“You knew where you were going,” my friends said. “You knew that Qatar is a Muslim country,” they told me, before reminding me of the ways I couldn’t replicate my old life here.”So why are you complaining then?”
Yes, I knew. And yet I complained. Because complaining, disillusionment, culture clashes, frustration, happiness, excitement, loneliness, anxiety, and new experiences—all of these are part of the learning process, especially when you’re overseas. When you’re miles away from home, just exploring this world alone. And now I was in a part of the world with a different religion and way of life to mine. All alone, as a 25-year-old woman.
How It Started
I didn’t plan to live nor (especially) settle in Qatar after all my years of wandering around and living in the US, Spain, China, and Russia. I spent that time working as a teacher, backpacking, learning languages, and exploring what the world had to offer. It just happened that one warm and balmy morning in Spain—where I was doing my postgraduate internship—it hit me: why not try the Middle East? I was especially looking to go somewhere that was exotic but not too touristy, somewhere that was yet to be discovered by the crowd. And so I decided on Qatar—I didn’t know much about it and certainly didn’t make any plans. I just scrolled down a feed for job offers, passed an interview, and got an offer. It was all fast, bizarre, blurry, and easy, and it all happened just before my Spanish visa expired and Covid took over.
And I’m glad I chose Qatar because the other option was China and this was all happening in November 2019, a month before it became the epicentre of the Covid-19 outbreak.
“So why are you complaining?” My friends asked. And I already had the list of reasons ready, so I just rattled it off.
A year and a half later and after a job change, I settled more than I planned to, but still not fully. This time, my friends asked, “so why are you staying?”
And it hit me again. Because yes, it had been more than a year. And so I drafted another list in my head with all the pros, while contrasting them with a list of cons to rationalise my stay here.
So, here it is. It is subjective and personal, and please remember that these are only my opinions. And they are contradictory, just like my experience in Qatar so far.
- Limited Scene Diversity But Nice Weather With Lots of Sunshine
I am yet to be exposed to what is on offer here in terms of internal tourism and scenery, but what’s really great here is the weather—hot and humid, with lots of sunlight and blue skies. You might think that’s strange, but I’m Russian, and we Russians know how to appreciate it when the sun shines. And if it shines 365 days a year, I have no complaints.
- Less of a “Typical” Young Adult Lifestyle Yet Very Comfy
Compared to Spain, where life is just simply one never-ending fiesta, or Vietnam with its laid-back and at-ease lifestyle, Qatar seems to be more secluded, conservative (and this is understandable), and quieter. It feels almost drowsy, like the sand dune itself – just absorbing you gently and slowly without you even being aware and, admittedly, this wasn’t exactly what I was looking for at the age of 25. But here I am, absorbed in this lifestyle, snuggled up and covered in the warm sand, just staying within this comfy circle of Qatari life, where everything is (literally) safe. It’s familiar, reachable, fast, and fuss-free.
You won’t experience rush hour with no chance of finding space in public transport as people do back in Russia. Nor do you have to carry your bag right in front of you, anxiously looking around, whenever you’re outside as you would have to in other parts of the world, especially in popular tourist destinations. Instead, Qatar is this warm bed that welcomes you after a long, exhausting day. And that feels a bit scary because once you get used to it, you will definitely have to pull yourself together and plunge back into a challenging, less comfortable zone as soon as you go elsewhere.
- Culture Clashes
This, I’m still wrapping my head around. Qatar is very much a diverse place when it comes to the expats living here. Hundreds of different nationalities live in this one not-so-vast territory, bringing their cultures, traditions, and religions together, trying (or not) to merge in. This is supposed to foster openness, understanding, and cultural awareness—a warm, tolerant community.
No, the world is not perfect and culture clashes will exist everywhere as long as people live. And there’s also a very common human tendency to put our egos in the forefront when communicating with others, especially when they’re different from us. But all of this prevents us from connecting with others. And I suspect that this is why, in a country like this, with all its diversity, it can still feel lonely here at times. And I didn’t feel this much loneliness or sense much of a culture clash in China, despite many people not speaking English. But I feel lonely in Qatar, and I also discovered that I’m not the only one.
I still remember my second day here. I was waiting for the staff bus somewhere close to The Sheraton, looking at the City Center Towers and construction nearby. I had mixed feelings—I was startled by the sudden contrast of the Doha scenery and confused, unable to make my mind up on whether I liked it or not. Then, someone suddenly chimed in with: “Qatar is a big office. You come here, you earn your money, you leave. Like all people do.”
Do I agree? Not necessarily. For me, it’s more of a quiet bay with its own rules and regulations, where my ship has been waiting, all hidden and inconspicuous, sheltered from the ravages of Covid-19 in the outside world. So, will Qatar ever become my home, the bay I will want to come back to? Only time will tell.