Life as an expatriate comes with multiple compressions. You leave behind family and friends in the quest to find a new home in a completely foreign environment. It consequently means days of isolation until you form a new circle of friends, which is often a difficult or long process.
This often results in anxiety, homesickness and depression, more so in women who mostly just accompany their partners. The first thing you need to do in this situation is to find friends, people like you who might be going through a similar situation or ones with whom you feel comfortable. But where do you find them?
Most people turn to online community groups. Yet, they mostly lack the physical interaction component. The other option is to find a support group in the community around you. What if it does not exist?
Then, you probably create one.
This is exactly what Carole Astin, a British expatriate, did after personally going through days of distress soon after arriving in Doha, a new setting for her. She formed a community friendship group exclusively for women.
So if you are a woman and have just arrived in Qatar or you have lived here for a while and are looking to expand your social network, you can join Carole and her friends at her Qatar Expat Women (QEW). There, you would even meet the local Qatari women who are keen on sharing with you their culture, traditions and ideas.
“First and foremost, this is a friendship group in the community. I came up with the idea of the group after I suffered with isolation when I first came to Qatar. I did not know anyone at all apart from our sponsor and his family, they were very kind to me,” recalls Carole, talking to Community, on how QEW came into existence and what made it grow.
“However I missed my family and job back in the United Kingdom a great deal. After having been here several months, I became very depressed and suffered with anxiety and had nowhere to turn. Once I started to feel better I reflected on my experience and how I had felt,” she reveals.
Carole realised she could not possibly be the only one who felt this way. From there, she decided to create what she would have liked to have had access to on her arrival — a life line. “The initial response was one of great interest and lots of women could relate to how she felt. It was slow to start with but now the group is getting very well-known,” says the founder of the group.
Recently, in the last one week, the QEW posts reached over 54,000 online and their website reached over 13,000 visitors in just three weeks.
Qatar Expat Women is a lively group of multicultural women with a mission to help as many women as possible in the transition from their homeland to life as an expat, and to make it a positive and empowering experience.
The community group, a nonprofit organisation, is run by volunteers who are willing to share their experiences and ready to lend a helping hand. They meet for friendship, café chats, volunteering and cultural events. Each gathering brings a new mix of diverse women, who come together for companionship and mutual support.
“Women face many problems when they first arrive, particular from western countries. They suffer all the stages of grief from anger, fear, denial and isolation, depression, and acceptance. This can be extremely detrimental to their health,” says Carole.
“If I had had a group to go to like Qatar expat women, I am sure I would not have suffered the depression and anxiety as badly as I did. Depression can sometimes go with being an expat and the transition of leaving our homelands to life as an expat,” she reflects.
At QEW, she says, they help the women by encouraging friendships and empowering them to make the best of the opportunities here in Qatar.
This is a safe and wonderful country, says Carole, and they promote Qatar in every way they can. They provide to women information and guidance where requested. They also hold various workshops that interest women and there is no cost for this as there are volunteers from the community who come and show the group their knowledge and skills for free.
“We empower women to embrace the country and its culture. Our venue is at the Warwick Doha hotel and they give us the room completely for free and we are very grateful to them,” says the QEW founder.
In their future plans, as the group grows, she says they are planning multiple events. A number of such events have been posted on their website (www.qatarexpatwomen.com) and one of them is going to be a session with Embrace Doha.
Embrace Doha is the first service provider of its kind in Qatar, offering a range of cultural services that cater to the needs of newcomers, expatriates, and visitors alike. “We at QEW feel it is very important to embrace the culture, for a positive, happy, and fulfilling life as an expat. We hope to encourage Qatari ladies to come and speak about their country and culture, after all they know it best,” says Carole.
“We feel that making the gap smaller between expats and local Qatari nationals is the way forward to a better future,” she adds. Carole says there are many websites that are giving information in Qatar. However, QEW is unique as it welcomes people and gives information in person.
Carole says it is an informal group in which you can get involved as little or as much as you would like. And members are encouraged to come up with ideas for outings and suggestions or help in organising gatherings.
Carole says they are always interested in partnering with other community groups and businesses to promote Qatar and build positive cross-cultural relationships.
“I have to admit that I owe my favourable expatriation to this group with all the beautiful friends I have met. By finding an entryway into the international community, you receive the support you need in your new home,” says Carole.
“We cannot limit ourselves to being the person we were, and the situations we lived before, however difficult it is. We left our countries. Our acquired experiences abroad change us. By acknowledging this transformation and embracing it, we empower ourselves to move forward with confidence,” she explains, adding this was what she did and encourages others to do it.
What makes the group unique, she says, is that there is no fee attached or need for registration. They are sharing information via Facebook, website, Instagram and, in person, of course. It hosts free events, encouraging friendships and encouraging volunteers to be the best they can be.
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