My First Year Living Abroad in Abu Dhabi

March 2022 marked my first year living and working abroad from the US.  It has definitely been one of those years that did not feel like a year.  It could be all the change or the challenging new work, but regardless I have fully enjoyed my time in Abu Dhabi.  Let me go over some of the highlights for this past year and hint at some of the things I hope to experience during year two.

A new city, country, and cultures were the first experiences I had this past year.  I can honestly look back with 20/20 hindsight and say that all my preparation for the potential culture shock was not necessarily needed.  Considering that residents of Abu Dhabi, and the UAE, are overwhelmingly foreign I’m not sure why everyone, including myself, were so worried about having to adjust to a new way of life.  Relocating during the COVID pandemic may have had a slight effect on the situation, especially considering that my first 10 days in the country were only experienced through my hotel balcony.  Once I was free to join life outside, I was in for a surprise.  I took a ride over to the local mall only to find McDonalds, Chili’s, PF Changs, KFC, and more tastes from home.  There is a store called Centrepoint, which is basically the clothing and home décor sections of Target.  They may not have a Home Depot, but there is an ACE.  My point is that even though there are obviously local and foreign options the amount of western influence on the area is considerable.  I was very happy to rely on the known when experiencing the unknown. Once I got a little more settled, I was able to get out and experience some of the sights and sounds of Abu Dhabi. My first couple of adventures includes visiting the local mangrove reserve (technically for work), a drive of Sharjah, and just getting to know the area in and around Abu Dhabi.

The people I’ve met are some of the best people I’ve ever encountered.  My new social circle is filled with a few local Emirates along with people from the UK, India, Philippines, South Africa, and more.  What is even more exciting are the people you meet on the street.  Most people are simply polite, ask how your day is going, maybe cover a few other simple topics, and then go on with business.  I recently traveled to the US East coast for business, and my fellow colleague and I were struck by how much attention you receive at a restaurant in the US.  Here in Abu Dhabi, the staff at the restaurants are extremely friendly and attentive, but they consider the dining experience to be a social event that must be respected and minimally interfered with.  Finally, language is not necessarily a problem as most residents speak English at some level.  I’ve encountered a few people where we needed to flex our adaptive communication skills, but I can read signs, get directions, and meet some very unique people without any struggles.

Speaking of the language, Arabic is a beautiful one.  I still have the goal to learn the language and even gave myself a deadline to hold basic conversations when SeaWorld opens to the public.  I have a colleague in the office that is a local Emirati along with several fluent speakers particularly in Marketing, that is going to help me in reaching this goal.  I go through spurts on my language app and even got a study book that helps out some.  I think more immersion is necessary to kick start my true learning.  I have been able to get a good grasp of letters and basic understanding that not all vowels are written, that allowed me to come to my own conclusion that trademarked names are phonetically written in Arabic (Burger King was the ah-ha moment at lunch one day that caused some of my newly arrived US colleague to think I could fully read Arabic).  Hopefully, Tyler’s classes in Arabic will also help, and maybe the two of us can have some secret conversations in the house.

Food has not been as adventurous as I thought it would be, but there are some highlights and things to come.  My first go to food outside my past US diet was shawarma.  It’s basically the region’s version of gyro meat, but done from a completely different perspective.  With gyro meat you tend to utilize toppings and sides to complement the simple seasonings, but shawarma is so well seasoned you just need some type of bread as a vessel and eat away.  That’s not to say that you can’t eat it with other things, but it’s not necessary.  I fell in love with a place in the mall called Shish Shawarma and basically ate it 2-3 times per week for about 7 months.  I think I burnt myself out on it and have it every so often, but honestly I don’t think I can go back to gyros when shawarma is an option.  The second food item that I got hooked on was paratha.  This Indian flatbread is extremely flaky and absolutely delicious.  A simple street food that makes for a cheap lunch, filled with your choice of fillings (vegetarian, fried chicken, shawarma of course, and more) can’t be beat.  I prefer mine with Zinger chicken which is just fried chicken tenders in a tangy sauce with a small kick.  I get them locally here on Yas Island from a small place called SeaShells at one of the petrol stops (no gas here).  Beyond those two highlights I’ve had cuisine from India (dosa), South Africa (chicken and biltong), Emirate/Arabic, and Turkey to name a few.  Sometimes it’s hard to try things when you have a picky 9 year old, but we’re getting there (dosa was the first big adventure for Tyler).

You can always check out Crystal’s blog posts to get the details about our adventures, but my personal highlights have been Formula 1, Expo 2020, Dubai, and the Al Wathba nature preserve.  I plan on writing up something on Expo 2020 and Formula 1 specifically soon.  We have several things on our list to do here on the Arabian Peninsula, but I’m hoping we can settle on some farther away destinations to explore more of the world that we have better access to than back in the US.

There are just too many things to cover in one post. I’m thankful that Crystal can find the time to give details on our adventures (theme parks, art galleries, libraries, beaches, a new dog, etc.). To finish up for me now, the whole reason from moving to Abu Dhabi is my job, and it is challenging in every good way with constantly changes to keep me on my toes.  Though I can’t discuss many specifics now, I have never felt more comfortable in a big life decision than this job opportunity has presented.  When the time comes, I’ll spill all the beans about the project but patience will be required.  I must say though, this first year has been surprisingly easier than I thought it would be.  I would dare even say that Abu Dhabi is now more home that Santee and the US at this moment in my life.  I look forward to the second year in Abu Dhabi and my family’s continued adventure.


  1. Texas Roadhouse was a shock to see, have you had a steak anywhere yet?
    I am so happy you are loving the job & the area. It all looks so beautiful & I can’t wait to hear more adventures!

  2. Glad you are enjoying your time aboard Although we miss you all and plan to visit at some point can’t wait for your adventures
    Love you

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