Nowadays, the famous Chekhov’s expression ‘Greece has everything’ might as well be paraphrased into ‘Dubai has everything’. To create a multi-cultural business oasis, its wise rulers are using the most advanced technologies, changing even the local desert climate for the better. Offering unbelievable yet equal opportunities - a challenge, a lot of hard work, and an ample reward in the end - Dubai attracts daring people from all over the world. The founders of the Dubai Friends community Olga Fler, the author of the Meet For Charity project, and Irina Baranova, the B. Lab Business recruiting company’s creator, dwell on the best ways of integrating in this new Land of Opportunity.
Olga: It all started when I arrived on 26th February, Irina following me a few days later. We were on the same path, yet unaware of it. The mission of both Meet For Charity and B. Lab Business’s executive search is bridging and uniting people. Intuitively doing pretty much the same, it’s no wonder we ended up in one team. At first, everything in a new country - its ways and people - seemed strange and frightening. We badly needed the family-like friendly support we’d once enjoyed back in Moscow, where like-minded people were always there to share their news and meals, supporting each other like family members do. There were only ten of us when we started our Dubai Friends community, and over the last nine months, this number has grown to almost 800. All these people are high-profile individuals – successful business owners and top managers who used to run big and eye-catching projects in Russia.
All our community members share the same values, interests, and desire to live and work in the Mena Region, contributing to its development. Our ‘brothers-in-arms’ are to be found not only in Dubai, but also in Abu Dhabi, Sharjah, Ras Al Khaimah, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia. Last spring we also found friends in Cyprus, Vienna, Jurmala, Monaco, London, and the French Riviera, so now our community consists of 18 groups, Dubai Friends being a kind of a head-office, ‘housing’ the largest one. At some point, all of us together with our families decided to try a new geographical location and do business outside our home country. Some have relocated completely while others are living in the ‘Dubai – London’ or ‘Moscow – Dubai suburban trains’, so to speak. It’s just a joke of course as nowadays, air-travel is naturally much more convenient and common than car or train journeys.
Demands depend on the season, used as a time measurement, similar to life in the USSR, rotating around the spring, summer, autumn, and winter health & wellness retreats’ check-in times. In this respect, Dubai Friends is a model project and Point Zero for newcomers to ‘ground’ and figure out if this country / region / town is the right place for them. Dubai being a lot more than a point of attraction, far from everyone feels welcome here, and integration is anything but easy. In the meantime, the Middle East is vast indeed, countries like Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and others, offering new arrivals truly great opportunities. According to Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the UAE’s founding father, progress is driven by the spirit, intellect, and talents of man. This philosophy helps to understand the local rulers’ big-picture thinking, realised in their ambitious projects, imbued with spiritual aspirations, inspiring confidence in Dubai’s bright future that is already under con- struction. Many would like to ‘get on board’, but ‘the number of seats’ is not limitless. In the end, half of the newcomers find the local history and culture indigestible and leave while the other 50 per cent stay to forge a bond with this fascinating world. That’s who Dubai Friends step in for to help with choosing a residential area, renting or buying flats, houses, or villas, putting their children to kindergarten or school, and solving other issues. Besides, those lucky enough to have fallen in love with Dubai need the services of local GPs, pediatricians, massage therapists, dentists, psychoanalysts, colourists, etc., to save themselves the trouble of flying to Moscow to see the specialists they used to work with, which would be a real burden indeed.
Irina: I have to say there is actually ‘a fly in the ointment’ of luck and love. Our community members find themselves in various life situations. There are couples with children, following the ‘kindergarten-school route’. Others are still single or already divorced, sometimes just recently during or after their relocation. The latter case is not at all uncommon as such a radical change turns out a real strength test for many couples. My business is digital executive search for international companies. Oftentimes, employers arrange their new CEOs’ or top managers’ relocation, and in some cases, it’s wives followed by their husbands. Within a few months, their family roles change completely, men having to take care of their households and children, look for new jobs, other forms of self-realisation, or investment opportunities, and adjust to a new environment or field of activity. Far from all are able to pass this test seamlessly. Several couples in our community are now living separately and may end up divorced. Meanwhile, there are some newly formed couples too.
After living somewhere for a long time and having long-term relationships with loved ones, family members, and friends, some find it extremely difficult to build such an environment from scratch in a new place, ending up in a social vacuum that needs filling badly.
