Leaving behind their families and familiar environment, thousands of expat women move to Qatar each year with husbands or relatives who have found jobs here.
The transition is often difficult for many, Carole Astin, a British expat, was no different.
Speaking to Doha News, Astin said that when she first arrived in 2013, she battled depression and anxiety after packing her life up in Yorkshire.
But after realizing she might not be the only one in such a position, Astin started a Facebook page called Qatar Expat Women (QEW) to help other women settle into Doha life.
“By acknowledging this transformation and embracing it, we empower ourselves to move forward with confidence. This is exactly what I did – I changed my mindset,” Astin said.
The goal of the group, which now has 9,000 followers on Facebook, is to bring women out of isolation at home and into a community of supportive friends.
Forming relationships with others in the same boat could help them avoid falling into depression and keep them from losing their confidence, Astin said.
Clare Jerdan, an Australian expat who moved here eight months ago, said QEW really helped her adjust to life in Qatar.
“In my country, I was defined by what I did. The transition to just being me as a human being (to) a trailing spouse was very confronting. I scrambled around trying to connect with all sorts of groups, ladies, professionals. I felt completely lost and exposed.”
However, the “change of perspective” that came with being a part of the group helped make this transition easier for her.
QEW holds regular events, including meals, water sport activities, desert trips and more.
These activities also aim to help women better understand how to respect and embrace local culture, Astin said.
One of the ways the group does this is to bring together Qataris and expats to share experiences.
For instance, QEW often partners with Embrace Doha on events centered around Qatari food and culture.
“We can truly embrace the world here if you are proactive and get yourself out there. We live peacefully in a multicultural country and I believe that’s something to be really proud of in these times of great hardship around the world.”
Breaking down barriers
Noticing people’s tendency to group with others like themselves, Astin said people often just need a push to learn about new cultures.
Whether it is being forced to sit next to a complete stranger at dinner or attend talks by people from different countries, QEW urges its members to leave their comfort zones.
Any woman is welcome to join QEW, not just new expats.
Neeraja Sigatapu, an Indian national who has lived in Qatar for 20 years, also recently become involved with the group.
She said losing many friends due to the high expat turnover here pushed her to seek out new social groups.
Of the circles she is in, Sigatapu said that QEW was special for its multicultural and welcoming atmosphere.
“Ladies who are new to Doha can get all the support and make friends. It will help them to overcome issues related to being new in a place away from home.”