entirely motivated by money.

There is a stereotype that expats come to the UAE to amass as much money as possible, before making a sharp exit with big bags of tax-free cash. While this may be the mentality of a few, it is far from the reality of the many. Over and above tax-free salaries, there is a long list of benefits to living and working in this country.

Depending on your point of departure – mine was Liverpool in the UK – you don’t have to look too hard for non-monetary advantages.

A few of the boons that spring to my mind are lower crime rates, a family-friendly recreational orientation, perennial sunshine and relatively harmonious multiculturalism. Of course, I’m not suggesting the UAE is perfect – Dubai is not Dutopia. Like everywhere else, the country has its problems.

However, this idea that the UAE is some kind of expat-purgatory is total nonsense. Many of the expats I know have been here decades, and the reasons they give for staying so long go way beyond the necessity of making money.

Among my colleagues working in higher education you will find a full spectrum of motivations for coming to and staying in the UAE, and you are far more likely to find eternal anthropologists, than scholars-for-dollars. The eternal anthropologist is a person who, true to their academic calling, moves abroad to learn more about the culture of other nations. The eternal anthropologist has probably already done a stint in Singapore or Malaysia, and now has their eyes set on Oman, Kazakhstan or China.

In addition to the eternal anthropologist, you will also find those that I call foreign legionnaires. These are folks on the run, escaping painful pasts. They are perhaps disillusioned with their own homelands or escaping the three Ds: debt, divorce and depression. The desert is a great place to forget.

I also have colleagues with research interests that make the UAE a dream base. If you’re a world authority on desert entomology or an aspirant cross-cultural psychologist, then the UAE makes perfect sense over and above financial considerations.
Also in my list of motivations you will find the person that I call, the romantic visionary. Slightly grandiose, these are the people who love the idea of being in at the start of something big.

I once had a colleague who likened working at Zayed University to being a master at one of the Oxford colleges during the reign of Henry III. The institution, he insisted, would still be around in 900 years from now, and he, like Roger Bacon, would have been a shaper of its foundations.

To continue my list of motivations, there are also people who I call spiritual asylum seekers or Almuhajiroon to use a more appropriate Arabic equivalent.

These are Muslim academics who, either typically having grown up in the West or been educated in the West, are now keen to work and live within a society that is not disparaging of their spirituality or religious practice, a society that is religiously tolerant and actively supportive of their lifestyle, providing places to pray, Fridays off and shorter hours during Ramadan.

Even when the initial decision to work in the UAE is based purely on financial incentives, there is often a change of heart after working here for a while. One of my colleagues previously provided adult education for the inmates at the infamous Rikers Island penitentiary in New York. Working at a college in the UAE presents him with some unique and refreshingly different challenges. He doesn’t miss the metal detectors or the occasional high stakes drama.

Financial incentives are important, but they are far from being the singular or even the foremost concern of all expatriates.

I know when I leave the UAE – in many years from now, I hope – I won’t be sitting in the UK nostalgically reminiscing about my tax-free salary.
Dr Justin Thomas is an associate professor of psychology at Zayed University and author of Psychological Well-Being in the Gulf States

Published: http://www.thenational.ae/opinion/comment/why-do-so-many-expatriates-stay-here-for-so-long



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