‘Living abroad is a transformative experience that opens our eyes to new cultures, perspectives and opportunities’

Julie Gilbert loved living in the UAE, where the sand, hummus and convergence of different people made the Mayo woman happy

Living abroad is a transformative experience that opens our eyes to new cultures, perspectives and opportunities. As I reflect on my time spent living in Abu Dhabi, in the United Arab Emirates, my heart swells with gratitude for the incredible journey I have had.

Hailing from the pretty little village of Faulmore on the Mullet Peninsula in Co Mayo, the decision to move to Abu Dhabi in August 2014 as a teacher was a leap into the unknown. At the time, UAE was not as popular as it is now, and I was nervous about venturing into a place so different from my familiar surroundings. However, I came to the realisation that if I let this opportunity slip away, I would forever carry the weight of regret in the years to come.

Over the course of nine enriching years, I immersed myself in the vibrant city of Abu Dhabi. Through hard work and dedication, I gradually progressed in my career, eventually attaining the position of assistant head in my school with responsibilities in pastoral care and wellbeing. The UAE became my second home, and I felt a deep sense of belonging in this diverse and dynamic society.

One cannot speak of the UAE without mentioning its breathtaking sunrises and sunsets. The vibrant hues of orange and red painted the sky here, leaving a lasting impression on my soul. The UAE evokes memories of savouring hummus, the fragrant aroma of shisha and the Friday morning call to prayer – a reminder of the harmonious coexistence of different faiths.


When reminiscing about the UAE, images of camels, swaying palm trees and the sweetness of dates immediately spring to mind. I recall the hidden gem of hiking trails in the eastern part of the country, a secret waiting to be discovered. The UAE is a place where halloumi cheese and zaatar tantalise the taste buds, while the word inshallah, which means god willing, serves as a reminder of the culture’s Muslim faith and trust in destiny.

I savoured the culinary delights of the UAE’s diverse restaurants, delighting in a symphony of flavours that excited my taste buds. Indulging in delightful brunches became a cherished routine, allowing me to explore a range of delectable dishes. Immersed in the country’s rich cultural tapestry, I marvelled at the elegance of traditional abayas, the long, loose-fitting garments worn by some Muslim women, while I practised yoga on the tranquil beaches here and they became moments of serenity and self-discovery.

Weekends were a sanctuary of relaxation, spent basking on pristine shores and enjoying the sensation of the white sand between your toes. And who could forget the opulence of watching others sipping coffee (I am not a coffee drinker) adorned with delicate gold flakes at the iconic Emirates Palace, where each sip felt like a luxurious indulgence?

However, beyond the mesmerising landscapes and exciting experiences, it is the people I met in the UAE who hold a special place in my heart. The friendships I cultivated during my time there were invaluable, and I know they will endure for a lifetime.

The UAE brought together a diverse community of individuals, each with unique stories and backgrounds, and it is through these connections that I truly discovered the beauty of human connection.

As life took another turn, I returned to Ireland in September 2023 to pursue a full-time master’s degree in psychology, a lifelong dream of mine. Transitioning back to Ireland after being away for so long has its challenges, but I am grateful for the warmth and friendliness of the Irish people, my family and dear friends.

The scenic Dublin mountains and the captivating countryside serve as reminders of the natural wonders that surround us. Cherishing the blue skies, so precious in this part of the world, I find solace in rainy days, which provide the perfect backdrop for focused study and introspection.

Although some may attribute luck to the circumstances we find ourselves in, I firmly believe that life is a culmination of choices. It is true that some individuals may appear more fortunate than others, but ultimately, we all make decisions that shape our paths, even if we cannot control the exact outcomes.

To anyone contemplating an adventure or a significant change, I wholeheartedly encourage you to go for it. Taking that leap of faith and embracing new experiences can lead to personal growth and fulfilment. And even if the outcome isn’t what you expected, returning home with the knowledge that you tried will leave you with no regrets, and that, in itself, is worth it all.

Life is a fleeting journey, and the UAE taught me the importance of embracing opportunities and taking chances. I am forever grateful for the experiences that have shaped me into the person I am today. As I move forward, I hold on to the memories, lessons and connections that the UAE has gifted me, knowing that the future holds endless possibilities.

In this short trip called life, may blue skies always be part of the plan!

  • Julie Gilbert is from Faulmore on the Mullet Peninsula in Co Mayo. She moved to Abu Dhabi in August 2014. A teacher, she spent nine years there before returning to Ireland to do a master’s degree in psychology.
  • If you live overseas and would like to share your experience with Irish Times Abroad, email abroad@irishtimes.com with a little information about you and what you do.
  • Sign up to The Irish Times Abroad newsletter for Irish-connected people around the world. Here you’ll find readers’ stories of their lives overseas, plus news, business, sports, opinion, culture and lifestyle journalism relevant to Irish people around the world