Photo Credit: TN
Children’s Book Author, J. Lee Shares How He Moved to Dubai Before Ever Even Visiting
Before ever even visiting Dubai, or anywhere in the United Arab Emirates, J. Lee accepted a job offer and moved to the country under a teaching contract. Lee had never even stepped foot outside of the United States when he took this job.
Currently, on his sixth year of teaching there, Lee has now been traveling to other countries for the same amount of time. Realizing travel was something not many of the kids he taught back home had ever done, he wrote a kid’s book all about his travel.
He plans on staying in UAE and traveling even more over the next years. And, he plans on writing a book for each country he visits. Catch up with J. Lee on Instagram and pick up a copy of his book, Junior’s Adventures, online too.
TN: Hey, J. Lee! Where are you calling from today?
J. Lee: Hey! I’m in Dubai.
TN: Is it true that it takes a lot of money to live in, or even visit, Dubai?
JL: I am actually not in Dubai, I am in a city outside of Dubai. I am like forty – five minutes away from Dubai. It’s a quiet place, very inexpensive to live in. It gets me away from the city life. I think that you can have an awesome time in Dubai and not break the bank.
TN: How did you visit Dubai for the first time?
JL: Moving here was my first time coming here. I did not know anything about this place prior to coming here. Now, I don’t think I could move anywhere else blindly like that.
You hear things about Dubai, that it’s this grand, expensive place. When you think of Dubai, you think about money. There was a little apprehension in moving here but I thought… Well, I could always move back home.
When I graduated from college, I applied everywhere and I got an interview for a teaching position abroad. But, when they saw I was a business teacher they were like, ‘oh no, we are just looking for English teachers.’
I was in Jackson, Mississippi and I ended up moving to ATL for work. I got an email that said, ‘would you move to Dubai for this amount of money?’ I was like, yes! I had already submitted my resume for the position, so I just had to click a button. I had a phone interview right after.
In the back of my mind, I’m thinking I’m not going to get this, I’m not going to get this job. They scheduled me for an in-person interview. The next week I got an email that was like you’ve been hired, here’s your contract.
At that point, I was like can I do this? My friends were supportive, but my family was not. At that time I didn’t even have a passport. I had to get my passport after I got the job. I literally signed my contract and applied for a passport.
I’m a true believer of not having regrets and I just stepped out on faith. Oddly enough, the way my life was going everything lined up perfectly. My lease was ending. I graduated one week and the next week I was on a plane to Dubai.
I was nervous. I was scared as hell. It was definitely a faith walk. I was on a two-year contract. I got out here and liked it… so much better. I liked it SO much better.
It was during election time when all of this was going on. I jokingly told my friends, if he wins, I am just going to move out of the country. I have literally not been in the states since Obama was president.
TN: Wow, that was over 5 years ago. What do you do in Dubai now? Are you still teaching?
JL: I still teach abroad. I am on my third teaching contract. I am going into my sixth year of teaching now. It’s been a journey and I think I’ve grown tremendously.
TN: What do you love most about Dubai?
JL: Dubai is like a hub. There are people here from every country. Places I’ve never even heard of before. I think I’ve grown as a person, just by learning about different people’s cultures, different views and a different way of life. When you live in the states, that’s all you know. There are alternative ways to do things.
TN: Has your family been able to come see you?
JL: I’ve been here by myself. When I first came, I thought, I’m too old, how am I going to make friends? It was so easy, we are all expats. We have developed a close knit friendship, I organize Friendsgiving every year since I got here. We have game nights, dinners. We are a family since we are all away from home. When It’s someone’s birthday, we celebrate birthdays real big.
Outside of my Mom, who’s 80, everyone has come to visit. My older sister came for her birthday. My cousin and a lot of my close friends have come. They all want to come back.
It has that side. That fun fancy side, that over the top fabulous lifestyle type vibe. It’s a family oriented country. Very big on family. A lot of the locals have large families.
You know how our family pushes us out at 18? They don’t do that here. They stay home and have their wives move in. A lot of people don’t want to live alone, they want to be together.
TN: Where was the first place you’d ever traveled?
JL: I’d never traveled outside of the country before this. I traveled all throughout the U.S. I wanted to, but I was a teacher. Now that I’ve learned how to really travel, I know it isn’t as expensive as I thought it was.
What is your favorite thing about living in the UAE?
I like the convenience. Everything is very convenient. Things are cheaper here. I would never have my sheets dry cleaned and pressed. I never knew what I was missing. To lay down on freshly ironed sheets?
The other thing I like about this country is the safety aspect of it. The police are here to help you. The police don’t really pull you over. They help change tires. You only really go to them if you have a major problem.
As a black male, I do not worry about being pulled over by the police. Safety is a big thing here. It is one of the safest cities in the world. People go to bed with their doors unlocked. I can leave my car running at the gas station and it’s going to be there when I get back. I lost my wallet and it was returned to me. I left my wallet at a bar once and it was there the next day, no charges, no problems.
Brunch is a very big thing here. Brunches happen on Saturday. Saturday’s are our brunch days. It isn’t your bottomless mimosa lunch, it’s a really big deal for brunch. You can have a really good time in Dubai.
TN: What is the homeless situation like in the UAE?
JL: Homelessness. There’s no homelessness here. You have to have a job to live here. You can come visit for 30 days without having a visa. Some people come here for 30 days to get a job which they can get a work visa and then stay. But, yes you have to have a job.
TN: How did you end up on Instagram?
JL: When I moved here, it made traveling easier and definitely cheaper. So, I started traveling and posting. I learned about the best ways of making my content, or creating content. I would prefer to have those memories that I can save as photos to see where I have been. I just started posting and people started liking it. What better way to capture a moment than to take a photo?
TN: Got any hot tips for Instagram engagement and growing a following?
JL: Things that you are interested in make people follow. I’m kind of private, but people do like sharing a lot about themselves. I didn’t realize the things I was posting was motivating people until they started telling me that. I met someone the other day who actually told me they love my IG. I was surprised.
TN: Tell me about your book, Junior’s Adventures.
JL: It was an idea I had been sleeping on for a while. Finally, after speaking with a friend who told me I need to be doing more. It’s amazing how people see things you don’t see in yourself. As an educator, I know how important exposure is for kids. I did extra things for these kids to gain exposure, some of the kids I taught had never even left their side of town.
I created it so that kids can know there are places they can go that are outside of their area. I wanted to create something so that kids could learn about travel. The book is about my travel experience. It’s about Junior, which is what my family calls me.
I was one of those kids whose parents couldn’t afford to travel extensively. It’s different to get that first hand experience, it’s not the same. I saw maps as a kid, but I didn’t realize where things were. Each country I visit, I think I’m going to write a different book. Our inner-city kids need to be exposed to travel.