Business success and earning a lot of money do not necessarily make one happy. Harvard Business School professor of management Arthur C. Brooks is sure the source of human happiness is not financial prosperity but affinity with other people. According to the scholar, relationships are the key factor: ‘If you buy an experience, whether it be a vacation or just a dinner out, you can raise your happiness if you share it with someone you love. Friends and family are two key ingredients in well-being, and fun experiences with these people give us sweet memories we can enjoy for the rest of our lives — unlike the designer shoes that will wear out or go out of style’.
So, the answer to the question what both newcomers and those already well- adapted are in need of is simple enough – they all share a wild yearning for relationships. It’s establishing new social ties that is of vital importance for each of them. That’s why one of our main values and purposes is creating the right environment for them all, based on their common interests, similar to that they used to have back home.
We do not throw dating parties like those Meet For Charity once started with. We have a common chat and organise events, so everything happens naturally. Most new arrivals have to change not only their geographical location but also their fields of activity and functions, which puts them under triple stress. On top of all that, they have to adapt to a totally different culture, both local and corporate. Far from everybody has enough vitality to fall in love under such circumstances – being able to put on a mask is a start good enough for many. I like coming here in autumn to ‘recharge my batteries’, so to speak. As far as I can see, it usually takes newcomers about six months to recover from all that integration shock. Socialising via specialised chats proves very helpful. Say, Dubai Friends, Ladies & Kids allows women to discuss things feminine without spamming their busy men’s minds. There’s also Mindfulness, very popular with men doing yoga or revitalising them- selves by means of all sports imaginable – everything from wake-surfing to golfing.
Olga: Dubai offers you absolutely everything your body and soul might ever desire. The local cultural events so numerous, there’s no way you can attend them all. Such as Abu Dhabi Art, held recently, and Art Dubai, coming soon. Middle-Eastern culture is actually largely underestimated in the world. In the meantime, it boasts of amazing artists, a huge number of collectors and completists, as well as a rich historical heritage. To crown it all, the best of the best world art dealers open their galleries here to exhibit their fantastic art collections.
Back home, I always longed for living abroad but never had enough courage to try. My Russian good-looking media business, a solid platform to stand on, combined with a familiar cultural setting used to be a perfect comfort zone for me. Here, I realise I’m just one of many other newcomers, facing the challenge of basically ‘zeroing out’ my previous lifestyle and ‘updating my software’ for the new conditions. That’s probably the best way to describe what I’m going through.
Now, it feels rather strange recalling what it was like back home, when we spoke and posted things on social media, exchanging personal and professional news, discussing anything and everything in Russian. Immersed in the whirlpool of Moscow life, basically unable to see the surrounding world properly, we could never imagine any other way. Having come here and tuned in, you find your social media activity followed by Lebanese, Saudi Arabian, British, and French friends, for whom you must also be understandable. Going international, you have to build a new foundation and undergo a personal and professional ‘rebranding’ to meet the new requirements.
Dubai is a huge hub of opportunities and innovations, second to none indeed. When asked to describe it in a couple of words, a Lebanese friend of mine said, ‘Dubai is a new Land of Opportunity’. It is, for a fact, the most polycentric and multicultural place in the whole wide world. There is in Dubai all that life can afford, and what the future will look like is already obvious here as nowhere else on earth. I like the opening lines of ‘Ode to L.A.’ by The Ravionettes:
Well, everybody wants a place in the sun. In the meanwhile, Dubai is as sunny a place as sunny could ever be, and so far, ‘slices of its sun’ are still available.
Irina: Every day, in every way, Dubai is becoming more and more attrac- tive, providing everything for ‘upgrading’ yourself and launching a new busi- ness. I hope and intend to find a firm toehold here, where time is accelerating its flight. The city’s life is very dynamic, teaching you to respect others’ time and carefully plan yours.
Making our community a toehold for many is a must-do for me. Dubai is sure to remain a very important chapter in every immigrant’s life story. We’d like them to feel as comfortable as possible by making their time here most productive, useful, memorable, and rich in new contacts.
When we were preparing to launch our chat, I said to Olga, ‘Listen, some of our friends will never use any chats’. To which she responded, ‘Well, let’s try anyway. After all, they will be able to leave at any time’. So far, none of our 800 community members has unsubscribed. Every now and then, we quiz them for their feelings about their membership in Dubai Friends and what it gives them. Most often, they write about being not alone, getting support, and the convenience of easy access to any information or necessary contacts. Inspired by that kind of feedback, we realise there’s no challenge too hard or too frightening to face, so it’s never worth putting anything in cold storage. We are on the right track in the right place.