The skyline of Manama, Bahrain. Image Credit: Getty Images

Manama: When American teacher Melinda heard that Bahrain was voted as the top destination for expatriates, she simply smiled.

“We already know it. It is an amazing place and we love it here,” she said. “We have teachers who did not want to go home and have spent decades in Bahrain.”

The Kingdom was given high marks by expats as a place to work and raise a family and for making foreigners feel welcome, an international survey said.

Nearly nine in 10 expats (87 per cent) said they are happy with their lives in Bahrain, a country that offers them everything they need, Expat Insider 2017 Survey Report said.

“More than 12,500 respondents representing 166 nationalities and living in 188 countries or territories answered our questions, providing unique insights into what it means to be an expat in 2017,” said Expat Insider, one of the largest surveys worldwide offering an in-depth analysis of expat life across the globe.

'Paradise Island'

Bulgarian Svetlana Prodanova, operations manager with a media company, has one major description for Bahrain: “The Paradise Island”.

“When I think Bahrain, it is always the Paradise Island,” she said.

“After 17 years in Bahrain, I feel Bahrain is my second home. As strange as it may sound, I love the weather in Bahrain; with its sunshine, easy-going, kind, and welcoming people, Bahrain is the place where my heart will remain forever. Bahrain changes you. It makes you a better person, more calm and tolerant — because that is the character of the people.”

Canadian-born Dr. Amy J. Bowzaylo, Clinical Director and CEO of InTouch Clinic, said she was thrilled about living in Bahrain, her “home away from home.”

“Having lived 10 years in Saudi and now seven in Bahrain and opened a business here, I can say, without a doubt, I have absolutely no regrets about moving to Bahrain,” she said.

Born and raised in Athabasca, Alberta, Canada, she worked in San Francisco and San Jose, went to Australia for one year and to Saudi Arabia before heading to Bahrain.

As a large percentage of her patient base in Saudi Arabia came from Bahrain, she decided to move to Bahrain and provide Chiropractic here.

“In Bahrain, you have the option of a fast-paced or laid back lifestyle. Bahrainis are a well-travelled, cosmopolitan bunch and expats are welcomed. It is inexpensive, relative to other Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, and it is a great base to explore Europe and the Far East from. Most definitely my home away from home!”

Madeleine Whyte Doporto said that in the case of Bahrain, small is beautiful.” “Everything needed for a very comfortable and convenient life is generally only a short drive away - schools, shopping malls, world class hotels and restaurants, office buildings, medical facilities, salons, gyms and your friends’ homes,” she said.

Most important, Bahrainis are the most welcoming and tolerant race of people, she added.

“They accommodate and cater to all the religions, cultures and cuisines that come hand in hand with the vast numbers of expatriates who come from all areas of the planet.

In spite of the heat it is a very chilled place and it is very easy to get used to blue skies and sunshine almost every day of the year. It is a true testament to Bahrain that tens of thousands of people who came to work for a year or two can be found decades later, with many families that are second and third generations to make the Island their home.”

When Abdul Latheef Yusuf first arrived from his native village Thazhe Chovva in the southern Indian state of Kerala to Bahrain in 1994, he had plans to stay for only five years.

He felt blessed to be living near Muzhappilangad and its amazing beaches and evergreen trees in Kannur and said he would stay on the Gulf for some time to make some money then come home to get married.

Yet, six months into his contract, he decided he would do his best to extend his stay for as long as he could.

Today, 23 years later, he is happy he made the right decision by staying in Bahrain.

“After I witnessed the warmth of the people and the friendliness they displayed towards all, I felt I could ease myself into the culture and be integrated in the society,” he said.

“I have been fortunate to be working with people who appreciate me for who I am. They have no prejudice against Indians or foreigners in general. The feeling of being accepted despite my cultural, linguistic and physical characteristics is truly elating.”

Abdul Latheef, 52, said that he did miss his three daughters and one son, aged seven to 17, who were staying in India with his wife.

“One of the greatest merits here is the ability to communicate with them on social media. I communicate with them often and we get to see one another as we talk. We have come a long way since the days of the telephone and its high costs.”

He added that he did not think of leaving Bahrain for another country.

“I am really well-settled here, and I do not want to give up my way of life, even if there are more lucrative offers. At my age, I have learned that you should never try to exchange happiness for something else, no matter how attractive it may seem.”

For Idris, a Sudanese translator who has been in Bahrain since 1994, the kingdom richly deserved to be applauded.

“I would vote for Bahrain at any time. This is a country where I have been able to make many more friends and acquaintances than in my own country,” he said.

“Bahrain’s expat-friendly and stable business environment is suitable for an expatriate and that is truly remarkable. Some of my children were born, brought up and educated here since free basic education was available for them in the kingdom’s public schools.”

When she came from Morocco to Bahrain in 2013, Kawthar wanted to “see the world” and enrich her existence with rewarding experiences.

She had an opening in Bahrain and when she was offered a position as a journalist, she did not hesitate.

“Going to the Arabian Gulf about which we have heard so much and working as a journalist in a different environment was a highly attractive opportunity and I did not want to miss it,” she said.

As a fluent speaker of Arabic, French and English, she was able to communicate with various sectors of society.

“The feeling of living amidst a truly international community is really great,” she said.

“Bahrain is not just another country. It is a melting pot for so many cultures and civilisations. What is truly remarkable is that Bahrain itself has a rich history of civilisations and thus an impressive legacy.

"There are no complexes and Bahrain does not have to prove anything to anyone. In fact, Bahrainis are so accommodating that they encourage people to relax, settle in smoothly and come forth to enrich life in the island kingdom.”

She said several diplomats were upset at the end of their tenure in Bahrain because they would miss the easy life and smooth communication with a vast array of people from all cultures.

“For all the time I have spent here, I have never been bothered by anyone or ignored because I am not Bahraini. There is no invisible wall that separates nationalities or communities, and that is such a great feeling.”

Sandeep, another said he arrived in Bahrain 18 months ago on a contract as a driver.

“I was afraid I was going to suffer a cultural onslaught from a region that was new to me,” he said. “However, within weeks, I truly felt at ease. I did not feel the pressure I had expected in dealing with people. There was a lot of work, but it was not a serious problem. Outside work, I mind my own business and that means I do not have problems. I do not feel that Bahrainis are abusive or oppressive. They do not mind mixing with foreigners and communicating with them.”