When I announced to family and friends that I would be leaving Michigan to take up a position in Kuwait, I received responses ranging from astonishment to extreme alarm. Questions regarding the safety of Kuwait were probably the most prominent. It seems much of my family and friends mistake Kuwait for Iraq.
One relative in particular even remarked, upon hearing the news through the grapevine: “I heard you’re going to Baghdad or something.” Political and geographic misconceptions of some of my beloved family and friends aside (in fairness, many of them were in fact excited and extremely happy for me), Kuwait has turned out to be quite a pleasant surprise in many ways.
All it took was a few lifestyle adjustments to find myself comfortably settled. Pork and alcohol products are banned in Kuwait. So instead of bacon and eggs in the morning, it’s foul and manoushe (a type of breakfast pie). Instead of Budweiser, it’s strawberry juice. If I want to watch a baseball game, I usually have to wake up at 3am. With the moderate sacrifices, however, have come some invaluable rewards.
Prior to coming to Kuwait, I’d never lived abroad before. So to venture all the way to the other side of the world at a time when tensions between America and the Middle East run high was a daunting proposition. To date, however, it has been one of the most enlightening experiences of my life. I must admit that I had some misconceptions of my own about Arab and Muslim culture prior to moving here. They have all been dispelled by the generosity and kindness that I have encountered in Kuwait and the other Arabic nations I have had the fortune of visiting in recent years.
Security has been of virtually no concern. Theft is extremely rare. Violent crime is virtually unheard of. Only when traveling on the highways does one encounter any serious risk. Though it borders a country at war, the violence of Iraq is far removed from the serenity and calmness of Kuwait.
Professionally, I have grown leaps and bounds. I have benefited from a firm that has made available an array of resources that have helped me develop as an attorney. I have also had the privilege of working with a diverse spectrum of attorneys and staff, including Kuwaitis, Lebanese, Jordanians, Egyptians, Saudis, British, Australians and many more. They have all provided a unique perspective. The rare combination of professional and cultural experience that I have had here is something that can never be duplicated.
One of the most satisfying features of being in Kuwait, however, comes from the ease with which one can experience the greater Middle East and North Africa region as a whole. Kuwait is conveniently located such that travel to places like the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Lebanon, the Asian subcontinent and parts of Europe can be efficiently accomplished both in terms of cost and travel time. The opportunity to extensively travel a region that I never previously envisaged myself even stepping foot in perhaps has been the most fulfilling element of my experience here.
I do not know how much longer I will be here. It could be a couple years, several years or maybe even more. But I know as long as I am here it will feel like a second home and with the rapid development of telecommunications, living abroad is not as difficult as it used to be. Although hard economic times have surely made traveling more difficult, I hope more Americans will have the opportunity in the future to experience foreign places in person instead of being forced to rely on the media for their perceptions of the world outside of the United States.
By Aaron Dikos, a legal consultant in DLA Piper’s Kuwait office