Returning To Dubai.

On occasions when I get asked: ”so how is it to be back”, words cascade out of me. Most of the time though I smile politely and say “I am not sure yet”.
Guess what – it has now been four months since I moved back, and there has been no significant progress in my internal ”here vs there” debate. I figured that perhaps putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) would help. And it did.

Before you as yourself why you are being used as a tool for cathartic release by this emo stranger, let me tell you one thing: this is a question I get asked daily. Women I have never met confide in me to share their tales of leaving the Middle East, their thoughts on wanting to leave or their longing to move back. And I value that – there is an earnest connection in social media if you let there be one.

First things first – as you might remember, I left hastily. My return, on the other hand, was something that I produced rather well.

I need to sidetrack here to explain that the reason for my return was a job opportunity. I was offered what can only be described as the ideal job title for me and so six months, five Skype interviews and a lot of soulsearching later here I am. I am doing it, I am loving it, and I am learning a lot along the way. Sure; Corona is messing up the retail market, and it’s all one day at the time for the vast majority of the human race right now but still – I am damn pleased with my choice.

Am I happy to be back though? How does ”home” compare to ”away”, here compare to there and what constitutes the notion of ”home”? 

Hand on heart & cards on the table – I wasn’t actively looking to come back. I had my heart set on making Sweden work, and after a rather painful first year of feeling gravely misunderstood & out of place, things eventually got better. And once they started to get better, they got a lot better and fast.

I got a job. Working my way into the creative industry ( in what now felt like a foreign country I might add) was a self-esteem boost that my dazed and confused self desperately needed. There was always a part of me that needed to know if I was a big hammour in a small UAE pond and if I could take my work onto international waters. What made it feel like an even bigger of an accomplishment was the fact that it was all happening in Sweden: a country globally renowned for its fashion and design scene. I was suddenly all “yes my friend at ACNE” and ”so I met this guy at Byredo”.

I got to know my family again because as foreign as it may sound, I had to. It turns out that coming home twice a year, often around delicious weather or a festive season doesn’t even scratch the surface of what living around your loved ones truly is like. I had to learn how to peacefully co-exist with my family all over again and initially, that was very hard. It didn’t make much sense that the people I was the closest to didn’t understand me at times. It made very little sense to not understand them back. Living abroad for a decade and a half changes you and the ones who remain at home also change. They just change along a different trajectory.

To sum up the gloomy part of this post, past the initial generic confusion and the existential crisis around ”who am I and where do I belong”, Sweden started making a lot of sense.

Sure, I’d get a sting in my solar plexus each time someone posted a story from a sunset run on KiteBeach, and I missed my friends. I struggled with finding good Indian food in Sweden – compared to Ravis everything I ate tasted like lukewarm ketchup. I was upset with how far Sri Lanka was and how far the rest of ”non-Europe” was from Sweden. I almost amputated a toe trying to give myself a pedicure, but I was happy – I belonged again.

See, the beauty of having your comfort-zone-rug pulled from under your feet is that you’re forced to sit down and re-think a whole load of stuff. Ready or not, the epiphany comes, and mine did too. During my last two years in Dubai, I had been so preoccupied with pursuing a coupled up domestic bliss that I totally neglected a fairly decent brain and an aptitude for learning that I now was forced to dust off. Fast forward two years in my new role, when forced to adapt, I felt like I had gained a decade worth of work skills.

Life happened. A good job offer in Dubai came, and I took it. And right here, right now, as I am typing this sentence, I realise that what made me happy in Sweden is what also makes me happy here during my second take on Dubai. It isn’t about the delivery apps, the allure of affordable nail spas or the enticing designer boutique storefronts. Whilst it’s damn nice to be able to waltz into Bottega on a Tuesday around lunch, the luxury doesn’t play a huge part in why I am happy to be back.

I believe that we feel at home where we feel a sense of purpose and where we get to nurture our growth.

It’s not really about the day to day convenience and whilst this might be hard to believe, it’s not even about the weather. Sure Sweden was cold, but then the clever Danes patented the concept of ‘hygge” – a clever marketing spin on the horrid fact that in Scandinavia, during the winter, the sun sets at an ungodly 3 pm.

Nah – to cut to the chase, you grow to love the place that allows you to – and now please brace yourselves for a self-help cliche – become your best damn self.

Dubai serves my career path for now. It is something that is really important to me these days, and I am, therefore, truly happy to be back. If things change, I’ll swap out kunafe for cardamom buns again, learn once and for all how to paint my own nails and when the 3 pm sunsets get the best of me I will gladly get my hygge on & light a posh designer candle or two. You know, so it feels a little more like Dubai. X


  1. Merve Aypak
    April 5, 2020 / 4:55 pm

    Love this piece so much! As an expat who left Dubai a year ago and moved to US I relate this to a great extend. You go through phases of getting to know yourself a lot deeper once the comfort zone is no longer your habitat, new habits start forming slowly, gradually but surely. It’s amazing how we can learn and adapt the same way we can un-learn and adapt again.

    • Teresa
      April 6, 2020 / 4:00 pm

      Thank you Merve for taking the time to comment. I agree, it is amazing how flexible we are, even when we feel the most ”stuck in our ways”.

  2. Sonia Leretz
    April 14, 2020 / 10:40 am

    I love your article Karpinska.
    My love for words are beyond, and I love how you use them, and how they are intertwined to form an honest and vivid truth.
    Your highlight of the journey: you grow to love the place that allows you to.
    One of the best feeling is to realize that we are just where we need to be, just where we need to begin the new chapter of the journey, the new chapter of a new perspective on life.
    I am with you.

    • Teresa
      April 14, 2020 / 10:51 am

      Thank you Sonia. It means the world coming from you x