Children’s book author J. Lee tells how he moved to Dubai before he even got there
Even before visiting Dubai or anywhere in the UAE, J. Lee accepted a job offer and moved to the country on a teaching contract. Lee had never even set foot outside the United States when he accepted the position.
Currently in his sixth year of teaching there, Lee has now traveled to other countries for the same amount of time. Realizing that traveling was something few of the children he taught at home had ever done, he wrote a children’s book about his journey.
He plans to stay in the UAE and travel even more over the next few years. And, he plans to write a book for each country he visits. Find J. Lee on Instagram and pick up a copy of his book, Junior’s Adventures, also online.
TN: Hey, J. Lee! Where are you calling from today?
J. Lee: Hey! I am in Dubai.
TN: Is it true that it takes a lot of money to live or even visit Dubai?
JL: I’m actually not in Dubai, I’m in a city outside of Dubai. I am forty-five minutes from Dubai. It is a quiet place, very cheap. It takes me away from city life. I think you can have an amazing time in Dubai without breaking the bank.
TN: How did you first visit Dubai?
JL: Moving here was my first time here. I didn’t know anything about this place before coming here. Now, I don’t think I could move somewhere else blindly like that.
You hear things about Dubai, that it’s a grand and expensive place. When you think of Dubai, you think of money. There was a bit of apprehension about moving here but I thought…well, I could always go home.
When I graduated from university, I applied everywhere and got an interview for a teaching job abroad. But, when they saw that I was a business professor, they were like, “Oh no, we’re just looking for English teachers.”
I was in Jackson, Mississippi and ended up moving to ATL for work. I received an email that said, ‘Would you travel to Dubai for this amount of money?’ I was like, yes! I had already submitted my resume for the position, so I only had to click a button. I had a phone interview right after.
Deep down inside I think I won’t get this, I won’t get this job. They scheduled me for an in-person interview. The following week I received an e-mail saying that you had been hired, here is your contract.
At that time I was like can I do this? My friends supported me, but not my family. 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 asked for a passport.
I am a true believer in having no regrets and I just took a step 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 walk of faith. I had a two-year contract. I got here and liked it…so much better. I liked it so much better.
It was election time when all this was happening. I jokingly told my friends, if he wins, I’ll just leave the country. I literally haven’t been to the United States since Obama became president.
TN: Wow, that was over 5 years ago. What are you doing in Dubai now? Are you still teaching?
JL: I still teach abroad. I am on my third teaching contract. I am now entering my sixth year of teaching. It’s been a journey and I think I’ve grown a lot.
TN: What do you like the most in Dubai?
JL: Dubai is like a hub. There are people here from all countries. Places I’ve never heard of before. I think I grew as a person just by learning about different people’s cultures, different points of view and a different way of life. When you live in the United States, that’s all you know. There are alternative ways of doing things.
TN: Has your family been able to come see you?
JL: I have been here by myself. When I arrived 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 friendship, I have organized Friendsgiving every year since I have been here. We have game nights, dinners. We are a family since we are all far from home. When it’s someone’s birthday, we celebrate birthdays in a big way.
Apart from my mother, who is 80 years old, everyone came to visit me. My older sister came for her birthday. My cousin and many of my close friends came. They all want to come back.
He has that side. That fun and whimsical side, that fabulous lifestyle vibe. It is a family oriented country. Very big on family. Many residents have large families.
You know how our family kicks us out at 18? They don’t do that here. They stay at home and move in their wives. Many people don’t want to live alone, they want to be together.
TN: Where was the first place you traveled to?
JL: I had never traveled outside the country before this. I traveled all over the United States, I wanted to, but I was a teacher. Now that I’ve learned to really travel, I know it’s not as expensive as I thought.
What is your favorite thing about life in the UAE?
I like the convenience. Everything is very convenient. Things are cheaper here. I would never have my sheets dry cleaned and ironed. I never knew what I was missing. Sleep on freshly ironed sheets?
The other thing I like about this country is its security side. The police are there to help you. The police don’t really arrest you. They help change tires. You only really go to them if you have a major problem.
As a black man, I don’t fear being arrested by the police. Security 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 will 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 charge, no problems.
Brunch is very important here. Brunches take place on Saturdays. Saturdays are our brunch days. It’s not your bottomless mimosa lunch, it’s a really big deal for brunch. You can have a great time in Dubai.
TN: What is the homeless situation in the United Arab Emirates?
JL: Roaming. There is no homelessness here. You have to have a job to live here. You can come and visit for 30 days without a visa. Some people come here for 30 days to find a job that they can get a work visa for 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 certainly cheaper. So I started traveling and posting. I learned the best ways to create my content or create content. I’d rather have those memories that I can save as photos to see where I’ve been. I just started posting and people started liking it. What better way to immortalize a moment than to take a photo?
TN: Do you have any tips for engaging on Instagram and growing an audience?
JL: The things you care about get people to follow. I’m a little private, but people like to share a lot about themselves. I didn’t realize that the things I posted motivated people until they started telling me. I met someone the other day who told me he loved 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 had to do more. It’s amazing how people see things that you don’t see in yourself. As an educator, I know how important exposure is for children. I did extra things to make these kids known, some of the kids I taught had never even left their side of town.
I created it so kids know there are places they can go outside of their area. I wanted to create something for children to learn to travel. The book is about my travel experience. It’s about Junior, that’s what my family calls me.
I was one of those kids whose parents couldn’t afford to travel a lot. It’s different to have that first-hand experience, it’s not the same thing. I saw maps when I was a kid, but I didn’t know where things were. Each country I visit, I think I will write a different book. Our inner city kids need to be exposed to travel.