‘It takes time to adjust to the UAE but the Irish fit in well’
My Gulf: Founder of AbuDhabiPaddy.com Brian Cummins shares his advice for Irish expats
Brian Cummins, pictured with his wife Caoimhe and son Daithi: ‘That Irish parochial sense of community is evident in Abu Dhabi through the hard working Irish Society, a successful GAA club, a soccer team, golf society and a drama group.’
Brian Cummins and his wife Caoimhe have lived in Abu Dhabi since 2009, joined by their son Daithi five months ago. He runs AbuDhabiPaddy.com, an information website for Irish expats in the city.
Why did you decide to emigrate?
In 2008, I decided to take a career break from my teaching position in St Malachy’s National School in Edenmore in Dublin. My good friend JJ and I left Ireland in August 2008 to tour the world. Initially, it was only for one year, but while I was in New Zealand my mother died suddenly in February 2009. After 10 months travelling Asia and the southern hemisphere, we flew home from Christchurch for her burial. Prior to leaving New Zealand, I received confirmation that I could extend my career break and my one year visa for Australia came through.
I found it very hard to settle back at home. I decided to use the one year visa and left for Melbourne in July 2009, to live and work with my Australian cousins. There I met Caoimhe McGinley, who is now my wife and mother of our five-month-old boy Daithi.
How did you end up in the United Arab Emirates?
Caoimhe had worked in Doha, Qatar for two years prior to moving to Australia so she put the idea of the Gulf into my head. I extended my career break again and I applied to teach in the Abu Dhabi public school system with the Abu Dhabi Education Council.
How did you find a job?
I applied online to Teach Away and they were recruiting heavily to fill the vacancies for the dynamic educational reform which was taking place around that time. They sought western and native English teachers to teach English, math and science in local Emirati schools.
Where do you work now?
I completed a Masters in Education after that which allowed me to move company. Currently, I am teaching Emirati civil servants. I teach English to UAE army cadets, police officers, Etihad staff and oil and gas employees.
Where do you live?
I live in a spacious three-bedroom villa in an Abu Dhabi suburb, about 30 minutes from the centre of the UAE capital. It’s a superb area which is very safe and has great facilities including a gym and swimming pool.
Is there an Irish community there, and do you participate?
The Irish community in Abu Dhabi and the UAE has grown dramatically in the last five years. That Irish parochial sense of community is evident through the hard working Irish Society, a successful GAA club, a soccer team, golf society and a drama group. I am a member of the active Abu Dhabi Irish Society which is holding its 40th St Patrick’s Day Ball on March 19th.
I play hurling and football with Na Fianna Abu Dhabi GAA Club, who are the current senior men’s and ladies Middle East League champions. The club is busy preparing for the inaugural World GAA Games in Abu Dhabi in March.
We are lucky to have an active Irish Ambassador in the capital, Patrick Hennessy, a Tullamore man who is very supportive of local community events such as the Irish Business Network in Dubai.
Is there work for Irish people who might be considering moving over? Are there particular opportunities in certain industries?
Yes. However, it can be difficult to attain employment if you are not hired directly. The UAE is sometimes considered the “Switzerland of the Gulf” for its economic stability, job growth, and safety. Education, construction, engineering, nursing and marketing are the primary career opportunities for skilled western and Irish professionals.
Did you experience culture shock, or has it taken time to adjust to certain ways of life which are different to Ireland?
Yes. It’s a big culture shock, beginning with the language barrier. From hearing the call to prayer from the local mosques every few hours, the intense heat of summer, or the “inshallah” (If God wills it) attitude, the way of life here is very different.
It takes at least six months to adjust. But the Irish fit in well because we get on with life, and live for our weekends.
How does the cost of living compare to Ireland?
Everyone thinks since it’s tax free we are all “making a mint”, but that is not the case. The UAE cost of living has increased 38 per cent in the last three years with the cost of accommodation, nurseries, schooling, pints, nights out, food and airline travel all rising.
But if you are fiscally disciplined, you can save the majority of your monthly salary and return home with a substantial lump sum.
Is the UAE family friendly?
Family is an important cornerstone of Arabian and Emirati culture, and consequently Abu Dhabi is a fantastic city to raise a family because there is so much to do, with clean beaches, playgrounds, parks, pools and clubs. Dining with your children is encouraged.
International private schools and nurseries are expensive, but the facilities and care they provide are superb, along with an opportunity for children to engage with their peers of other creeds and nationalities. Our son Daithi was born five months ago in an excellent maternity hospital in Abu Dhabi. Hospitals, clinics and medicine are subsidised so you can see the doctor for €10 or less.
Are there any downsides?
The main downside is being over 4,000km and four time zones away from family and friends.
The red-tape here would put Ireland to shame. Even the to get a UAE driving license, you need a load of paperwork and it can take forever.
Driving in the UAE is not an enjoyable experience. The UAE has one of the world’s highest road deaths per capita. The road infrastructure is world class, but due to high powered cars, insane speeding, bad drivers and poor road etiquette, it is a dangerous place to drive.
Tell me about Abu Dhabi Paddy...
I was receiving a large volume of emails and messages from family and friends who were thinking of moving to the UAE but found information difficult to find. So I launched AbuDhabiPaddy.com in September 2013 because there was a niche for local, honest, impartial and reliable information for Irish people moving and living in the UAE capital.
Abu Dhabi Paddy is a free, informative resource that promotes all things Irish and answers the everyday queries of current Irish expat residents and of those who are thinking of joining the Irish community in the United Arab Emirates via our Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Linkedin community.
We have a loyal, engaging and active community of followers which we communicate with on a daily basis. We liaise with Irish and local companies to offer useful products and services such as car rental, document attestation, relocation etc. It has proven to be very successful with the support of my new business partner Thomas Dillon.
What tips or advice would you give others considering the move there?
if you are thinking of coming out here do some research in advance, and be patient. Try not to compare the UAE with Ireland, and embrace the culture.
I would recommend taking the plunge and joining us in the UAE. It is a big cultural change, but the opportunities for your future, your career, the chance to meet new people, the chance to experience new adventures and travel the world far outweigh the daily nuisances.
Have you made plans for the future? Would you like to stay there, move back to Ireland, or elsewhere?
We are planning on staying another few years and we plan to move home when Daithi gets a little older. Until then we will enjoy living in the sandpit.
This article forms part of The Irish Times Destination Gulf guide.