From India to Abu Dhabi: my journey from homesickness to happiness

Loneliness soon makes way for joy after your life is uprooted

Zoya Thomas at Louvre Abu Dhabi.
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Life isn’t meant to be easy. Yet we strive for it daily; trying to achieve an ease that will finally make us happy.

My simple but big decision to move from India to the UAE started with a random message from a recruiter on LinkedIn. Fast forward six months and I was sitting in a plush hotel in Abu Dhabi, gleeful about my move.

The first two months were a whirlwind. It always is. A new job, a new home, a new city, new crowd. I was on a high — a newness adorned my life.

However, the newness wasn’t new to me. Coming from a family in the army, I had spent most of my life settling and uprooting and settling all over again in different states of India, a country so diverse every state feels like a new nation.

While the human tendency is to resist change, there are moments when we fall into a rut and look for change. I was in a rut when this change presented itself, and it was therefore an easy decision to move.

My friends told me they envied me. My Instagram followers shared their desire to do the same.

For a while, I even showed off the "happy pictures", so content was I with my choice.

The view from the plane while travelling from India to Abu Dhabi for the first time. Zoya Thomas / The National

Everything was perfect. Everything was right. What could possibly go wrong?

I was in a vacuum

It started with a long holiday for Ramadan. It was too soon to travel back home and too soon to travel elsewhere. (I had spent a lot on new furnishings, after all.)

And so, I planned nothing. Big mistake, in hindsight.

A few days into the holiday and it hit me like an earthquake, jolting me out of my bubble.

The newness was lost to loneliness, the control to anxiety, and before I knew it I found myself in a vacuum.

Suddenly, I had nothing to buy, nothing to do, no one to meet, nowhere to go.

A colleague told me to get out and explore. But the idea of venturing out into the unknown (alone) did not appeal to me in the slightest possible way.

Maybe I am not an explorer. Maybe I am not strong. Maybe I can’t be alone.

'Nothing to be ashamed of'

Shocked by what I was feeling — it was a new feeling to me and I did not like it — I took to the global go-to guide: Google.

I searched "homesick in a new country".

The view from the window of my Abu Dhabi apartment. Zoya Thomas / The National

Was I homesick? Yes. I was so homesick that I was ready to fly to Delhi to just breathe in its polluted air.

I missed the multitude of scents. The brewing chai, the frying samosas, the incense stick from a nearby temple, talcum powder, cheap perfume, expensive perfume, sweat, smoke — a mixture of aroma and stench.

I missed the sights. The cloudy-dusty sky, the rickshaw driver scanning for customers, the beggar looking for his next messiah, the scrawny dog shaking its head to ward off fleas, the chaat-wala chopping onions with his grimy hands, a cyclist whipping up a tiny dust storm, the walls splattered with paan (betel juice).

I missed the walas. The sabzi-wala, the kacchhda-wala, the pani-wala, the kabadi-wala, the kinara-wala, the chai-wala, the chaat-wala.

A food seller serves a customer at a market area in New Delhi. AFP

I guess what I missed most was the comfort of familiarity.

Meanwhile, Google responded to my query. "It is part of the expatriation process. It lasts for a week for some, a month for many and sometimes up to a year."

As if sensing what I was feeling, articles even told me: "It is nothing to be ashamed of."

There were also plenty of tips on how to overcome this feeling.

Back to work

Soon, but not soon enough, I was back at work. And while it helped getting back to being busy, the weekends brought back the unease.

I just couldn’t get rid of the feeling.

I joined Meetup (but did not go anywhere), hung out with a friend, met my cousin and shopped a bit more. Yet there was no escaping the emptiness.

I spoke to my family about how I was feeling, but I think they, who see this as a great opportunity (not that I don’t), couldn’t fully comprehend my emotions.

So, I filled my spare time with my favourite source of comfort: food. One day I would feel like I have lost my appetite, and another I would binge eat. But dozens of takeaways and a (mostly) sedentary lifestyle meant an undesirable weight gain (let’s call it the “Abu Dhabi stone”). This led only to increased anxiety.

The thought of wrapping up everything and running away has occurred to me more often than not.

But in the middle of all these escapist thoughts, you realise the days have grown into weeks and weeks into months.

A beautiful sunrise in Abu Dhabi. Zoya Thomas / The National

Can you ever prepare?

The truth is nothing prepares you for uprooting your life, no matter how many times you've done it before.

It doesn’t matter how many people warn you, moving to a new country all by yourself is not easy.

The culture can be similar, the work familiar, the people friendly, but at the end of the day, you must face "you" in an otherwise empty home.

I am not even going to delve into the effect of the pandemic and consequent hybrid work models on mental health. It is a given and most of us have survived lockdowns.

You just wade through.

This too shall pass

Our surroundings affect us and mostly make us. And so, with a new beginning comes a new you.

It is a hard and long journey to feeling at home again. At home with a new self.

Ultimately, it is hope that keeps you going.

For anyone looking to make this big decision, all I want to say is, it is not always rosy, but you can pluck out the thorns.

This too shall pass, as it has for me. It is a wave you will ride and overcome.

Very soon, I will write about life on the other side.

The side where the beautiful Abu Dhabi, with its green parks and soothing water bodies, has grown on me. The side where a workplace feels like home, and you wake up one day, realising that you are not alone.

PS. I have opted for weekly dinner tiffins. So I am going to go ahead and call the delivery guy my tiffin-wala (tiny steps, friends).

Scroll through the gallery below to see some of Abu Dhabi's best tourist attractions

Updated: July 09, 2022, 4:30 PM