Stepping outside the comfort zone

On a few occasions I’ve had to step out of my own comfort zone whether it’s starting a new job, moving to a new place or meeting new people. Each small step has helped me take bigger steps along the way .

Eleven years ago on a warm September afternoon I sat in the back seat of my parents car, bags packed, thoughts racing through my head as we made the big trip. Above all there was a sense of excitement; young, innocent wonder, you could say, about the place I was going and the people I would meet. Part of me was anxious too. Though less so out of fear than simply anticipating the unknown. Growing up in a small coastal village, a couple of hours south of Dublin, I had attended a local primary school of about 100 students and a much bigger secondary school up in the mountains of Kilmacthomas.

Both places had, at one point, been my comfort zone. Somewhere I could feel relatively safe and happy and have my routine that I followed each day. Waterford City too as it was only a short drive away. I knew very little, however, about “the big shmoke,” as we say at home, and the new world that awaited of parties, alcohol, “bright lights” and more. Now, it seems like a ridiculous exaggeration, but to some extent that’s what it felt like at the time.


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So on this important day, not least because it was also All-Ireland football final day, we pulled up outside my lodgings at DCU, volume turned up, the commentator’s roar greeting each Kerry score with just as much enthusiasm and vigour as the one previous. And even still, as the Mayo supporters headed for the turnstiles with that familiar feeling that they would experience again. Whether the players were in a comfort zone or not that day, I didn’t have much choice. My new room (or bedsit) on college campus was about the width of a bicycle. It had a small wooden table and a bed which took up most of the space. Even on such a beautiful, bright day it was dark and glib inside, and under-whelming at best. But, for now, it was my home even if it didn’t much feel like it.



Fast forward four years and saying goodbye to the university was almost as difficult. My dingy room, which, I spent a year in, became my own small space that I liked and appreciated. There was my favourite desk on the second floor of the library, the one that always made me leave home just a few minutes earlier to make sure I got. The girls at the deli who always gave me a friendly smile when I ordered my regular chicken fillet roll at about the same time each day. And the familiar feeling of going to the shop or walking home from class and bumping into someone you know.

Becoming comfortable with Dublin undoubtedly made it easier for me to make that jump when I moved abroad to Boston for four months, which, helped again when I left for Korea a year later. Each small step outside my comfort zone made it easier to push the boundaries just that little bit further the next time.


Whether going to the other end of the world was brave or crazy might depend on your perspective. To some it may even be normal. Ultimately, we all have different boundaries and that’s fine. There’s nothing wrong with staying in your comfort zone if that’s what makes you happy and content. I don’t believe in change just for the sake of change. Sometimes, though, I do think it is necessary or at least worth the risk.

When I got on the plane for Abu Dhabi in March this year the feeling wasn’t too dissimilar to my first night in Dublin on my own. That sense of heading into the unknown. Thoughts and questions going through my head as I anticipated what awaited.

Now, three months later, what was new and strange at the beginning has become somewhat of a comfort zone too. I am still adapting, but I have my routine of getting up at the same time each day, getting a taxi to work, sitting at my same desk, going to the same classroom and having my nap or workout (or sometimes both) when I get home. It doesn’t mean I’m in love with the place but it does mean I’m content and secure.

There are still things I would love to experience, like scuba diving perhaps, but haven’t yet because I didn’t feel comfortable enough under water. Even driving over here would be out of my comfort zone at the beginning. I think some things are worth pushing the boundaries for, once more, and some things perhaps not. What are your boundaries, if any? Have you had to go outside your comfort zone? Was it worth it? One thing I can assure you is, I won’t be jumping out of planes anytime soon. Right now, I’ll leave that to all you crazy people out there. I’m quite happy where I am with my feet on the ground.

Small steps.

Last week, I received the earth shattering news that my mum drove in Dublin for the first time.

I await with patience her first plane trip too.

Now that will be the day.

Teaching in UAE: What happens when you arrive?

So you’ve finally been offered a job, you’ve got your visa and you’ve packed your bags. This is what you can expect when you arrive.

After the months and months of waiting when you finally touch down in UAE the first few weeks here can be a little hectic. Between finding accommodation, adjusting to a new place, new job and new people (oh, and not to mention the heat which hit me like a smack in the face on day one) there is a lot going on.

In the first few days especially there is a lot to do so I thought it might be useful to know what you can expect on your immediate arrival. So for those teaching in public school cycle three this is what will happen in your first couple of days.

On Arrival

When you land in Abu Dhabi (probably Saturday evening) and have collected your luggage, a man holding a sign with your name on it will be waiting outside with a mass of other people each holding placards too.  You will briefly meet any other teachers who were on your fight and then before you leave you will need to go to one of the phone stalls, DU or Etisilat, (right next to the exit I believe) to buy a sim card and some top up credit. Then you’ll be off to the Dusit Thani, about 20 minutes drive away, which is a huge glass tower, basically, but spacious and comfortable, and definitely one of the best hotels I’ve stayed in.



