Expat Stories – Esra Kocak
February 2020   EXPAT STORIES

Expat Stories – Esra Kocak

Esra Kocak is the Marketing Lead for Cigna Insurance Middle East. Esra is from Turkey but now lives in Dubai.
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This is her expat story.

Tell us about your expat move.

I’m from Istanbul in Turkey but I’ve been through a few different expat moves in my life. I’ve had the chance to live in the U.S., Ireland and the UAE for almost 15years. I’ve got two Master’s degrees in Marketing, including an MBA in Marketing (UMASS, USA) and a MSc. in Digital Marketing Strategy (Trinity College, Ireland), both with scholarship.

I like to call both Dublin and Dubai my second homes (laughs). I’m still in touch with a lot of my Irish friends, and I’m planning to go back there later this year for a friend’s wedding. I really loved how nice the people were in Ireland. Ireland is a very friendly place and the people there are just so generous.

In Dubai, I’ve been here for over 10 years now and I absolutely love it!

What have been some of your highlights of your time in Dubai?

Being an expat gives you access to such a diverse environment. Especially here in Dubai, it is such an exciting place to be.

This is a real highlight for me and I think it is truly amazing to get to work with so many different people from so many different backgrounds. I feel like I can now sit down at any table with absolutely anyone and have a story to share.

What did you find were the best ways of making friends as an expat abroad?

I found the easiest ways of making friends abroad were:

  • Where I work – Interacting with my colleagues as potential friend
  • Social clubs – This includes a hiking club, ballroom dancing club, wine club
  • Sports clubs – This includes going to the gym and also a golf club
  • Networking events – Attending many different networking events

What have been some of the biggest highlights from your expat journey so far?

I would say that I’ve had two expat journeys so I will give my highlights of both. For my time in Ireland, one of my highlights of living there was how much it taught me the joy of simplicity. Living in Ireland also gave me a much greater appreciation of nature.

I really enjoyed my quiet walks through St. Stephen’s Green and exploring the beautiful Irish surroundings of mountains, cliffs and beaches. I miss the culture in Ireland and visiting places like the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre in Dublin is one of my fondest memories of my time there. It always had great events and exciting shows. I even learned the Irish language after spending 6 months doing lessons. I really enjoyed watching the famous Irish sport, hurling. I also fell in love with the delicious Irish soda bread (laughs).

For my time in Dubai, I would say my highlight has been becoming a world citizen and pushing my limits and mind constantly. I love the Dubai feeling of being always on-the-go and always revamping yourself. I think it was my expat background that gave me the confidence and the drive to nominate myself for a scholarship 14 years after doing my first Master’s degree!

I would also say constantly learning from others and sharing knowledge and skills, making the best of your social time with the best activities. For me, these activities include dancing, playing golf, helping animals and attending cultural events.

What do you miss about your home country?

There are a number of things I love and miss about Turkey. Firstly, the art scene and cultural events are a big miss. There are lots of great concerts, exhibitions and things like that in my home town Istanbul. I also miss nature and going to the Bosphorus sea of Istanbul.

I used to take walks by that sea with my beagle Rudy and it seemed to have a different colour every day. The old ferries that went past there and the many seagulls above in the air were absolutely beautiful. I miss the historical heritage and culture that you can come across anytime, anywhere in Istanbul.  It is a beautiful city. I miss Turkish seafood and the vibrant life on the streets.

Last but certainly not least, I miss my parents and being spoiled by them!

What have been some of the biggest challenges so far?

None, I think you overcome all challenges and get to you realize your own strength!

How much do you enjoy your role in Cigna?

I love my role as a marketing lead here at Cigna as it allows me to work for different businesses (individual and corporate) and contribute to the business from a variety sub functions of marketing. These include brand management, digital marketing and strategy as well as transformational projects.

We have a fantastic team here and I get the opportunity to be involved in a lot of exciting projects. I also love the fact that I can interact, learn from and share knowledge and skills with so many international counterparts and stakeholders from all around the world, who are also very open to be approached and collaborate together. I really enjoy the Cigna Culture and I think it is a great place to work!

What advice would you give to those who are considering making an expat move?

I would tell people to be open minded, be ready to embrace the change, maybe be the change at times and also be ready to get pleasure from differences. I would also tell people to try and really embrace the culture and differences around you.

Here in the UAE, you quickly realize how many different cultures there are. You can really enjoy it by spending time with so many people. I’ve found that this really helps you to grow.

What would be the one piece of advice you wish you’d known before moving?

For living in Dubai: It will be hot!

For living in Dublin: There will be what the locals call “soft days”, which means it will be freezing cold.

Finally, how would you describe your expat journey in 10 words or less?

Daring, empowering and still learning!

To stay in touch with Esra, you can connect through LinkedIn.

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