It's funny how life takes you on different twists and turns, many of them were never in the plan, or turned out like you expected.
For me, becoming an expat was one of those unexpected twists, and it definitely did not turn out the way I thought it would. As I'm sure I have said before, I have never had this burning desire to live overseas. I wasn't one of those people who was desperate to disappear on a gap year to Australia or the Far East.
Don't get me wrong, I love my holidays, but permanently immersing myself in another country, I'd never really wanted to. I was more than happy in the UK, and as I chose a career path which was only really applicable in the UK and a handful of other countries (in a previous life I was a lawyer), I hadn't really set myself up for a life abroad.
But Gary has always wanted to work overseas. He has made that more than clear from the moment we got together. We discussed it, and discussed it, and discussed it, but as time went on, it slipped further to the back of my mind.
Until the offer of a job in Qatar came through.
I'm usually a bit of a believer in fate, I believe that things seem to click together at the right time. If it feels right, it probably is. With the job in Qatar, it was fairly clear that things were clicking together.
We were only three months away from getting married (a prerequisite if I wanted to live with Gary in Qatar). We had already discussed starting a family soon after we were married (necessitating a career break for me). We had already started looking at houses, in readiness to move out of our apartment and start a new chapter.
We snuck off to Qatar for the weekend to investigate and we liked what we saw. It was obvious that there would be a culture difference, but English was commonly spoken and there was a large amount of expats living in Qatar, making the transition much smoother.
Then, less than nine months after we arrived in Qatar, a job came up in Dubai. I was pregnant and getting more and more so each day, and the clock was ticking as to whether we would even be able to get out of Qatar before it was too late for me to fly. I did not fancy an eight hour road trip through Saudi Arabia when nine months pregnant.
Again everything seemed to come together so that, in the nick of time, we moved to Dubai. In less than four weeks, we moved countries, found an apartment, found a hospital and had a baby.
Dubai has been the most amazing place for us to have started our family. We had the most amazing care from the hospital for both of our children, and we've had the most amazing opportunity to experience Dubai as a family.
We've made some amazing friends. Friends that have become family to me. Friends who all jumped up and offered to look after Miss S while I was in hospital having Mister L. Friends who would happily come over at the crack of dawn to look after the kids if I wasn't well enough.
There is something about being expats that has banded us all together. We have leaned on each other much more than we probably would have if we were in the UK with family close by. And that has been such a blessing, as it turns out.
One of the hardest things when you are an expat is not having family nearby who can just pop over. And yet my friends have more than made up for that by being so amazing. I feel like we've all changed and grown, but grown together, as our children have grown alongside us.
I'm not the person I was when I left the UK. Not only have I had the opportunity to meet the most amazing people, I've also had the chance to experience another amazing culture. I knew nothing of Islam before I left the UK (and I'm no whizz at it now!). I had no understanding of the religion, or it's people.
My understanding of Islam was limited to what was in the newspapers, along with some limited wider reading. I hadn't realised what a limited view that actually was until I lived in the Middle East. Living in a muslim country has given me a new appreciation for other people's religions, and how to respect those religions. It also gives you a hugely different view on the politics of the Middle East, and on the decisions that are made in rooms far away from here.
I am a much more worldly person that the one that left the UK four years ago. I feel like I have morphed and changed and expanded (metaphorically, thankfully not physically!). Seeing more of the world, and spending more than a week in one place, has changed my perspective on so many different things.
It has also taught me my own strength. It's taught me that I can move house, move country, move continents, without much chaos.
It's taught me that I can make friends, can build relationships and bonds with people, again and again and again. And that those friendships might just become some of the most important to me.
It's taught me that I can take care of two children while Gary works abroad, for weeks at a time. It has taught me that I can be patient and calm, when there are no reinforcements.
It's taught me that I can maintain and even improve relationships with friends and family that are still in the UK. That the miles between us really do mean nothing at all, as long as we love each other, and want to support each other.
It's taught me that I can watch friends leave, and smile even when I wanted to cry. To see the bigger picture for not only me, but for others. To see what is best, and to encourage and support their decisions, even if they aren't the decision I'd wish they'd make (for purely selfish reasons).
I love Dubai, but the time has come to leave it. To leave behind the place where we built our married life together. To leave the apartment that we brought our children home to. To leave the friends who have gotten me through the first tough years of motherhood.
As I look around me, I wonder how we will ever do it. To sell or pack up all of our worldly possessions (which have multiplied in four years), and ship them across two continents. I wonder how we'll ever settle into another life, a very different life than the one we are leaving behind.
I know that we can, and that we will. I know that it will be easy and hard in equal measure. I know I will grieve and rejoice in equal measure, as we begin our new lives. There are so many opportunities lost to us, but so many more that we will gain.
It's hard to leave when you aren't fed up of where you are, but then that's also exactly the time to go. Again it feels rather like fate has intervened, there were so many coincidences that happened as we walked towards this decision, towards the new job, new home, new life.
I will miss Dubai, and all of those amazing people we leave behind. But they have a very special, and very warm place, in my heart. Dubai has made me the person that I am today, and for that, I'm more grateful than I can possibly express.