When I moved to the UAE at the age of 27, it had been more than six years since I lived at home with my mum. But still, the thought of me changing countries was a lot for her to take: she was more than supportive of my decision, but I knew deep down she didn't want me to go, a feeling largely driven by worry.
You see, my mum isn't a global traveller. She's explored the British Isles and has hopped across to Paris on the Eurostar. But somewhere like the UAE? That was so far beyond her comprehension that she was unable to picture what it would be like, or why I would want to go.
But last week, I met her at the arrivals hall at DXB, and spent a week watching the UAE broaden her horizons and win her over, and it was honestly priceless. From the moment we left the terminal, her face was struck with a look of awe, and it never really left.
As we cruised along Sheikh Zayed Road towards the towering skyline of Downtown Dubai, I watched as she gasped, excitedly pointing out the rapidly emerging spike of Burj Khalifa, as if I might miss it.
But the truth is, I probably would have: I'm often so absorbed by my phone in the back of a taxi, or concentrating on the road ahead, that I don't take the time to glance up at the world's tallest building any more. I did this time, though, thanks to my mum. And I thought back to my home town in north Devon where she had come from, a place where the tallest building stands only 10 storeys high, and I let that look of awe creep back on to my face, too.
I had been putting off having Mum to visit because, in truth, I didn't think she would like the UAE. Not because of the place itself, but because she is not a beach person, or someone who enjoys the heat. But when it came to it, I found I could easily fill a warm February week without her having to don a swimsuit or shelter from the sun. We went to the desert, spent a morning strolling around old Dubai, visited the Grand Mosque, wandered through Abu Dhabi's new Mangrove Park and tackled The Dubai Mall, topped off with an evening fountain show. Every day was completely different.
The thing that struck me the most, though, was how much she "loved the feel of the place", as she kept telling me. Of course, I shouldn't have been so shocked, as that feeling is what keeps us all here, building lives away from our families and home countries, but for someone who has never travelled, and was fairly dubious to do so, for her to pick up on this feeling so quickly was truly heartening to see.
Over dinner one evening, I asked whether the UAE was what she had expected. “Truthfully, I expected to feel really intimidated,” she told me.
She was scared of the unknown, of the distance, of the preconceptions she had. But a few days here was enough to see that all melt away. Instead, she found a place full of friendly people ready to give her a warm welcome, full of natural beauty and varied landscapes, and a place with just the right mix of history and forward thinking.
Seeing the UAE through her eyes made me feel even prouder to call it my home. Despite my nerves over whether or not she would like it, the Emirates turned out to be the perfect place in which to ease her into travel and open her eyes to the world. I am so glad that this country was able to do that for her.
She left with a new-found hunger to explore and a promise to come back at the next possible opportunity. As for me, I was left with an even deeper appreciation for my adopted home. Not only has it given me so many new opportunities, but it's enabled me to pass a fresh view of the world on to my family, too.