How a two-year adventure in the UAE became eight years (and counting)

This week, Evelyn Lau celebrates a milestone she never thought she’d reach

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February 7 is an important date for me, one that passes every year without much fanfare, but it changed my life.

It wasn’t until a few days ago when a notification popped up on social media offering to show me “memories on this day” that I was suddenly reminded of that.

An old filtered image from inside an Etihad Airways plane and a photo of my hummus and crackers snack pack brought me back to the day in 2014 when I left Boston for Abu Dhabi to start my new job at The National.

I'd never visited the UAE before. I didn't know anyone there. I can still remember the feelings of trepidation I had. Was I making a mistake? Would I regret leaving everything to start over somewhere without a support system? What if I hated it?

I reasoned with myself that I could always leave after a year or two if I was unhappy.

But then I arrived.

All of my fears were soon overtaken by curiosity and wonderment for this new city and culture I was being introduced to. Everything felt like an adventure. I was learning so much and constantly exploring.

Two years quickly turned into three and then four ... eight years later I’m still living in Abu Dhabi, having built a life that I wasn’t always sure I knew how to build and yet it has felt like the right decision.

One of my biggest worries early on was about everything I’d be missing back home, particularly close friends and family. Holidays, birthdays, babies, the big moments; life goes on without you.

There have been occasions when I really wished I could be home with my family – American Thanksgiving, my birthday or Chinese New Year, for example – or with my friends, such as when they bought their first homes or got engaged.

Thanks to technology such as Zoom and other video messaging services, though, it's been made much easier to stay in touch. Sure, it can't replace being there in person, but now these moments I might miss out on aren’t only reserved for a certain group of people. I have new friends, who often feel like family, too.

Last month I headed to Madinat Jumeirah in Dubai to attend the wedding of one of my very first friends I made when I moved to Abu Dhabi. Under the hanging string lights and glittering palm trees, I was happy to be a part of such a momentous and lovely celebration of two people I care about deeply and who have become a support system for me here.

Last year, I got to see another friend's baby for the first time in person. Because of the pandemic, I hadn't seen her for more than a year, back when she was only four months pregnant. So, on another trip to Dubai, I finally got around to seeing them both, and I couldn't help but notice how well first-time motherhood suited her.

So, as I celebrate eight years of living in the UAE this week, I'm looking back on all these wonderful occasions I've been a part of, ones I would have missed out on had I not taken that leap of faith and moved to Abu Dhabi.

No, it doesn't replace the ones we have missed at home, but there is comfort in knowing that, no matter where we are, we'll always find those special moments.

Scroll through the gallery below to see how Abu Dhabi has changed over the last decade.

Updated: February 11, 2022, 6:03 PM