After 10 years in Abu Dhabi, I'm in no hurry to leave – and here's why

There is plenty to enjoy in the UAE capital, from unparalleled personal safety to the vast range of things to do

Evelyn Lau shares her home with five of the many cats she has rescued during 10 years in Abu Dhabi. Evelyn Lau / The National
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When I decided to make the move to Abu Dhabi from Boston, US, in 2014, I had no idea where the journey would take me, metaphorically at least.

At the time, I had never visited the Middle East and had a difficult time imagining what the capital really looked like, despite the images I saw on Google.

I was worried about mundane things such as the weather and what to wear, but I also wondered if I’d regret making this decision, especially considering I didn’t know a single person in the UAE. At worst, I told myself, I could always go home if I felt too homesick or wasn’t happy.

Fast-forward a decade and I’m still in Abu Dhabi after spending nearly a third of my life in the Emirates. Although I was once unsure of my decision to move abroad, it turned out to be the right one for me.

Almost every year I have conversations with my family and friends in the US, and eventually the topic comes up about whether it is time to return home. But I always come to the same conclusion. Not yet.

Sometimes it feels difficult to explain why, but it boils down to how accustomed I have become to the life I have chosen. Here are some of the reasons why I’ve continued to uphold my life and location choices.

Safety and security

Abu Dhabi was recently named the safest city in the world for the eighth year in a row. While this doesn't imply an absence of crime, the designation holds true in my personal experience.

I've forgotten my phone in taxis and once even left my wallet at the mall, yet each time I was able to retrieve my belongings without any complications (and nothing was missing from my wallet, either). I can leave my purse in my shopping trolley and go to another aisle or even arrive home late at night by myself without any issues.

The city has always made me feel safe because of its visible security measures, such as well-lit areas and security cameras, as well as the country’s commitment to respecting different cultures and fostering an atmosphere of peace.

While people still need to be smart about their surroundings no matter where they are in the world, I've found that living in the UAE provides a certain ease in navigating day-to-day life.

Melting pot

I cannot count the number of people I've met from different nationalities in the past 10 years, something I don’t think would have been the case had I stayed in the US.

I’ve learnt a lot about other cultures, as well as my own, through these experiences with people from various places. I've participated in all manner of cultural celebrations, joining in Diwali festivities with my Indian friends, observing Chuseok (South Korean Thanksgiving) with my South Korean friends and marking Ramadan with my Muslim peers. I also have plenty of opportunity to celebrate my own Chinese New Year.

The UAE’s cultural diversity is also apparent in its eclectic selection of restaurants and speciality shops catering to its varied residents. I can get everything from Thai street food and authentic Ethiopian dishes to French fine dining and local seafood sourced fresh from Mina Fish Market.

Culture and sport

Over the years, the emirate has upped its ante when it comes to hosting events.

Just this year, there was a month-long showing of the award-winning musical Hamilton and the launch of Saadiyat Nights, an open-air concert series with performing acts such as Mariah Carey, John Legend, Alicia Keys and Sting.

A few years ago, partnerships were announced with the UFC and NBA. This means there are annual UFC events as well as the NBA Games Abu Dhabi, which are two pre-season games held at Etihad Arena. There is also the annual Formula One Grand Prix on Yas Island.

The creation of Yas Bay and Mamsha have helped to elevate the dining scene in the emirate, with more options than ever to go out and have an enjoyable evening with friends and family.

This has become one of my favourite things about Abu Dhabi – having enough things to do to keep entertained, but not feeling any pressure to have to attend everything.

Travel options

One advantage of living in the Middle East is that it is an ideal place for travel, given the UAE is a great departure point because of its location.

I’ve been lucky enough to go on great trips, such as a safari in Tanzania and a holiday in Japan. Besides trips abroad, the Gulf itself has plenty of exciting places to explore – be it taking a road trip to Salalah in Oman during khareef season or visiting one of Saudi Arabia's mega projects. These are destinations I perhaps wouldn’t have considered if I didn't live in the UAE.

With time and, by extension, money not as much of an issue, I feel grateful for living in a country that affords me the chance to experience travel in such a convenient way.

My own community

This might be the biggest reason why it’s hard for me to leave. Even though I came to this country not knowing anyone, I’ve created my own family of sorts here now.

I’ve been with my partner for almost five years and I’m also a proud cat mum to five little personalities rescued over the past decade. I’ve also cultivated strong friendships with people, those with whom I joyously celebrate significant milestones and those who inspire me to strive to be my best self.

Whether it’s the simple joys of birthdays to profound moments such as weddings and childbirth, I’m happy to be a part of these occasions. This is not to say that I don’t miss my own family or childhood friends back in the US – because I do – but I also realise that for all the things I may have missed out on there, I’ve also gained much over here.

Updated: February 22, 2024, 6:17 AM