Important lessons I’ve learned from living abroad

Caitlin moved to the Middle East with her family and learned a lot through the experience

Written by Caitlin Grant


On my last day of my first year in secondary school my parents sat us down for a chat. My dad travels a lot to the Middle East and sometimes we get to travel with him. When he asked my siblings and I if we would move to Dubai for a year I couldn’t turn down the opportunity. Six years later I can say it’s the best experience I’ve ever taken in my life.

I was definitely more excited than nervous. Packing up the house took the majority of the summer but I was more focused on meeting up with friends before I left. With a layover in Turkey, applying for visas, collecting baggage and the exotic heat we were exhausted by the time we arrived at our new apartment.

The night before I started in the international school I couldn’t sleep. I didn’t know anyone there, not even a mutual friend. In a completely different continent I had no idea how these people would treat me or act around me. The educational system involved a new style with subjects such as Arabic and Psychology that I had never touched on.

Adapting to a different culture

While it’s important to respect the beliefs and cultures within a country there are going to be changes that might be difficult getting used to. Here are two things that helped make settling in a little easier:

Learning the language:

Before moving you should consider the language of the country. Do they speak English there? If you don’t already know to speak their mother tongue whether it’s French, Dutch, Chinese etc., you could consider getting a head start before you go. Duolingo is a free online tool you can use to learn any language.

Dress appropriately for the weather:

The climate may be different, this may mean adjusting your wardrobe. Moving from Ireland the likelihood of going to a warmer location instead of a cooler one is higher. While Irish clothes may be suitable during the winter, a change to survive the heat will make adapting easier.


Living in another country can bring you so many opportunities you’d never have at home. Our school was the chosen to participate as flag bearers in the under 17s FIFA world cup. 10 of us represented it by travelling to different emirates (Sharjah, Fujairah, Ajman, Abu Dhabi) to volunteer at the football matches.

An equivalent to Ireland’s ‘Gaisce’ award our class completed to ‘Duke of Edinburgh’ award. The adventure journey was a 26km trek in the desert in at least 35 degrees. Battling heatstroke while clambering over sand dunes is something I never saw myself doing.

Opening the Dubai Rugby 7s ceremony with my performing arts academy was extraordinary. To perform in front of so many people on TV was so empowering. We also did annual shows in the Madinat theatre (equivalent to the Gaiety) and freelance jobs.

Coming back to Ireland

Although I knew I was going to miss where I grew up for most of my teenage years I understood I had to get back to the real world. I could never have had the same opportunities as I did in Ireland.

When I got back to school in 5th year I realised how much the friends I had left behind had grown up without me. I had to start all over again with settling in, it was like moving to a new school altogether. My advice would be to involve yourself as much as possible with making friends and joining extra curricular activities.

Having studied a different curriculum all the subjects, especially English and Math, felt different. I felt behind my classmates at times despite keeping up with studying. To adapt to a new style of education I would speak to teachers so they can support you and ask your peers how they’re going about their studies.

Stay in contact with the people you met abroad. If you want to go back you can always visit them whether its for an internship later in life or just a holiday.

Moving to Dubai opened my eyes to different cultures, languages, beliefs and journeys. I couldn’t imagine my life without my experience there. Travel really does change who you are as a person (for the better!)

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