I have held off on writing a post that focuses primarily on the negative aspects of being an expat in Kuwait because I haven’t wanted to shed an unfavourable light on the place I have called “home” for about two years. However, as a former ex-expat, I feel that people who are considering moving to the Gulf, and to Kuwait in particular, should be well-informed before making the decision of whether or not to relocate there.
I want to pre-empt this post by saying that in spite of what I write, I will be eternally grateful to both companies I worked for for the opportunities that they have given me. Although I would never recommend working at the uni to anyone, the second company I worked for is a corporation that is, albeit marginally at times, a better company to work for. If you are a qualified and experienced EFL instructor seeking employment in the Middle East, it's a very good place to start your journey.
I’m also extremely grateful that Kuwait has allowed me, as a foreigner, to earn an income that, in view of today’s global economic state, is difficult (and freakin’ impossible at times) to find/make in most countries—including mine: Canada and Japan (thank you taxes, the top 1% and wage inequality between men and women).
#1—Firstly, I’d like to state that Filipinos/as, Indians, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, Sri Lankans, Indonesians and Malaysians (amongst others) are treated despicably here; they are the bottom tier of a clear caste system based on ethnicity and salary. Coming from Canada where citizens are taught to respect and welcome diversity, seeing the abhorrent treatment of people every day left a very bad taste in my mouth.
The second tier of lower class citizens are other Arab nationalities and Muslims: Iraqis, Egyptians, Moroccans, Sudanese, Persians or Iranians (many of whom refuse to even identify themselves as Arabs), Jordanians, Syrians, Lebanese, Palestinians, Yemenis, etc. These nationals are never seen as equal to Kuwaitis. The next two tiers are almost equal. On one hand you have people from the Gulf States: Saudis, Qataris, Emiratis, Bahrainis and Omanis. On the other hand you have westerners, but specifically Caucasian westerners and even more specifically, the English/British and the Americans. Of course, the top tier is reserved for Kuwaitis. Now who buys into this hierarchy? Well, certainly many Kuwaitis do. By the way, the love/hate relationship between Kuwaitis and Saudis is similar to that of any two neighbouring countries.
What's worse is that I’ve witnessed expats here treat each other just as poorly as Kuwaitis treat them. Yay for perpetuating the cycle! For me, this obvious racism is the most repulsive and unattractive feature of Kuwait. I don’t know how to behave in this society: ignorant—the belief that I’m “better” than others here (but not always, of course! I DO look Filipino), or patronizing—this displayed in my attempt to sympathize and empathize with people who are lower in the social structure than I am.
#2—Secondly, I have no idea why Kuwaitis behave like this, but I feel like there is no pride when it comes to their country. People will go to the park and leave their rubbish on the ground for the garbage men to pick-up. Now, in all fairness, I’ve been told that Kuwaitis do this because they believe that they’re actions result in people having jobs. If you clean-up after yourself, then you won’t need a garbage man and you’re depriving someone of a job. Fair enough, but the irony is, as Kuwait Times (newspaper) frequently reminds me, according to many Kuwaitis expats are annoying, tolerated (only slightly) and most often, unwelcome. Only a bit of a contradiction there, eh? Where I come from, if you have pride in your country, then you show it by respecting the environment, the people, culture, traditions, laws, etc…Which many Kuwaitis don’t. Just look at the amount of traffic accidents, which brings me to my next point: the blame game.
#3—For some reason, almost ALL of the problems in Kuwait tend to be blamed on expats. The obscene amount of car accidents? Blame the expats. The reason money is not being re-invested in Kuwait’s economy? Expats aren’t re-investing it. The overcrowding? Too many expats. Corruption of the Kuwaiti (Islamic) culture? Expats. The illegal smuggling of foreigners into Kuwait? Well that has to be expats even though I don’t know a single expat who has the wasta (influence/power/connections with the government/police force/military/etc.) to smuggle in hundreds workers illegally, but hey, it must be our fault because we’re expats.
#4—That, interestingly, brings me to my next—and paradoxical—point: How can I invest??? When I first came to Kuwait in 2012, I was very enthusiastic about developing a community service program at the uni which was immediately squashed. I tried to get involved with charitable organizations here, but was discouraged. It was only when I was roaming around 360º Mall recently with the Georgian Lady that I encountered Kuwaitis who had developed organizations that supported the environment, community service and monetary donation. It was too late. I was already jaded and demotivated. I wanted to do good here and it was always unappreciated and rejected. I’ve heard that you can volunteer to do clean-ups around the country…Ummm, you mean clean the garbage that Kuwaitis throw on the ground instead of throwing into the waste bin??? Yeah…No. Expats can’t obtain property or ever get Kuwaiti citizenship. So, why should expats invest in a country that so clearly doesn’t offer any perks to people who would like to permanently settle there?
Want me to reinvest in Kuwait? Then Kuwait has to invest in me, too. What does that mean? Well, ironically, another complaint about expats is that they only come to Kuwait to make money and then leave. I would love to see the government invest in expats and then maybe expats would be motivated to invest in Kuwait (think Dubai, which to me is what Kuwait had the potential to be). Treat me like I’m no better than the garbage you throw on the ground (and I was made to feel like that a lot, especially because to many Arabs I look Filipino), and I’ll absolutely bypass any type of investment towards the betterment of the country.
#5—Lastly, Kuwait lacks a strong culture and therefore you will find it difficult to really embrace doing cultural activities. In addition, Kuwait is a very small country and there isn’t a lot to do. Yes, you can go to the Kuwait Towers, but if you’ve gone to the CN Tower (Toronto, Canada), the Sears Building (Chicago, USA) or even the Tokyo Tower (Tokyo, Japan), then this isn’t a thrill. Half the time it’s too dusty to see anything. The aquarium is a place where penguins have been described as depressed-looking. You don’t say. I’d be depressed if I was a penguin and I was captive in a country where summer temperatures can reach 50ºC (122ºF), too. Apparently there is a science centre, but I have been told it’s meant for kids, not adults (You can confirm this for me, folks). You can go to the National Museum, but—sadly—even the Lonely Planet doesn’t rate it highly:
LONELY PLANET REVIEW
Once the pride of Kuwait, the National Museum remains a shadow of its former self. The centrepiece of the museum, the Al-Sabah collection, was one of the most important collections of Islamic art in the world. During the Iraqi occupation, however, the exhibition halls were systematically looted, damaged or set fire to.
Of course, there were a lot of Kuwaitis I met who never behaved in the manner that I’ve discussed. They are brilliant, funny and liberal; they welcome the inevitable changes that are occurring and they were a breath of fresh air to me! They are happy to speak with expats and interact with them. To those amazing people, I thank you personally because you inspired me and made this experience a valuable one. I hope that those people succeed in making Kuwait a better country because it would be a shame if their efforts were for nothing.
I hope that if Kuwaitis ever want to travel to Canada and/or Japan that Canadians and/or the Japanese show them hospitality, kindness and acceptance. Mostly I hope that Kuwait continues to grow and develop in a positive manner.
1These are my opinions about the worst things about Kuwait. I know others complain about the lack of alcohol and no nightlife, etc., but these aren’t my major complaints.
2Please respect the country and protect yourself by doing your homework and reading up about Kuwait’s laws before moving and/or travelling there.