Expat Childhood in the Middle East

Expat Childhood in the Middle East

For a few weeks now,  I have been helping my parents pack up from our home in Mesaieed. To be precise, bits and pieces of my childhood are either thrown away, given to charity, sent for recycling or in a cardboard box waiting to be flown back to our home country. A silent sense of sadness permeates through me. I as an adult 20 something suddenly feel like ‘the place of my childhood’ has ceased to exist.

 Expat Childhood in the Middle East

First things first, I consider my host country – Doha – more home than my home country – India. I find comfort in the sense of familiarity of friends I know since my childhood. Mesaieed is home. Abu Hamour was the school zone. Wakrah is where we went every weekend during school days for dinner with Uncle and family. Al Khor was where my husband was living when we first met. Al Kharaitiyat is where we rented our first house as a small family of two. Some of the highlights of my childhood in Doha – Thursday Friday as weekends, Captain Majid cartoon, Young Times, Toy town, Aladdin’s Kingdom, Al Bidah park, Eid fair at school, Eid and Garangaou celebrations at the local club, Ifthar meets and parties. Doha is everything to me and more.

…yet as an expat, you know the length of your stay in this country is as long as the validity of your Resident Permit. Still when it comes to actually leaving the country  (or in my case, parents leaving), there is a sense of dread and anxiety. I look back onto the concept of Expat Childhood in the Middle East.

Having an expat childhood means you are exposed to a myriad of cultures and people with different and unique ways of thinking and lifestyle – something I would not have experienced in my hometown. You see the Fanous lighting up on your Egyptian neighbour’s balcony when you have just had Diwali sweets with your classmates. Ramadan and Eid are festivals of its own. So is the National Day Celebrations (Independence Day when we were kids)

A discussion in one of the Facebook parenting groups I am part of was how expat children are always introverts and shy. I had to rethink about expat childhood after that discussion because I am an introvert and quite shy. Has my expat childhood been responsible for it or is it an inherent trait in me? The comments we usually hear while in India about expat kids are ‘Gulf kids are like broiler chicken, They do not know how to take public transport systems, They do not know how to behave with people or be social’ and so on. I feel this depends on the family setting than being an expat.

Growing up I remember having events almost every weekend – either religious classes, Dad college alumni meetings, Mom’s friend’s circle, school programs, family meets and so on. Opportunities are readily available in Doha. It is how you make use of it that matters instead of a blanket approach that expat children have a boring childhood or Doha is boring.  With events all year round, beaches and malls, playgroups and dance/music/art classes around town – I really believe it is how you deal with the situation. Over the years, I find Doha has become increasingly family friendly.

The ephemeral nature or sudden job termination of Middle Eastern expat life has its downside for kids too. With increasing job layoffs both in the public and private sector due to the current crisis, many parents with school going students had to return back suddenly, during the middle of school year. This becomes an issue for students who are either in the 10th or 12th grade of the Indian system  (considered important years/exam in Indian education system) and can not get admission in the same grade they are in, instead, a grade lower thus losing a year of their academic life.

An advice I would give expat parents is to make sure children are in touch with the country you will eventually return back (Especially in the case of having to leave the Middle East suddenly). So that they do not have a sudden culture shock in the case of a sudden repatriation. (Wrt India it would be insects and other general hygiene issues) It would also be better to let children know of the job nature in the Middle East especially with the current crisis.

I come back to the original question which has been haunting me since my daughter was born.  Do I want her to experience the safe, peaceful and luxurious life of Doha or do I want stability for her in Cochin? (In a secret part of my heart, I always chose Doha, unless I have to leave not on my own accord!) This feeling of ‘home in spite of uncertainties’ precisely sums up expat childhood.

 Did you have an expat childhood in the Middle East? How has your experience been?

As our third generation grows here (to be precise, fourth generation) I am duly grateful for the happy and peaceful childhood I have had here. Alhamdulilah. As I watch my child play at the exactly same places I remember spending time as a child (Corniche!), I look back upon the past 24 years of our lives here. Qatar has been home for me since the time I could remember. In a few months time, my parents shall be moving back to our home country and as we start packing up, I can’t help but reflect upon the fact that an expat childhood means you will one day have to bid good bye to the tangible memories and remains of your childhood – the home, the bed, the toys and books. Your childhood home is not yours forever. It all lasts until the validity of your residence permit. My heart feels heavy. I feel home here. More than my own home town. (To put into perspective, this life and home was never meant to be forever. Isn’t it? To Him we belong!) …and I am again back to the decision that has been haunting me since my daughter was born – Where should we raise her? The stability of Cochin or the peaceful and luxurious life of Doha? Happy National Day, Qatar. (Highly appreciate the decision to forego any celebrations this year in solidarity with the people of Aleppo. May God grant them peace and an end to this bloodshed) Photo by Azeem. #QatarNationalDay #QND2016 #QND #expatchildhood #expatblog

A photo posted by Qatar based Parenting Blogger (@dr_shahira) on

Expat Childhood in the Middle East

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42 Replies to “Expat Childhood in the Middle East”

  1. you talk real things lady….i love reading your posts. This one literally took back to my old days. i agree to the fact that we have to give some exposure to our kids about our home country and its culture as someday we have to return there , though we love to believe Qatar is our home country.

