Out and about: an email from Al Ain

Out and about is a column where we chat with people who currently live abroad, or who used to live and work there. This week we chat with Riëtte Schoeman, a teacher in Al Ain who will be moving to Abu Dhabi in February.  

Where in South Africa are you from?

We are from Klerksdorp, Northwest.

Tell us more about your family.

My husband and I have two beautiful children, Francois (11) and Anriette (7). He was married before and has two older children from that marriage as well, Sonja (23) and Christo (19). We currently live in the same city as them, which is wonderful. The four children are very close and we are grateful that they can grow up together.


What was the biggest adjustment for you abroad? What lessons did you learn?

Cultural differences are difficult in the beginning. It is hard to understand the way other people think and to adjust your way of thinking. I had to learn to be calmer and to have more patience. It is also very difficult in the beginning to function where people cannot properly speak or understand English.

How is the lifestyle and cost of living different from that in South Africa?

The quality of life is much better here. It is safe. Our children can play while we are socialising and we do not have to watch them the whole time fearing that they will get snatched. I don’t have to cling to my handbag when I go to the shops. This alone makes it absolutely worth it! The cost of living is much higher than in South Africa, but thankfully the salaries are also better. Many people think you are a millionaire as soon as you start working here, but they do not take in account how high the cost of living is. School fees are very expensive! You still have to budget and watch your expenses, but in general your salary stretches further.

What do your Afrikaans roots mean for you?

Folk songs and teaching my children about the history of South Africa. We try to raise them Afrikaans as far as possible, but our youngest hardly speak any Afrikaans anymore. Family is important and we try hard to keep those ties strong. My children have to know where they come from.  

There are many South Africans in the UAE. Do you get together from time to time?

At my workplace alone we are currently 14 South Africans. We have a nice rugby club in Al Ain where you can be certain of meeting even more South Africans every time. We are each other’s family away from home.

Tell us a little more about your work and how the work culture there differs from South Africa’s.  

I am a teacher. In my experience South Africans work harder in general. We are used to doing everything. At times we work too hard and cross the line of what is in fact someone else’s job, just to get it done. Once again – I quickly had to learn to be patient. Everybody is far from their loved ones and are simply working for a better future.

How is the school system different from that of South Africa? Do you have any advice for people who want to teach abroad?

It depends on what you are looking for. There are many options. We have British, American, IB and several other curriculum schools. Most schools are KG–Gr.12. It is an unbelievable experience to work in such a multicultural environment. I would recommend it for anyone. The paperwork is quite expensive and it takes a lot of time, so start well in advance if you are planning the move.

What do you miss the most about South Africa? How often do your family members see each other?

The outdoors, houses with big lawns and gardens, Spur … We see our family every summer holiday (July/August) when we go to South Africa, but we also try to get my parents to visit every December otherwise the children would miss them too much.

Is there anything else you would like to share with us?

It is wonderful to broaden your horizons. I haven’t regretted our decision for a day, but it is not easy. Moving is difficult and the adjustment doesn’t happen overnight. It is expensive and it costs a lot of money in the beginning. It takes determination to stay here and not go “home” after a few months … But for those who are able to persevere … It is worth it. You will quickly make friends who become like family. You will get back on your feet and start living again! There are so many wonderful opportunities here and our children can grow up with a freedom we would not have been able to give them in South Africa. I am thankful …

ALSO READ: an email from Australia

Write to us

Do you live or work abroad or did you recently return from abroad? You can also write us an Out and about column. Send an email to wereldwyd@afriforum.co.za and we will send you the questions you have to answer.

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