This blog post is brought to you by Haley Murphy: student from the University of Pittsburgh and shawarma enthusiast.
Over the course of three days, thirteen students from across the US made their way over to Sharjah, UAE. Nobody knew exactly what to expect. I, personally, was a bit nervous. Will I experience a lot of culture shock? How will my classes be? And most importantly, how will I live without Chipotle for the next five months?
When I asked my fellow CIEE-goer, Seth Fuller, what he was most worried about when coming to Sharjah, he replied:
“No joke, I thought I HAD to wear long-sleeve shirts and pants everyday. Wasn't looking forward to burning to death in May and June.”
He was very pleased to discover that this was not actually the case.
Orientation week was unforgettable. CIEE and the IXO team made transitioning into life in the UAE a breeze. The week was jam-packed with site seeing and exploring our new home. The jetlag was tough, and but nothing that a little Turkish coffee couldn’t fix.
Lucky for us, the Sharjah Light Festival was happening the week we arrived. During the week, after sunset, several buildings throughout Sharjah are selected to display bright, colorful patterns that morph and shift to the beat of Arabic music. The patterns are specifically created to fit the architectural design of each building. It was incredible!
That week we explored several museums, a wildlife preserve, and attended the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding. It was a wonderful presentation, and a very rewarding and informative discussion.
Lisa Sun from Wake Forest University found the Skeikh Mohammed Centre of Cultural Understanding to be her absolute favorite part of orientation week. She says:
“The food from SMCC was really good. Like so good I would go back just for the food. Also our host had an eye opening exposé on the region. Overall really cool center.”
Naturally, our introduction to the UAE wouldn’t be complete without seeing the malls. Malls in the Emirates are like nothing else. Want to go skiing, ice-skating, check out a small amusement park, eat, or shop? You can do it all in one building.
No trip to the Dubai mall is complete without a picture in front of the Burj Khalifa (the world’s tallest building)! Every night after 6pm, the fountain in front of the Burj preforms a water and music show. The tall spurts of water dance and move to the beat of the song. Even after three months, watching the fountain show doesn’t get old!
Living in the UAE will also open your eyes tosomething your life has been direly missing: the world of dates. Now don’t get me wrong, I liked dates back in the US. But I had no idea how many different types of dates existed! So many different sizes, colors, flavors and textures. If you plan on coming to Sharjah, be prepared to become date-obsessed.
Before we new it, orientation week was over, and classes became a reality. When asked about how she has been finding her classes here at AUS, Ellen Cleary says:
“I guess I'd say classes here feel different at first, but once you really get into them they're really not all that different. I have noticed students ask a lot more questions here.”
One of my personal favorite experiences was our Desert Safari. We took 4x4’s into the dunes, rode camels, watched belly-dancers, and went sand-boarding! One of the best parts of the night was sitting under the night sky and enjoying the stars.
Has there ever been a purer image of CIEE love than Noah helping push Lisa down a sand
The CIEE trip to Oman was a very exciting weekend. We got to see the Grand Mosque, traverse up to the Omani canyon, and haggle our way through the souqs of Muscat. We also explored the Nizwa Cattle Market! Later that afternoon we went to a fort, where we got to look across the city to the beautiful mountains. Oman is a stunning country, and I’m so happy we got to experience it.
To any future CIEE-goer that may be reading this: it has become tradition to take a selfie with one of the Omani-canyon goats. I urge you to carry on this tradition. It is very important.
The Skeikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi was perhaps my favorite excursion thus far. Just look at the pictures and it is not hard to see why. The mosque is truly breathtaking.
A tour guide led through the prayer halls, where we got to see the world’s largest chandelier AND the largest single-piece carpet.
Our CIEE trips have been phenomenal, but even the average week in Sharjah can be full of surprises. Take this particular sandstorm, for example. Even the average Thursday afternoon can become something truly extraordinary.
Or even that one day when former President Jimmy Carter showed up on campus with the Sheikh! Casual.
Our time in Sharjah has already been the most rewarding experience of my life. The people I have met, food I have eaten, and places I have seen have been incomparable to anything I could ever experience back home. Every morning I am thankful I chose CIEE and thankful I chose Sharjah.
It’s hard to believe that half of the semester has gone by! Garret Bigley, from the University of Ohio, says that in his remaining time in Sharjah he hopes to:
“See as much of this part of the world while I'm here, improve my Arabic skills in preparation for a summer program, more shawarma, and make as many friends from the region as I can.”