“Happy is the man who finds a true friend, and far happier is he who finds that true friend in his wife”
I have had the pleasure of meeting this next interviewee and his wife on several occasions. Their smiles and spirits light up a room and I am honored to have him featured in this series. I believe that you will enjoy reading as much as I enjoyed interviewing.
Tell Us Who You Are!
My name is Carl Andre Harrell, Jr. and I’m originally from New Jersey. I’m currently teaching 6th grade mathematics in Abu Dhabi, UAE. I’m always looking for the next grand adventure in my life and this move has not disappointed.
How long have you been living abroad?
I’ve been in the UAE for 10 months now. I arrived early August of 2016.
Have you live abroad before? If so where?
I have lived abroad before. My father served in the US Army and we were fortunate to be stationed in Germany for four (4) years. It was such a melting pot of different nationalities and cultures, while I was a young child, it made an impact on my perception of the world.
Did you travel abroad by yourself?
In the beginning, I was excited for both of us to leave at the same time and begin our journey together, but, upon further research and deeper conservations with my mentor who also lives in the UAE, I decided that I may need to arrive first and get things settled. I know that some parties reading may think that decision was fool hearted, but, this is a new country that we’re talking about and I wanted to make sure that my wife would be clear of any pitfalls once she arrived.
How long have you been married?
We’ve been married for 8 years now
How did you and your wife meet?
My wife and I met in college at a fundraising event being held by a Sorority. The event was set up so that the fellas could be auctioned off and “purchased” by ladies for a date later on. (It was for a good cause so don’t judge). So, I’m back stage waiting for my time to shine and this young lady, who has just made her purchase, proceeds backstage to exchange information with this guy. I remember it like it was yesterday, time slowed down and it seemed like light mysteriously appeared and provided her with her own personal spotlight. We locked eyes and stared intensely until she disappeared through the corridors of the other room. Long story short, I don’t even remember the rest of the event, I only remember finding her afterwards and never letting go.
What were your wife’s feelings about living abroad?
I know I mentioned that I was a military brat earlier on, funny thing is, my wife was as well. She lived in Paris, France as well as Hawaii. So, when I mentioned that I might pursue teaching abroad she was all in! I must admit, it’s a true blessing to have someone on your team that supports and backs your ideas and aspirations. We discussed how much we loved the opportunities that we had been afforded as children and yearned to accomplish those same goals as adults.
How has living abroad impacted your marriage?
I feel that living abroad has enhanced our marriage significantly. In the States, time is not a luxury. We are chasing after one another and a certain way of life. We all have this picture of where we see ourselves with our loved ones and in the long run we end up sacrificing those precious moments of “time” for that idea. I was no different, working 12 and 13 hour days and picking up extra assignments on the weekend to have that “extra” cash flow. My wife and I were missing out on each other trying to live the American Dream. Fast forward to this past year over here in the UAE, we have spent more meaningful time together than ever before. Not to mention that we get to submerge ourselves into a new culture together. We have unplanned date nights and enjoy the backdrop of all that this country has to offer. Friday, in Abu Dhabi, is considered “Family Day,” meaning that this day is set aside for you to spend time with your marital partners and children. They recognize what it is you’re working so hard for and want you to be able to celebrate that part of your life. Back in the states this sentiment is overlooked in a drastic way and it leaves rifts in our relationships with our spouses. Living abroad has rejuvenated our love for one another as well as our fervor for life. Has this move presented some minor challenges? That goes without saying, but we handled them as a unit and allowed the growth between us to occur.
How do you both feel about living abroad? In your marriage and otherwise?
Living abroad as an adult is amazing! The time structure is set up to help you enjoy a better quality of life. Honestly, I work 6 hours a day and I’m home by 1pm daily. I can run errands, workout, hit the pool with my wife all before 5pm. Unimaginable back in the states. I have gained such a larger piece of mind since I have arrived in the UAE. I am able to focus on life plans and carry them out with like-minded people. Dreams of seeing the world are now at my fingertips. Dubai is less than 2 hours away and so many surrounding countries are within a 5 hour flight. My wife and I plan on going to Zanzibar in a couple of weeks just to enjoy the beaches. I would find it hard to attempt to plan, let alone find the time to visit an island off the coast of Africa if I were still in the States. Sky is the limit over here. I feel like the red tape that we all have to face back home does not exist abroad. The UAE consist of other nationalities from many countries, and we are very interested in one another’s back story versus disliking this person because they look a certain way. That’s a powerful notion to take part in. I feel liberated to be who it is that I want to be, free of ridicule, as well as learn how the rest of the world is working.
How does existing as a married couple differ living abroad than living in the states? (Are there restrictions or advantages you had in the states?)
I feel that marriage is more highly respected abroad than back in the states. And I’m going to speak from a perspective of being a man on this one. In the states, you have to worry about the next man disrespecting your marriage and/or your wife, even though they know that this indeed is your wife! I haven’t had to “check” anyone over here on that specific point. I introduce my wife and we’re both able to enjoy good company without the threat of someone overstepping bounds. Another added piece of mind. We get approached more often from other couples to join them on an excursion or over for dinner. There’s an appreciation factor about it that we didn’t experience in the states
Do you and your wife plan to raise a family abroad?
