John and Kanika Lewis decided to pack up their family and relocate halfway across the world in 2014. The Atlanta couple along with their two children, 10 duffle bags, and their nephew made the move to Abu Dhabi where they currently reside.

John works as an assistant principal and Kanika is a registered nurse. We spoke with them about their life abroad.

TN: What led you to move your family across the world?

John: One night, while talking about our final choices, the job market, tax rates and schools, I asked Dallas (our son) where he wanted to move. Without hesitation, he said he wanted to go to China. When asked why he chose China, he said, “We don’t know what they do on that side of the world.” We couldn’t argue with the logic. We didn’t know what they did on the other side of the world, so why not go and find out?

TN: Why did you all decide on the UAE?

John: I applied to a few places, but the UAE was the easiest choice. We had a friend that worked in the UAE the previous year so from his accounts, we knew what the transition would be like and there was a lot less of a culture shock for us.

Photo courtesy of John Lewis
TN: How did you all prepare for such a big move?

John: We purged 80 percent of our belongings, kept our house and Kanika’s brother agreed to live there and maintain the house for the two years I was contracted to work abroad. We kept all of our bank accounts and credit cards open, and put our cars in storage at a friend’s house.

Though Kanika and I talked about the move often, when I got the email that I was hired, she didn’t speak the whole morning. I have always moved around, but she hadn’t. Although it sounded exciting at the time, the actual moment that she realized we were moving our children away from family and friends to the other side of the world, she was overwhelmed. The U.S. media gives us one picture of the Middle East that sparks a lot of fear, so her parents and a number of our friends were not on board.

Photo courtesy of John Lewis
TN: How are you able to educate your children abroad?

John: Our plan was for Kanika to homeschool the kids for the first two years and begin working after. We felt this was a perfect time because we had noticed some learning gaps from their previous schools. Our nephew eventually returned home and at the start of our third year, we enrolled our children into an American private school. They love going to school every day. As parents, we are satisfied with the quality of education.

Photo courtesy of John Lewis
TN: How easy or hard is it to maintain a nice lifestyle abroad?

John: Maintaining life abroad hasn’t been too difficult. That first year, we transferred money to U.S. accounts to pay bills there and used the rest to live, pay bills here, and travel. My contract pays for our flight here and our return flight after service, housing and health insurance, so that takes away a lot of the headache. Teachers get yearly flight allowances to visit home. Doctor appointment copays and medications are inexpensive. The price of food isn’t much different from home either except the produce can be much cheaper because they get shipments from many other countries that are just as good, if not better.

After our first year, we got rid of the house and the cars did another purge and split the rest of our things between bags to fly back to the UAE and a 5×5 storage unit. Now our money is focused on what we need here.

Photo courtesy of John Lewis

Related: The Black Expat Couple: It’s Us Against The World’ 

TN: Do you plan to move back home?

John: We do not see ourselves moving back to America any time soon. It wouldn’t make sense financially for our family, education-wise for our kids, or just in regards to quality of life for all of us. Here, when our workday ends, it ends. We date, have dinner together, attend our kids’ functions together. We came here with expectations of how this move could change the financial position of our family and allow us a few vacations here and there. Instead, we got the “American Dream” they told us we could get in America, but never did. We don’t stress about a mortgage, getting expensive cars, how we’ll afford her yoga lessons, his STEAM program AND a quality education, saving for vacations or retirement, or when we can squeeze in time for us. Why would we go home?

TN: Where can we find you all on social media?

John: You can follow us at @lewisquadabroad on Instagram.