Living abroad is a fantasy for many, but the reality is that it comes with its own challenges. Contrary to what some may think, it isn’t like permanently being on holiday. Real-life creeps in, and many end up going through major life changes while living away from their home countries and communities.
Still, if you look around Doha, you can see all kinds of people getting together and forming communities. Here, friends really can become family. This remains true even if it seems like everyone already has their circle, and you’re the outsider looking in.
Why Community Matters
Social interaction is essential for humans to thrive. In fact, a 2018 article by South University states that it’s even good for our health. It reads: “A strong network of support or strong community bonds fosters both emotional and physical health and is an important component of adult life.”
Despite this, finding a community may not always be a straightforward process. Everyone has their own values, interests, and personality traits, which means you can either click with someone or not. And more often than not, expat friendships are formed depending on your life circumstances.
Support Through Different Stages
Stephanie* moved to Doha as a child-free newlywed. She secured a job within days of landing and formed a community with her colleagues. From there, she quickly built a network of friends with whom she could socialise, exercise, and more. These connections were a lifeline for Stephanie, who was often home alone as her husband worked as a pilot. However, things started to change once she discovered she was expecting her first baby.
While Stephanie’s community remained supportive and loving towards her, she found that her priorities had shifted. “Friends would ring me up and invite me out for drinks or dinner, not realising that I just couldn’t drop everything and leave the baby. I had my husband flying and no one to leave her with. It got to the point where people stopped calling because I was always saying no,” she recalls.
Stephanie realised that her new circumstances meant that she was drifting away from her original circle. She needed to find new friends, so made even more changes. “As a family, we moved away from The Pearl and into a compound, which I was initially nervous about, but living in the compound has made me realise how isolated I was becoming in my apartment with a baby.” But it’s all paid off, as Stephanie reveals that she, her husband, and baby have all made new friends.
Stephanie is not alone—many other mums have reported feeling isolated and that things only worsened with the Covid-19 pandemic. Tamsin, who had her third baby as Covid restrictions eased in early 2022, realised the need for a supportive community for all those who were having children during that time. Having set up various Facebook groups to meet people when she had her first two children, she decided to do the same again. And the response was phenomenal. Tamsin’s group became a safe space for mums to ask questions about what it was like to give birth away from home and Covid restrictions and to share hospital recommendations. “The beauty of Facebook is that we have such a range of mums joining, from first-time parents to old hands, and being online helps you ask those questions you think might be stupid—which never are—without feeling embarrassed,” she says. Tamsin’s group now hosts over 50 women of various nationalities who support each other online and during weekly coffee meet-ups.
Moving to a new country with school-age children brings a different dimension to finding a community. Alexandra, a mum to two young boys, moved to Doha a year ago and is finally feeling settled. Back home, meeting and befriending parents at the school gate was almost second nature, but that didn’t come as easily for her here. Fortunately, she discovered that playing sports would open up a world of connections, all while learning new skills. “The crazy part is that every class I attend, or sport I try, there is always a connection with someone from one of the other classes or sports that I do,” she says.
As your children become older, you might find yourself at another crossroads. Cathy* moved to Doha with her husband and youngest son, leaving behind her daughter, who recently began university. Having one foot at home with her child and the other building a new life took its toll on her, so she turned to her community for help. As her son was older and more independent, her community was mainly centred around her hobbies and interests. “My biggest community builder has been moving into a compound and saying yes to everything,” she shares.
On the other hand, Sarah*, a mum of four, found that making connections this time was very different from how she last remembered. It’s her second stint in Doha, and now she is here without her children. Her lifestyle no longer revolves around the school run and being a “mum taxi”. With her newly-free afternoons, she could be more flexible with how she socialised. So, she joined the long-standing Tuesday Ladies Club, a volunteer-run organisation dedicated to serving the needs of expat women of all nationalities in Qatar. Through it, she says she has found other women who share the same interests and values.
You may think that community building begins and ends with those first intense days in a new country. However, as many expats can confirm, this is often not the case. You are forever adding to your network as life changes and new people join your journey.
Diana* has lived in Qatar for the last 15 years and has witnessed many changes throughout her life here. Her circle is also filled with other long-standing expats, which isn’t unexpected. The nature of the expat lifestyle means that people ebb and flow throughout the years, so long-standing expats often bond over still being here. However, this doesn’t mean that they have stayed the same. Diana believes she is very different from the person she was when she first stepped off the plane 15 years ago. “While many of my friends are those long-standing expats who can reminisce about when there was nothing but the Sheraton, as Doha has grown, my family has grown, and naturally, my friendship circle has grown,” she explains. Diana adds that being in Qatar for this long means that she can give newcomers the type of support she received when she was new to the country.
The Power of Yes
With everything said, it can take time to build a network of people around you that you know, love, and trust. It can take months, or even years, to feel settled, even if it looks like everyone around you has quickly figured it out. As the experiences above show, the key is to take that leap of faith and put yourself out there. Just say yes.
Say yes to the mum who asks if you fancy a coffee after noticing you looking a bit lost. Say yes to the teammate who asks you to try pilates together and the colleague who wants to grab dinner. And if you find a new mum in a Facebook group asking if anyone fancies catching up, make her day and say yes to her too. Those yeses might just be the start of your Doha community journey.
*Names have been changed to protect their privacy.