My wife and I do not have children yet, but we definitely plan on raising a family abroad. We are both products from abroad living and we like how we turned out. Open-minded, understanding, adaptable, and adventurous are some of the qualities that we would like to instill in our children. I feel like the better experience of the world that we can provide for them, the better chance they have of conquering it. We have many married friends with children that also live in the UAE and I love the pace at which their children are maturing. They will miss many pitfalls that we all know too well. The most important part for me is the time that I will have available to spend with my children. The vacations and mini trips that we all will enjoy together. That excites me to the greatest extent. I come from single parent home and I didn’t get to see my mother as often as I would have liked to. For obvious reasons she had to work longer and harder because of my absent father, but I know that feeling. I don’t want that to be a part of my children’s life. Living abroad will allow me to be an active parent along with my wife versus placing the total responsibility of raising the children all on her.
What are the foreseeable advantages and disadvantages of raising children abroad?
Advantages of raising children abroad consist of broadening their scope of the world instead of one country. I want them to be able to have a wealth of life experiences abroad so once adults they can make conscious decisions made on worldly foundations. Their education will be of an international program. As a teacher, I realize that we offer more than just subject content, so my children will be able to absorb knowledge from different regions of the world through their educators. Certain things are just done different here versus back in the states. Money, food, the focus of family and religion are ideals that I want them to comprehend on a different level from what I grew up with. I feel that exposing them to abroad living will set them up for success in whatever their future endeavors may be.
Disadvantages raising children abroad consists of the extra cost incurred with their education and overall care. They will have to attend private international schools which are a pretty penny. Average annual cost is $15,000 multiplied by however many children we’re blessed with. Back home we could lean on family members to help with certain duties of raising children, but living abroad that extension of family is very limited. So the services of a nanny will have to be sought after. From what I have researched, we will have to sponsor her visa, provide housing, and pay her a salary. Overall, a small hassle, but I feel that children are going to provide advantages and disadvantages anyway, so we just need to prepare to be flexible. The pros outweigh the cons in this situation and I’m looking forward to watching my children flourish abroad without any institutional obstructions.
What are your goals as a couple living abroad? How do they or do they not align with your goals of living abroad?
What lured me over initially was the salary package. I received a lofty raise, which is tax-free, living accommodations are paid for by the company, and paid round trip flights home for the summer. The cost of living anywhere in the States is expensive and we always felt as if we were playing catch up. So one of our major goals is to become more financially stable. $1 is roughly 4 dirhams, we’re not paying rent, and I’m making more, so this goal has become attainable at a high rate. The world has such beautiful treasures upon it and we want to visit new countries and experience them as much as possible. We plan on visiting at least 3 countries a year, but I strongly feel that number will increase once we start. As much as I love teaching, I don’t plan on doing this forever. My ultimate goal is to transition into owner instead of employee. With ample free time and doubled resources this will become a reality sooner than later.
Are there a lot of things for you to do as a married couple living abroad?
There are too many things to do as a married couple living abroad. Learning and viewing the nuances of our new surroundings captivated us in the beginning. The Grand Mosque and the Royal Palace are on a different level. The discovering of food from across the world is something we enjoy thoroughly. There are so many 5 star restaurants that are ran by foreign chefs. Not to mention the food truck revolution that has exploded on the scene over here. We had to intensify our workout routine because the food is so delicious and we enjoy visiting the beaches looking fit. Believe it or not, nightlife does exist on an elevated level here in the UAE. DJ’s over here spin better than most back in the states! Most weekends we’ll bounce around to two or three different night spots and enjoy the next more than the first. Finding different spots to “Brunch” has become a new delight for us. All you can eat and drink for 4 hours to the backdrop of urban music in the most decadent of locations is second to none. But for the daring, you can sky dive over the Atlantis Palm in Dubai, indoor rock climb at The Adventure Zone in Dubai, hit the slopes and ski at Emirates Mall in Dubai, and much more.
Is there a community of married couples abroad?
I love being out and about, mingling with new and like-minded people. There are many married couples in Abu Dhabi and we have tendencies to connect and enjoy one another’s company. The cool part about it is that we’re all from different countries! Comparing our experiences of married life is an eye awakening experience. Understanding that we all go through similar ups and downs during this journey is comforting. Sharing stories of how we met, how long we’ve been married, and how we deal with our struggles without judgement is refreshing. We usually meet up for dinner once a month with couples rotating hosting duties. We recently linked up for a desert safari included with dune bashing, camel riding, sand surfing, and belly dancers. Great experience to share with other great couples who are open-minded to explore life on another level.
How long do you and your wife plan to live abroad?
The environment is much safer over here along with the opportunity for upward mobility. Right now I have a three-year contract and I plan on signing another one for two years. To be honest, I don’t see us leaving anytime soon. I want to give our future children an opportunity to experience what we have been enjoying.
Do you plan to live anywhere else besides your current location?
We do eventually plan on living in other countries. Spain, Dominican Republic, South America, and Japan are all on the itinerary. Now that we have got the ball rolling with living abroad I don’t plan on stopping it anytime soon. It’s an amazing experience to take part in if you haven’t lived in any other countries yet.
Anything else you want us to know?
If you are considering making the move with your significant other I suggest that you keep an open mind to change. Things are culturally different so you will be somewhat jolted, but the upside to your ultimate experience is second to none. I look forward to seeing soon.
Carl!! This interview continues to have me beaming! I love seeing couples thriving and continually falling in love with one another. I appreciate your detailed openness for this interview. You not only gave me a new perspective on married life abroad but you gave me some knowledge and new thinking points for my own relationship . I love, love, love this feature. Thank you again and a million times more. I wish you and your wife the best during your stay here in the UAE and I pray much success on your future endeavors.
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