Baku – Living and Leaving

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FROM AN EXPAT POINT OF VIEW

BY GEMMA BIANCHI SLATER

AZERI OBSERVER EDITOR

It is not unusual for an expat living abroad to leave the country a few times during the year, to return to their home country to catch up with parents, siblings, best friends, etc, – or even take a holiday to an altogether different location, just to escape for a week or two. In fact, it is positively encouraged; particularly by your company who are paying for you to work internationally.

When you’re living away from your own culture and customs, without the ability to speak the language fluently to communicate yourself properly, living abroad can be incredibly frustrating and stressful. You face the possibility of burnout or ‘work fatigue’ as it is also known. Or maybe you’re just home-sick and need to see your family for your own personal well-being; or god forbid, a sick relative that you absolutely need to visit, for their sake as well as your own.

Taking this time out gives you a chance to recalibrate your senses, re-set your thought processes or just give yourself an overall change of perspective. Especially if you’re having a tough time at work or are feeling anxious with the frustrations of being away from home. Let’s face it; we all need to give ourselves a break every now and then.

International relocation can be a huge source of stress, especially for families, arguing the most common reason for failed expatriate assignments is spousal maladjustment. Expatriate briefings inform the future expatriates – and preferably their spouses too – about the new country, its geography, history, customs, hygiene, dos and don’ts, what to bring.  In short, how to live.

What is interesting (and not many people realise this) is that there are actually several stages to your mind process when you live away from home. For example, the typical transition the expat experiences can be demonstrated by the change curve of transition theory.  It outlines the depth of change between the initial ‘honeymoon stage’, by way of fascination towards the host country, usually lasting up to 2-3 months.  The culture shock stage typically occurs once the company has ‘neglected’ the family and it is at this stage comes the realisation they feel ‘on their own’.  In consequence, emotions such as frustration, confusion and unhappiness can arise within the expatriate and also, their children. 

The adjustment stage often begins after about 6-9 months where the new behaviours, norms and cultures slowly become acknowledged and hopefully adjusted to. Finally, the mastery stage occurs after the individual has more fully adjusted to the changes and can begin working and behaving ‘normally and effectively’. Another way of calling it, is going native.

And believe it or not, I think that’s what happened to me. After living in Azerbaijan for almost eight years, there is no desire for me to move back to the UK because I’ve made Baku my home. I love it. Whenever I’m away on one of these family visits, I can’t help but think of returning.

I love the friendliness of the people, I love my apartment in Ganjlik with the balcony view of the University Sport’s stadium and the President’s residence; especially the most beautiful and vivid sunsets I would revel in each evening. I love the ease and accessibility of the city; the Bolt taxi drivers who always try to practice their English with me, the hot summer evenings walking around Fountain Square. I even miss the Wolt delivery drivers who get lost sometimes and my favourite meal (Bento box from Zakura with a Blue Bird cocktail!) is delayed. Speaking of food, you can’t beat the fresh, seasonal, organic produce for a fraction of the price back home, as well as the fresh crunchy tandir bread with the buttery pomidor yumurta from Mangal in the old city.  My mouth is watering as I write this!

I think of the history and beauty of this country, and am always dazzled by the historic Maiden’s Tower, the iconic Flame Towers (especially the undulating fire display), the majestic Bibi Haybat mosque and the idyllic panoramic shoreline of the Caspian Sea along the Bulvar.

Don’t get me wrong please, I love my family and friends and it gives me so much pleasure when I get to hug them. But I always, always look forward to returning and get so excited when I’m boarding the plane at London Heathrow, knowing that I’m on my way back to the Land of Fire, City of Winds.