The gates of Expo 2020 Dubai may finally have closed, but it does not mean curtains for many of the staff who worked in the pavilions, welcoming visitors and representing their home country at the world fair.
When the site closed on April 1, thousands of staff who manned the 192 country pavilions returned to their home countries.
Some will stay on for a few months to assist as much-loved pavilions are dismantled, per world fair guidelines.
But several have made plans to stay longer in Dubai – having found employment in the hospitality, entertainment and media sectors – and will soon take on new roles in the UAE.
A few will travel to explore the country’s rugged mountains and shaded wadis.
The Expo announced plans for the Dubai South site that will result in it being transformed into a futuristic city where offices, homes and entertainment areas will all be within a 15-minute walk.
The National speaks to three Expo country pavilion workers who explain why six-month plans turned into a longer commitment.
Laura Memoli, 25, is excited to start a new job with an event management company in a city she describes as safer than her native Hungary.
Part of the team at one of the most popular Expo pavilions, she says her customer-centric experience at the Hungary pavilion, and earlier with the Emirates airline pavilion, helped her land the job in Dubai.
“My new job is also about handling events and customer experience,” she said.
“Expo exceeded my expectations. It was even bigger than any of us thought it would be.
“I really like the atmosphere of this country. Hungary is safe but this place [Dubai] is even safer and as a woman that is important.”
The Hungarian citizen worked for Emirates in the Budapest office before moving to Dubai for Expo last year.
Ms Memoli’s family has visited her a few times during the Expo and they will return when she settles into her new role.
Some colleagues at the pavilion also found opportunities in the hospitality and food sector.
“This is the best time of our lives to travel and work,” she said.
“This city is full of opportunities, especially in events, hotels, hospitality.”
On her day off each week, Pauline Weis, 33, took on some of the UAE’s toughest trails or soaked up the sun on Dubai’s beaches.
Ms Weis, who was head of communication for the Luxembourg pavilion, has extended her stay post-Expo to further explore the UAE’s outdoors.
“When I had a day off, I went hiking, kayaking and climbing. There are so many things to discover in the UAE and I would feel sad to leave without seeing more.”
She has posted hiking photos from Ras Al Khaimah, Fujairah and Umm Al Quwain to thousands of followers on her travel blog paulinaontheroad.com and Instagram.
Having twice climbed the UAE’s most challenging path, Stairway to Heaven, Ms Weis described the 12-hour trek as “unlike any other” she had ever done.
She is on a mission to spread the word about the country’s outdoor attractions, views from rugged peaks, which she says are overshadowed by Dubai’s famous landmarks.
Ms Weis also wants to share her newfound passion for camping after her first night out under the stars in the RAK desert.
“I wanted to show that the UAE and Dubai is so much more than luxury and shopping,” she said.
“Before coming here, people told me it would be so artificial. I want to show how the UAE is an incredible place, especially if you like the outdoors. The local friends I made took me to all these beautiful places. I never did camping before and now I’m obsessed with it.”
The world fair gave her life lessons about connecting with people.
“The Expo has taught me that there are more things that unite us than separate us,” she said.
“Borders between cultures and languages vanish when you live and work so closely in a limited space. All those differences are not an obstacle any more; they become a reason to be curious, to connect, engage in a conversation.”
Images of the Expo posted on social media by Tony Choy, 31, earned him plenty of acclaim and several offers to work in the UAE.
The Suriname citizen worked as a videographer and photographer for the South American country’s pavilion.
When the Expo’s social media team spotted his content, it led to freelance opportunities that continue to flood his inbox.
From a close encounter with football legend Lionel Messi to capturing F1 champion Lewis Hamilton and filming Coldplay and Black Eyed Peas, Mr Choy has plans to carve out a career in Dubai.
“It has been huge for me. I got this amazing opportunity to film incredible artists and people that I would never have met back in my country,” he said.
“Once I was asked to film a VIP but I didn’t know who it was and I was shocked it was Lionel Messi.
“I filmed K-pop concerts, the Black Eyed Peas, DJ Marshmello, Hamilton and it kept rolling.”
Mr Choy will work as a freelancer, creating visual content for companies and connections he has made through the six-month world fair.
His last Expo post was of Reem Al Hashimy, Minister of State for International Co-operation and Expo’s director general, pushing open the enormous carbon fibre gates one final time on March 31.
He almost missed out on the opportunity in Dubai when Suriname organisers called about Expo last year.
“I hesitated. I knew Dubai only from what you see online – the big buildings, how it has the best and the biggest. I never ever expected this,” he said.
“I never really thought this would happen for me.”