Day 1

The main thing you do on your first full day is the medical test and registration for Emirates ID at a medical centre nearby. It’s pretty standard really just some blood tests and x-rays, though, it could be quite busy so don’t be surprised if it takes a while.You will be expected to get up early and meet at the hotel lobby at around 8.30am where you will hand in your original passport and stamped entry visa for the Emirates ID application. Dress code is casual for the first day so there’s no need to bring out your flashy new suit just yet. Shorts and t-shirt will do just fine.

Hopefully you will have arrived early the previous night and slept well unlike one poor girl in my group who didn’t reach the hotel until after 3am that morning. Also, breakfast is a buffet and it’s free. So it’s not to be missed. Once the medical tests and registration are complete you’ll be back at the hotel for lunch (yes, more free food) before you check out and are taken to Dubai that afternoon. We were brought to the Roda Al Bustan hotel close to downtown Dubai and whilst it does not have the splendid decor of the Dusit Thani it is, again, a very nice place to stay and relax in.

Day 2

You will be picked up at 9am and brought to the Ministry of Education in Dubai. This is where you officially sign your contract and some other documents too. Most importantly you finally get to find out your location. Initially, I thought I had got Ajman (that was actually where induction would be) before I looked further down the sheet I had been given and realized Dubai would be my new home. It was a huge relief since it it was the only place in the UAE I had friends, the only place I really knew anything about and it meant I wasn’t going to be dropped off in some random place and left stranded in the middle of the desert. Anyway, once you get over the elation or disappointment of where you have been placed you will meet the various bank representatives and choose who you want to open an account with. After that it’s back to the hotel to get your bags again before the group splits up and you are whisked off to your new location.

In my case, I was brought to Dubai Wyndham Marina and as you can see from the video below stayed in quite a cool suite. I was more than happy to stay there for the following ten days (and I miss it actually!) while I sorted out accommodation and other things.


For the rest of the week a driver will pick you up at your new location and bring you to induction at a huge building in Ajman where you will learn a little bit about the country, its culture and what is expected of you in your new job.

Then you will have the weekend off to explore, chill at the pool, down a few cocktails or whatever else you are most in need of.

First day of work will begin Sunday morning. Maybe then you can crack out the shiny new suit.



Teaching at a Public School in UAE: A timeline of the application process

Ok! If there’s one piece of advice I can give to any of you before you apply to teach at a public school in the UAE, it is this: it takes time. You will be waiting months not weeks to get on that plane. So be prepared. Patience is most definitely a virtue in this game.

You will scream, you will cry, you will question yourself and your decisions, you will look for ways out, you will change your mind, maybe two or three times, maybe more, you will panic, and you will do it all over again.

I wanted to write a post on this as a lot of people have asked me about it since I came here. I know how it feels being left in the dark as you go through it from beginning to end. Not knowing if, or when, the departure date will ever arrive.  And I know a lot of you are in the same position now or may be in the same position sometime in the future.

So, I’ve decided to include a timeline of events from the moment I first applied. It’s something I wish I would have known when I started the whole process. Continue reading “Teaching at a Public School in UAE: A timeline of the application process”

Finding a Balance

After two months in Dubai adjusting to my new life, new job, new friends and new relationships it’s time to get the show back on the road again and get back into a regular training routine. As an expat not always the easiest thing to do.

It’s funny how mindsets can quickly change.

In the preceding few months before I came to Dubai, the part of the day which I gave most importance to was my daily workout, usually late morning, in the gym or at home. It was probably the most enjoyable part too. It was the only thing I had planned and the one thing I always knew with certainty I was going to do. Everything else fitted around it, or in some cases didn’t. But my training always got done.

I wasn’t doing much else at the time. I wasn’t working and had moved back home to Waterford to wait for my official teaching contract to come through. The wait was very similar to how I’ve felt anytime I’ve ever come across road works with those makeshift traffic lights that seem to stay red for an eternity. You get agitated and restless and just want to be let through. In this case, I had to wait for months not knowing when I would get the final go ahead. In the meantime, I just trained, ate well, and slept, a lot. Continue reading “Finding a Balance”

Managing Expectations

After almost two years of thinking and over-thinking about the future I’ve decided it’s time to start focusing on the present and stop weighing myself down with unmet expectations.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that much of the last two years before I moved to Dubai were spent going around in circles about the future, thinking, and over-thinking, about where I am in life, where I’m going and where I’m supposed to be in five, ten, twenty years’ time. It was the reason I left Korea, at 27, after three and a half wonderful years teaching there. To start making “life” decisions, build for the future, get on the so-called career ladder yada yada ya. Life was happening around me; people were getting engaged, building houses, getting jobs promotions and so on. All the normal things that one often aspires to. So it felt about time I considered my own future too.

Thinking and Over-thinking

Sometimes a thought or idea lasted a week, two weeks, maybe even a month. But always, at one point or another, I would conclude that I had more reasons to not do something, whether it was to pursue a career in teaching, move abroad again or something entirely different. With a background in journalism and three years travelling and teaching behind me, I was unsure where to go next. Thinking about it sometimes kept me awake at night and often I would spend hours at a time staring at my laptop, oblivious to the sights, smells and sounds around me, hoping some divine inspiration would magically jump out from the small screen in front of me. Continue reading “Managing Expectations”