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  • Writer's pictureBolaji Akinola-Alli

365 Days in Abu Dhabi

I reflect on my journey over the last year living in Abu Dhabi, highlighting some of the lessons learned and new connections that helped shape me.


A year ago, on the 20th of January 2023, I hopped on a plane with a one-way ticket from London Heathrow to Abu Dhabi International Airport.


I had never visited the UAE and I had no family or friends in the region before the move. So naturally I was anxious but excited for what was to come. I decided to take it a day at a time. Since then it has been nothing short of an incredible experience.


When I speak to my friends about the move, they ask me why I decided to move half-way across the world. For me, it just felt like the natural and right thing to do. During my decision-making process, I thought to myself:

  • What does God want me to do? - I prayed and received confirmation to make the move.

  • What was the worst thing that could happen? - I would hate it and move back to the UK after 6 months.

  • Would it be challenging? Probably, but as an AKINOLA we never run away from a challenge.

    • Akino̩lá: a name that originates from the Yoruba tribe in West Africa meaning ‘valor possesses dignity or honor’ or simpler terms 'the brave and wealthy warrior'.


A year later and it feels like a good time to reflect on my time living in Abu Dhabi and share some of the lessons that I have learned so far. I am also writing this in hope that it would be valuable to anyone looking to make a move to the Middle East.


Living in the Emirates has been a transformative experience, full of cultural immersion and personal growth. Here are the few gems that I have learned:


Embracing Change

When I am asked about my strengths in an interview, adaptability was often up there. Now I can confirm it's true with a solid example.

Living in Abu Dhabi has taught me the importance of being adaptable to change. Personally, this meant that I had to find a place to stay, furnish it, sort out my official documentations, get a driving license and somehow find a community of people that I vibe with.


From a professional consultant's point of view, the UAE is definitely a fast-paced environment that requires you to be willing to pivot quickly and efficiently to achieve both project and career success. And that's a light way to put it. Maybe that's a good thing because it allows you to consistently think about how to improve the quality of your work.

Change is the only constant, and being able to adapt is essential in both personal and professional aspects of life

Prioritising Happiness

Abu Dhabi has a vision for creating a society that prioritises happiness and safety for all ages. It is evident in the little things such as a customer care centre being titled 'customer happiness centre'. I thought it was strange at first - what if I was an unhappy customer...


Then I read the world happiness report which considers the happiness of citizens as a separate metric to economic development in terms of GDP per capita and it showed that the UAE had the highest score in the Middle East.


Was this just a coincidence? Or maybe it is a natural result of economic development? - I don't think so.


According to the UAE 2031 Vision, there are actually KPIs for safety and quality of life, some of which include:

  • Positioning the UAE globally as first in the ‘safety’ index

  • Rank the UAE as one of the top 10 countries globally in the quality of healthcare


When it comes to safety, the UAE is the safest place I have ever been to. Now I know I am not the most travelled person, but what this looks like in practise is children playing in the parks at 11pm at night, losing my wallet in a mall and somehow getting it back, leaving my flat unlocked and going on holiday etc. So many personal examples, but I think you get the point now.

“If you see someone without a smile, give them one of yours.” ― Dolly Parton

Embracing Faith

A beautiful aspects of living in Abu Dhabi is witnessing the genuine embrace of faith. The UAE is a proud Muslim country and it is evident in the day-to-day life and the multiple public holidays we enjoy to celebrate religious events.


In addition to this, I have found there to be genuine respect for other religions. As a christian, seeing how my muslim friends live makes me want to become a better Christian.


Faith also helps to promote law and order in the UAE as a lot of the societal laws have been influenced by religion. That being said, the UAE tries to accommodate for other religions. For example, there are pubs where you can buy a pint or two of beer and restaurants that serve pork. In other words, there is a place for everyone. This is the beauty of tolerance and acceptance.

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for. By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible. - Hebrews 11:1-3

Celebrating Diversity

Abu Dhabi is a melting pot of cultures and nationalities, and the society is welcoming to everyone. In Abu Dhabi, I have not only gained a deeper understanding of different cultures but also a stronger connection to my Nigerian heritage.


I have made been lucky with friendships and building community. Whether from a Christian community to my colleagues at work, who quickly became my first friends. I have also somehow met some of the best people in Abu Dhabi from across the world - I'm talking people from Lebanon, Burkina Faso, and Swaziland or 'the great kingdom of Swaziland' as he likes to call it.

“We are all different, which is great because we are all unique. Without diversity, life would be very boring.” - Catherine Pulsifer

Striving for Excellence

Finally, living in Abu Dhabi has shown me that excellence and economic growth requires strong political will and great execution. The city's commitment to excellence is evident in numerous domains, from infrastructure to education, healthcare and security. This pursuit of excellence is a shared value that permeates the society, creating deep patriotism and trust in the government.


As a Nigerian who is passionate about Africa's economic development, I have seen how a fellow oil-producing country has made a different set of decisions to fast-tracked its development. With the commencement of operation of the world's largest single-train refinery in Nigeria, I can only hope that we begin to make the right steps towards prosperity. It is also no secret that one day, I would love to take back these lessons to contribute towards economic development in Africa.


Until then, I will continue to learn new skills, connect with cool people (check out my podcast), and take notes along the way.

 

In summary, living in Abu Dhabi has been an enriching experience, filled with personal growth and cultural appreciation. As with anywhere in the world, there are pros and cons. But I am grateful to God for the opportunity to have lived in such a dynamic city.


 

As is customary to leave you with a quote, here's one from a book called Closing the Gap:

Pathfinders - Those who dare to go where no one in their communities have been brave enough to go. Pathfinders are ‘mafukuzela’, because they are the ones who, despite, obstacles, achieve their goals. - Prof. Tshilidzi Marwala

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