This blog was written by our one and only, Wang (Nancy) Fang. A student from Rochester University and the current watermelon eating queen of American University of Sharjah
Freshmen Year All Over Again
In September, a group of American students flew from all over the US to the UAE in hopes of exploring the cultural richness the UAE has to offer. Either by pigeon, jetpack, or airplane, they all safely arrived at the UAE to be welcomed by the smoldering sun the Middle East has to offer. Although the heat took some getting used to, the sight of palm trees everywhere juxtaposed with the busy streets was a sight to behold. The first cultural shock we all experienced, or at least mine, was the fact that men held hands or linked their fingers together as a sign of friendship. Even after two months of being in the UAE, the sight still surprises me, but it also shows the closeness between males and the value they place on friendship.
Normally, orientation is just an introduction to student life, but at the American University of Sharjah, the International Exchange Office took us around Sharjah and Dubai throughout the first two weeks to help us navigate and understand life in the Emirates. Not only did we visit all of the museums in Sharjah and Dubai, we were also treated to a traditional Emirati breakfast. Seated around a spacious room decorated with patterned rugs and pillows, we all ate on the floor next to each other. Throughout our travels, I often saw families eating in a similar style, which I might even adapt back in the U.S, since it has the effect of bringing a group of people closer.
Not only did I encounter cultural shock, the cultural lock was also strong within the classrooms. Many of us could not figure out which direction the doors opened, myself included, and we struggled until we finally realized that only one door opened. I also had trouble with desks and I actually tried to crawl into one from underneath. Turns out, you had to lift up the desk on top of the chair in order to get in. However, now that I am more settled in, I am getting to know students from all over world, be it Emiratis, Egyptians, Syrians, Palestinians, Pakistanis, and even expats.
Suzy Sikorski, Aspiring Gallery Owner from Fordham University, stated:
“Embarking on a year-long journey halfway across the world comes with its upsets, excitements and fears. My family has little knowledge of Middle Eastern culture—it’s language, food, religion, or literature. I chose to enroll in CIEE’s AUS program to build a cultural dialogue between the West and the Middle East. I hope to act as a liaison between my family and friends back at home, with the people I meet here. I am happy to be a part of the CIEE program. Within the IXO students, CIEE offers a smaller close knit group of people I can travel and feel comfortable with. Abu Bakr has really taken the time to understand each student and is so passionate in showing us his customs. He always comments on my love for art, and had even included traveling to art gallery exhibitions in a scavenger hunt around Dubai. I was also able to see much Omani art when we traveled to Oman. This was a perfect weekend to become closer with the group. I feel the level of comfort I received in CIEE has helped me find my own opportunities in the UAE. My passions for Art History and International Relations have led me towards a career choice of working in the art business in the Middle East. I am currently interning at Ayyam Gallery in Dubai during the week, where I work with artists and help write publications for upcoming exhibitions and artist bios. I am also able to have the opportunity to work with a NYC Middle Eastern art gallery at Art Abu Dhabi in November. CIEE has provided an engaging atmosphere for a perfect transition from NYC to the UAE. As all things will come to an end in January, I do feel this is just the beginning of my future spent in the UAE!”
The Fated Goat Encounter
Led by Abu Bakr, we went on our adventurous expedition into the land of Oman, where we encountered deadly goats, easily annoyed cattle, terrifying heights, and spooky castles. In true Arab style, we rented a van and proceeded to fall asleep on it instead singing and playing guitar like Abu Bakr had expected. Oh boy, we did not disappoint him the next day though, not only did we encounter mountain goats that needed to be fed decades ago, I also had the opportunity to sit on goat poop. We also visited Nizwa Fort, and I was impressed by the simple architecture outside, and how it contrasted with the intricate designs on the inside.
Mikaela Boston, Taekwondo Expert from University of Minnesota, stated:
“As crazy as this first month in Sharjah has been, one of the most fun, incredible events we have done was a weekend trip to Oman. The timing of the event was perfect in that people were finally settled in to the life here so we could really enjoy the time away and the sights without feeling quite as overwhelmed as we were during orientation, plus it was really nice to be outside of a city again.
My favorite part was going up to Jabel Shams to see the grand canyon of Oman. The view was spectacular and the being outside and away from city life was fantastic. It was refreshing in its own way and very different than any of the other experiences I have had since coming here. In stark contrast to the mountain was the Grand Mosque we visited later on. The mosque is very beautiful with the different textures and feelings displayed in the architecture. The warmth of the wood combined with the bright white marble, vibrant mosaics, and huge crystal chandelier give the mosque an elegance beyond anything I have ever seen before. The mountain and canyon had a natural splendor, but this mosque was pure artistic brilliance.”
We learned the true meaning of what happens in Oman stays in Oman, and in our case, my memory of toilet-paperless bathrooms shall remain with Oman. All jokes aside, Oman’s abundance of fresh produce and significant historical landmarks painted Oman as a very lively country.
“What’s a salad?”
Something that I am extremely grateful for is the presence of dates, nuts, and exotic products that I have never seen before. As a New Yorker, I have seen my fair share of imported products from other countries, but UAE continues to amaze me with its range of snacks and dried goods, not to mention creative ways of combining various products with amazing results.
Abu Bakr, the fine gentleman that he is, took us to a hidden gem within the car rental district in Dubai, and introduced us to traditional Egyptian food. Despite the strange combination of pasta, rice, and lentils, the food definitely satisfied our taste buds, and allowed me to check off one more thing on my food bucket list. One thing I learned so far from food in the UAE is that everything will be perfectly seasoned, bread and salads included. If you were a vegetarian before, the food in the UAE will convert into a true meat believer.
Shane Linehan, Squash Master from Siena College, stated:
“The CIEE experience is one that I will surly appreciate for years to come. There are so many things to take away from this experience that you can't just get from anywhere but the UAE. Aside from the great people in my program and the one and only Abu Bakr, you are given an opportunity to meet people from all over the world. Now understand that I am originally from the States so I know what I'm talking about when I say the UAE is a cultural melting pot. One thing I'd like to highlight about CIEE is that it is by far the best option for studying abroad in the middle east as there are so many scheduled outings and such that make your experience here all the more noteworthy. Anyone looking to broaden their horizon, enjoy great food (hope you like rice) and have fun doing it, CIEE is the program for you."