College: Kings College in Wilkes-Barre, PA
Occupation: Communications and Marketing at the World Free Zones Organization
Current City: Dubai
“When I was here in the 1980s, I remember the desert,” says Tim Heath of Dubai. He has lived in the city on and off since his family’s first period of residence there when he was a young child, from 1981 to 1986. “We lived on the edge of town. We were a little bit beyond the school (then the Jumeirah American School), and beyond that was desert as far as you could see. It was like having the world’s largest sandbox in our backyard. There were camels walking around.”
Against this desert backdrop, Heath remembers going to the mountains with his family, camping, and spending a lot of time with the ASD community: trick-or-treating at Halloween, holiday parties, playing baseball on the school’s fields, and American football games every Thursday night.
Since Heath’s first years here, the city has changed enormously, and today, Heath, his wife Kristi, and their three children call the new Dubai home. Heath now works in marketing and communications for the World Free Zones Organization, founded in Dubai in 2014. His wife Kristi is a high school math teacher at American School of Dubai. Their three children are all students at ASD. While the family no longer sees camels right out their window on a regular basis, some of the same things Heath remembers about Dubai from his childhood still carry through.
Among his fondest memories his school years at ASD, Heath says, are playing baseball and soccer at school. Today, the Heaths’ two oldest children both play baseball for ASD like their dad did, but where Heath remembers smaller dirt fields on the old Jumeirah campus, ASD’s fields are state of the art, with a backdrop of the city and the Burj Khalifa. He and Kristi loves getting a hot dog or a burger, watching games there on the weekends, and taking in the views.
And while the family is constantly on the move with their children’s activities and their commitments to the ASD community, it’s still possible to go camping in much the same way Heath’s family did 40 years ago. “I’ve camped in a lot of different places but I find the desert just calming and peaceful. Every year, it gets pushed a little further away from the city, but there are still places within 45 minutes. We’re just so busy, life is ‘go, go, go,’ and it’s nice to get out in the desert when the wind dies down and it’s just silent and have nothing to do but tend to a fire.”
His family left when Heath was still in elementary school, but his father continued to work for the government of Dubai, and parents moved back in the late ‘90s, his older sister in 2000, and his youngest sister moved back and graduated from ASD in 2003.
“In 2001, I wanted to live overseas, get some international experience,” he recalls. “I came back to Dubai thinking I’d stay for maybe two years, no more than five, and after that, I’d move on, travel and see the world.” At that time, Dubai was changing and growing in ways the city could never have imagined: The Palm Islands, the Jumeirah Beach Residence neighborhood and other huge developments were all being announced, one after the next. “I think at that stage in my life, that kind of change was — and it still is — very exciting. I kept telling myself that if I was going to leave, I’d wait until at least the first Palm Island was finished. Then I wanted to see the Burj Khalifa finished. It was all those things, and it was just never-ending,” Heath says. His stay kept growing longer.
“I had a lot of friends, I had family here, then I met my wife, our three kids were all born here. The roots just keep getting deeper and deeper.”
In a past Dubai, Heath remembers the population being more transient, with expats passing through on contracts, people coming and going after just a couple years, as his family first did. Now, he says, families are staying for longer, making Dubai home. “Our friends are also having kids, settling in,” he says.
Part of the draw, he says, is the social fabric for expat families in Dubai. “We always say that living overseas, your friends become your family. We made such good, close friends in the first five years we lived here — people we’re still friends with today,” he says. While the city has changed, and the school is on a different, newer, and bigger campus than when Heath and his siblings were students. Forty years later, that close-knit community is still a central characteristic of ASD. “The community really spent a lot of time together at ASD. And we still do.”