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Starting Fresh In Abu Dhabi After Expat Living In Hong Kong, The UK And Netherlands

nerice gietel abu dhabi expat life
Family LifePost Category - Family LifeFamily Life

Should you stay or should you go? It takes a lot to settle into a new city and it’s certainly a big decision to consider picking up and moving with your family.

In this new series, we chat with Mamas who have made the move to ask all your burning questions. There’s no doubt that Hong Kong has its downsides, but is the grass really greener in another city?

This month we chat with career coach (and Sassy Mama contributor) about her family’s move to Abu Dhabi. No stranger to expat living, she was born and raised in Curaçao (formerly part of The Netherlands Antilles) before travelling around the world for education and job prospects. Over the years she’s called The Netherlands and England home, before packing up and moving to Hong Kong with a six-month-old baby in tow.

Read More: How To Help Expat Kids Say Goodbye To Friends And Hong Kong

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What brought you to Hong Kong originally, and what prompted your move away?

We moved to Hong Kong originally for my husband’s job as a university professor. Like many, our move away was prompted by pandemic-related travel restrictions that meant that we did not see our family for more than two years. At that time my mother-in-law was having health issues and we became increasingly worried about not being there for her whilst she was undergoing treatment.

Read More: Was Leaving Hong Kong The Right Thing To Do?

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And what’s the thing you’ve found most difficult to adjust to?

Accepting that whilst I have been running my business since 2017 and have built a reputation for myself in Hong Kong, nobody knows me here yet. In a way, I need to accept that I need to start all over again whilst also continuing what had already been started years earlier. But then, that’s what I do as a career coach — support clients through life transitions, including motherhood and relocations, so I know I am well-equipped to do it!

Read More: Coaches In Hong Kong — Where To Find The Guidance You Need

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How is parenting different from in Hong Kong?

In Hong Kong, we were lucky enough to have our wonderful full-time live-in nanny. After spending the first half of 2022 in the Netherlands without any kind of help with childcare we realised that we no longer need full-time childcare. Our evenings and weekends are now dedicated to each other and my husband and I avoid going out after work on weekdays as much as possible to stick to our daughter’s routine as we are still settling in this new city.

Read More: Hong Kong Domestic Helpers — Salary, Statutory Holidays, Food Allowance And More

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How have your career prospects changed since moving?

My concern that my business would cease to exist after my move from Hong Kong does not seem to have been warranted as I continue working with clients from Hong Kong and other parts of the world. My company is still registered in Hong Kong and I have obtained a license here in the UAE to be able to work with clients locally.

Read More: How To Get A Job In Hong Kong — Tips To Getting Back Into The Workforce

How has it been making friends and establishing a social network?

Before moving here, I had one friend and two acquaintances in Abu Dhabi. I assumed that that would be the extent of my network for the first few months here but I was wrong. It has been incredibly easy to make new connections here. The day after we arrived we were invited to have dinner with the family of one of my husband’s colleagues who he only met three days before.

On the professional networking front, I really wanted to hit the ground running so I looked up the networking events of various chambers of commerce to see what I could attend. Then promptly panicked when I couldn’t seem to find anything to attend (I was used to the very active pre-pandemic social scene in Hong Kong)! Instead, I signed up to attend a business networking event all the way over in Dubai.

“It was less than a week after we landed, but within 25 days, I met and spoke with nearly 40 new people I had never met!”

It took a combination of attending coffee mornings at my daughter’s school, the networking event in Dubai and personal and social networking with my husband’s friends, colleagues and their circles. We also met many people through friends of friends from Hong Kong who have lived here for many years.

I have since become more relaxed about networking and continue to meet new people in all sorts of different ways, including by just starting conversations with people in the lift where we live.

Read More: Making Friends In Hong Kong — How To Meet New People As A Parent

nerice gietel kayaking abu dhabi

Top tips or recommendations of places to go for families moving to Abu Dhabi

For families with kids, you can count on the typical selection of trampoline parks and amusement arcades that seem to be available at most shopping malls. Thankfully there are plenty indoors to enjoy all year round.

In the winter, it is amazing to make the most of the pleasant days by spending all day by the beach, in the local parks or even kayaking around the mangrove parks.

Visitors should definitely put a camping experience in the desert on their list!

Read More: The Ultimate List Of Things To Do In Hong Kong With Kids

What’s the thing you miss most about Hong Kong?

I really miss our friends. The pandemic brought us even closer to some of our friends, so leaving them was really heartbreaking and I really miss them a lot. I also miss the ‘interval’ training I was able to do by simply walking around the block where I lived with views over the sea and through the forest.

What don’t you miss about Hong Kong?

The struggle to find an affordable afro beauty and hair salon. Here in Abu Dhabi, I’ve found a place where I can just walk in any day of the week and be certain that there will be two or more hairstylists available who know how to do my hair!

Read More: Hair Salons In Hong Kong — Best Hairdressers For Your Next Haircut

nerice gietel hong kong dragon costume

Is there anything you do regularly with your kids to remind them of their time in Hong Kong?

Our daughter does not need reminding of our time in Hong Kong! She always brings it up herself in many different contexts. For Chinese New Year go out for dim sum and our daughter dresses up in a dragon outfit given to her by our local friends. Even though the dragon head took up quite a bit of space in our suitcase when we moved, it was worth it!

Read More: The Best Dim Sum In Hong Kong — Where To Go For Yum Cha With Kids

nerice gietel abu dhabi expat

Words of advice for other families making a move

Even though it’s part of my professional specialisation to support women (and men!) through changes such as relocation, this move reminded me of how difficult it can be. Professionally and personally, it can be quite heart-wrenching. I feel even more motivated to work with clients going through the same as I can put myself in their shoes, quite literally!

#HomeKong will always have a place in my heart.

Read More: Relocation — Your To-Do Checklist Before Leaving Hong Kong

  All images courtesy of Nerice Gietel.

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