Move toAbu Dhabi

Simon Johnson

Head of Cranleigh Arts Department, Senior School

Having a lot of sun really lifts the spirits. My children are very positive. In some ways, thinking about them going into teenage years, the positivity of them being out here will help them cope with stressful situations like GCSEs or A-Levels.

An opportunity to experience a new way of life is one of the biggest factors for any expat to make the big decision to move to Abu Dhabi. From the sun to the outdoor lifestyle, many take advantage of the superb weather and various facilities on offer.

For Simon Johnson and his family, they have swapped rainy Sundays in front of the TV in the UK for the pristine white beaches of Saadiyat Island.

“We are living in a perpetual summer. It's mild, Mediterranean like and then gets super-hot. We have more of an outdoor lifestyle. There are no Sunday afternoons where it's raining and all you do is watch TV. There are plenty of things to do.

“You can have a sedentary lifestyle if you choose to do so but most people here get out, go jogging, go dog-walking, run on the beach or join private member's clubs. That's where you meet people. The people I meet out here are adventurous, broad-minded, open, energetic, diligent and I think that rubs off on the expat society and as a result, my children meet a lot of children who are in that same mindset.”

“There is a strong community here. I feel I have to make an effort to meet people and go out and be part of that community and that's not a negative thing. I think for you as an individual, if you have to work at something, it is ultimately rewarding. I volunteer with the Environment Agency - Abu Dhabi so I am a part of the Saadiyat turtle patrols, checking the turtle nest environment on Saadiyat Beach. I could quite easily not do that but getting involved in that has really helped me meet new people.”

Simon and his family have been in the UAE for 14 years, such is their love of the country. But their length of stay is all the more remarkable when the initial intention was to come to work for two years in the UAE before heading back to the UK.

A teacher, Simon first encountered Abu Dhabi’s charm when he started to visit the city for some of its exciting events like the Womad Festival and the world-famous Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

“I started working in the UAE as a teacher but fell in love with Abu Dhabi when I first visited for the Womad festival as well as the Formula 1. So I began applying for jobs and in 2014, I was very lucky to get a teaching post at Cranleigh Abu Dhabi. I work 20 to 25 per cent harder here in Abu Dhabi than back in the UK but in many ways, that brings a huge amount of benefit. I meet more people, I have better work satisfaction and in terms of continual professional development, I've had more opportunities here than I would have back in the UK.”

Like most families moving abroad, obtaining a good education for the children is important when deciding on where to relocate. Abu Dhabi has some of the best performing schools in the region that offer curricula from all over the globe.

As a teacher himself, it is no surprise that there is a big emphasis on the standard of education for his children, however, another important factor for him is the cultural diversity that every student encounters when attending a school in Abu Dhabi. An aspect which Simon believes leads all students to become more understanding, more tolerant and better people.

“Having a lot of sun really lifts the spirits. My children are very positive. In some ways, thinking about them going into teenage years, the positivity of them being out here will help them cope with stressful situations like GCSEs or A-Levels. The education is good and there are many good schools in the region. The authorities here work very hard in inspecting schools and raising standards and there's a huge choice in comparison to what there was before.

“We have curricula from Indian, American, French, English, German, Filipino and more; we are really spoiled for choice. You can do A-Levels, IB, GCSEs, SATs, there's all sorts of qualifications you can do out in Abu Dhabi. The school at which my children now attend follows the UK curriculum but it has the added benefit of allowing students to start at foundation stage one and run all the way through to Year 13 when they will do their A-Levels.

“Another major benefit of the education here is how diverse the student population is. Having been through arts school myself, I mixed with an international crowd. I went to study at London Arts School and now I work with people from all over the world. For me, it's important for my children to come into that multicultural arena and meet people from all cultures. And as a result, my children's peer group is very diverse, energetic, ambitious and incredibly tolerant.”

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