'Every time I go home, it gets harder to come back'
Denise Hession: "It's very child-friendly and, unlike Ireland, where one salary cannot sustain a family, it is feasible here."
Wild Geese: Denise Hession, blogger, Abu Dhabi:Abu Dhabi is good for families, but consider costs when weighing up salaries
Denise Hession is a mother of three and the writer behind the hilarious blog, thereluctant firstname.lastname@example.org.
From Galway, she pens the weekly online journal from her home in Abu Dhabi. Her decision to catalogue her adventures in the Middle East began after a chat with a friend.
“It was 2009 and I was living in Qatar at the time. I wasn’t on Facebook and my friend was complaining that she knew nothing about my new life. So I sent her an email telling her all about it. She thought it was funny and suggested I start writing a blog, so I did.”
Thereluctantemigrant is a witty and sharp account of an Irish family adapting to life in the desert.
“I have two daughters who are 12 and 13, as well as a two-year-old boy. I try and explain to my teenagers how different their lives would be if they were living in Ireland. For example, their choices for a school tour here are New York, Paris and Hong Kong. I tell them they’d be lucky to get a tour of UL and a stop in Supermac’s on the way home if they were on a school tour in Ireland!”
As well as the educational advantages for her teens, Hession (36) also feels they are more protected in Abu Dhabi.
“It’s a very safe place to bring up a teenager; you don’t have the same worries you would at home of seeing your children being exposed to the influence and pressures of alcohol and drug use, particularly in teenage society.”
However, she also knows her girls are missing out on many of the things she took for granted growing up in the west of Ireland in the 1980s. “I miss the sense of community and the local GAA club where everyone knows each other.
“It’s also a British schooling system here, so they don’t get taught about Ireland’s history or geography. There is also not the same focus around Irish religious events. If I want to mark something like Christmas or Halloween, I have to make the effort myself at home; it doesn’t just happen like it does in Ireland.”
Her blog also explores topics such as the Irish relationship with alcohol when faced with living in a predominantly dry Muslim country, as well as the seemingly idyllic reality of all-year-round sunshine.
“To an Irish person, 365 days of sun sounds like heaven, but you are equally as limited by 40 degrees of heat as you are by the rain in Ireland. Instead of thinking ‘I better go out and turn on the car to heat it up for the kids’, you have to turn on the air-conditioning to cool it down for them.”
So what advice would she give anyone thinking of moving their family to the Middle East?
“I think the biggest misconception is the inflated salary packages. When researching employment positions, the package may seem like a lot at first, especially when looking at tax-free countries in the Middle East. However, you need to factor in the hefty accommodation costs, the cost of private schooling, along with health insurance.”
Hession says there’s a great lifestyle to be had. “The biggest pitfall is not having the support of your family. I had my son [born] here two years ago and the healthcare system is excellent, but although there is a good expat community network, a baby needs his granny!
“Generally it’s a good place to bring up children. It’s very child-friendly and, unlike Ireland, where one salary cannot sustain a family, it is feasible here.
“However, if I did decide I wanted to go to work full-time, I would need a nanny and a driver to help out with the kids.”
Denise also recommends the Middle East for younger people wanting to travel.
“It’s the perfect hopping-off point, everywhere from Sri Lanka to Africa and eastern Europe are all a relatively short flight away.”
So, after living abroad for three years, how reluctant is the reluctant emigrant?
“I didn’t find it hard to settle in here at first, because there was a big novelty factor and the adventure and excitement of something new made the initial move easier, but every time I go home to Ireland, it gets harder to come back.
“I hope one day we’ll be able to move home for good.”