The Middle East is a pretty rogue part of the world for a twenty-something Manx girl to end up living and working.
In fact, when I first travelled to the region to study Arabic back in 2014, most people on the island seemed to think I was nuts. I received my fair share of raised eyebrows and a LOT of questions – many fairly sensible, others bordering on the ridiculous (‘Are you going to marry a sheikh?’ was my personal favourite…).
Here on the island we can feel pretty sheltered from what’s going on elsewhere in the world. On the one hand, we’re so lucky to live somewhere safe where we have access to essential services and opportunities that the vast majority of people around the world don’t have. But this can also make us a bit oblivious to other cultures and ways of life.
This is why many people on the island (including myself a few years ago!) see places like the Middle East through the lens we’re given by the media, which only seems to talk about the negative stuff…
But life in many Middle Eastern countries isn’t as different (or as dangerous!!) as we might think, and Manx people could gain a lot from visiting the region and working there. Here are 5 important lessons I’ve learned as a Manx girl living in this beautiful and fascinating part of the world:
#1 There are a lot of similarities between life in the Middle East and life on the Isle of Man.
The Middle East is home to a plethora of different identity groups and cultures that are woven together and interact with each other all the time, but one of the key cultural characteristics that prevails across the region is the sense of community.
Whether you’re living amongst a closely-connected community of local people or a cohesive expat community, there’s always a strong sense of belonging – not to mention the ‘everybody-knows-everybody’ vibe we’re all too familiar with on the Isle of Man!
There’s also a strong sense of national identity – yep, in most Middle Eastern countries you’ll find local equivalents of chips cheese and gravy and Tynwald Day!
Next level national pride on Oman’s National Day / Tynwald Day 2k19 inspo (brandnewrenaissance.wordpress.com)
#2 The Middle East is full of incredible places for the island’s more active and intrepid explorers to get an adrenaline fix!
For the more active and outdoorsy Manxies who love a hike up South Barrule or a kayak around Peel Castle, how does snorkelling in the Red Sea sound? How about hiking in Petra? Rock-climbing in Mount Sinai, cycling the Atlas Mountains, skiing in Lebanon, dune bashing in Oman, flyboarding in Dubai…? The list goes on.
With everything we hear in the news about the Middle East, you might not think of the region as a hot holiday destination. But the stunning, dramatic natural scenery means there are SO many amazing places to explore.
And the best part is, most Middle Eastern countries are a LOT less touristy than many other popular destinations and the landscape is often untouched.
The view from the top: Hiking in Petra, Jordan (travellingtheworldsolo.com)
#3 Manx people have an advantage working in the Middle East over folks from the big city.
In the Middle East, the local culture has a huge influence on the way of doing business. This means that there’s a much friendlier and more personal business culture in the region than in big cities like London, New York, Hong Kong etc., which actually really works in our favour here on the Isle of Man.
In the Middle East, just like on the island, business relationships are based on personal relationships (although admittedly, on the Isle this is sometimes less of a cultural value than the simple fact we went to school with our clients or play sports with our boss…).
This makes it easier for us to adapt to the business culture in the region than people from the big city, who are used to a more direct and less personable way of working and building business relationships.
#4 It’s not as difficult for women as the media makes out.
One of the greatest misconceptions about the Middle East is that it’s a hostile and repressive place for women.
The Middle East is a huge and diverse region, and this assumption paints all regional societies with the same brush, ignoring the nuances of local politics and cultures. As a Western woman visiting the region, I’ve had VERY different experiences in rural Oman – where societies are conservative and patriarchal – and in parts of Beirut – where the nightlife is wild and Kim Kardashian is life.
And life differs significantly for local women across the region, and the amount of freedom they enjoy depends on where they live and, most importantly, how conservative their family is. But even in more conservative societies, life is perfectly safe and easy for Western women as long as you pay attention to local cultural norms.
As long as you’re sensible and respectful (as you should be anywhere you go!), you’re no more likely to have a problem in the Middle East than you are in the UK!
Beirut: Party capital of the Middle East
#5 Manx cheddar racks up more air miles than Beyoncé.
Nothing stirs up the national pride in you like finding Manx cheese on a flight to Dubai or in a supermarket in Muscat…you can read all about the journey our beloved Manx cheese makes here.
So there you have it, 5 all-important lessons I’ve learned from living and working in the Middle East.
Whether you’re an intrepid traveller, you’re looking for new business opportunities, or you just like that warm fuzzy, feeling of Manxness you get from seeing our cheese in weird and wonderful places – there’s something in the Middle East for everyone!
Laura blogs about travel, culture and politics in the Middle East at www.pinkjinn.com