  2. This article! Relatable at every syllable…. Had the typical expat childhood and hey am kind of introvert and shy too..! But I think it’s just a part of my personality ?
    The multicultural exposure you get here is something altogether different and it really impacts you as young children. I find people back home who haven’t seen much are quite set in their ways and their thinking. But I never had problem settling back and feeling home at India too as we always went back for vacations and my parents did a good job of keeping us in touch with our roots.

  3. Lovely article. My cousin lives in Doha and her daughter is a bit shy indeed. Not sure if it’s just a coincidence but that could be it 🙂

  4. Wow, sounds like you had quite the adventure when growing up! Loved reading this post, it’s always wonderful to learn more about different cultures 🙂

  5. Oh wow, really interesting text. I can only imagine how huge culture shock it might be after you have basically grown in different culture for years. I think being expats child is though advantage – you’ve been able to see more than just one culture very closely! 🙂

    Nora / https://dreamerachiever.com

  6. I can relate to this because I have lived in different countries now. Living somewhere even for a year or two develops memories and we do miss that place but yes of course, spending the entire childhood at a place and then leaving is indeed saddening.

  7. Very useful article. Yep! I found expat students in college to be introverts. Yetthey were very popular (should be due to the chocolates they brought along with them).Eventually, they came out of their shell.
    I do worry about my expat sons. We would like them to have strong bonds with our country. Frequent visit to home or relatives living besides us could help.
    Thanks for sharing.

  8. This was a very interesting read! I grew up in my home country, a tiny little town and never even moved out of my house, so very interesting to read a different experience. Although I also turned into a super shy and introverted person lol so it might not have been the expat experience 😉

  9. Have never met anyone who has been living an expat life since young. This is a nice write up! Just wondering though, don’t you get permanent residence or citizenship in the country after living there for so long? Forgive my ignorance.

    1. No GCC countries do not give citizenship for long term citizens (except Bahrain I think where in you can get Bahraini passport!) Hence the expat nature in this part of the world is quite different!

  10. I’ve read about your experiences as an expat on your social media accounts and I find it soo interesting! I moved around way too much as a child so definitely can’t relate!

  11. Hmmmmm interesting read!
    But to be honest I don’t think that if you have moved to another city or country from your hometown it effects you so much that you become shy,I mean no?
    And I didn’t know that it effects a person so much,I was like people enjoy moving from one place to another,maybe I was wrong or like I didn’t get it.
    Enjoyed reading this❤

    1. It is not that you get shy cos you have moved places, more so the social life in GCC countries is more of a closed approach than like our social lives in our home countries. We do not have small social gatherings like constant weddings/house warming etc etc. We do have social meetings and parties and other prog, still there is a link missing somewhere. Hope I am expressing it correctly.

  12. Hi shahira! This one hits home!
    I am a Gulf baby – Bahrain. The husband is a Dubai baby and our boy was born in Qatar.
    Home is here.
    But when people ask me where home is – it is not an easy answer, But for now, home is here!
    I think we are blessed to be able to call multiple places home.

    On a side note – the house i grew up in Bahrain got razed down and there is a Lulu in its place,. I walk through the aisles of the mall wondering if this is where my house stood, and if this where the pool we learnt how to swim is.. sigh 🙂

  13. I’m an expat kid too in Doha and found myself sorting through my high school books when my parents decided to retire. Interesting read.

  14. I have spent few years in my early childhood in UAE. And once we settled in India, I had a very tough time. Shahira, now at this part of the world now there are several entertainment and personality development programs which could help them to overcome all these concerns. Something which I know is Gavel Club programs from Toastmasters International. Being there as coordinator for couple of years, I have seen many children’s transformation. And I feel kids should spend quality time at their home town during vacation. If one point of the time, they have to go back they could accept it boldly.

  15. Very interesting read! I can relate as an immigrant in Europe. It’s quite the same thing in many points.
    May I ask you did you do university in Qatar?

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