So I knew there would be censorship here, but I didn’t know what censorship actually looked like. Honestly, I don’t see it impacting my daily life much. Sexual scenes are cut out of movies, meaning Catching Fire had a bit cut out of it even though there is not a single sex scene in that film. The part I’m referring to is in the elevator at the beginning, where the woman removes part of her uniform while flirting with Peta.
Photos of lingerie models at Victoria’s Secret are censored so that the poster in the storefront is essentially a skin-colored blob wearing lingerie. There’s some political censorship, but I don’t have the credentials to discuss that. It should be noted, however, that almost every person I have met has a favorable opinion of the Emirati government.
But of course, the Internet has not been unaffected. Some websites I visited in the US are blocked, and most of them were time-wasters with little educational content, so in a way it’s a blessing that they’re gone. Other students are more disappointed though, since services like Netflix and Pandora are not available here. A way other students have gotten around this is through a VPN connection. NAU, my home university, offers a VPN so that traveling students can access resources limited to the on-campus network. I suggest setting up a VPN before traveling abroad if you want to use services like Netflix globally, since many sites are limited to usage inside of the US. Click here for more information on NAU’s VPN.
Some friends recently left on an exchange to a pretty unique destination. They went to volunteer on an organic farm in Nepal. They said it was a great yet difficult experience. The point of WWOOFing (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms-ing, if I’m using that correctly) is to learn about organic farming as well as the lifestyle associated with farming/poverty. Most of the WWOOF hosts are rather poor while most WWOOFers come from relatively rich countries. So, it’s a chance to grow as a person by experiencing a less privileged lifestyle. Volunteers pay only a minimal fee to participate, around $50 USD or so, plus their own travel costs. In exchange for their day of farm work, WWOOFers receive a room and food. Plus, there are hosts in so many different countries.
I don’t know much about it, so here’s the website if you want more information: http://wwoof.net/
It seems like a great program if you want to get intense personal development from study abroad, but not necessarily language or cultural exchange. My friend said that he feels like a better person after spending just two weeks on the farm.
Students go abroad for a variety of reasons. It’s important to know what you want before you go abroad, to make sure that you walk away with your mission accomplished. One reason for study abroad is academics: specific subjects might not be available back home, like Islamic Banking, Politics of the Arab States, or upper-division foreign-language classes. Another reason is to take super easy classes for a semester and have fun in a foreign country. Others just want to fulfill study abroad requirements.
It’s important to find people you like and click with, and stepping out of your comfort zone can help this happen. But, you might have to reevaluate your study abroad goals based on the people you meet. I went abroad expecting all of my friends to be Emirati, with my goal being learning about Emirati culture. I’m good friends with one Emirati, but Emiratis are only 20% of the university population, so the rest of my friends are from all over the place; plus, I’m a junior and all of my friends are freshmen. But the important part is I’m having a worthwhile experience because I’m around people I enjoy spending time with.
Some exchange students are in the UAE for academics, so of course they sacrifice a social life for an education not available back home. Other students are here for the fun aspect, and living it up with other exchange students. One girl is actually preparing for a career in competitive sports, so she spends most of her time in the gym. I was surprised that not many exchange students integrate into the university community, especially since every piece of study abroad advice is somehow related to making local friends.
The easiest group to make friends with is the other exchange students. But, for those feeling more adventurous, here are some tips for making local friends.
Find out how people keep in touch. People in the Middle East love WhatsApp (WhatsApp Website) and Blackberry Messenger (BBM Website). It’s not awkward to ask people for their number the first time you meet them.
Try to spend as little time as possible in your dorm room. The longer you’re outside, the more people you meet.
Exploit the first weeks of classes. This is when people are most willing to meet new people. Going up to a person sitting alone or to a group of two people in the food court is an easy environment to start a conversation.
Think of anything to start talking about. If someone is playing music you like in the dorms, knock on their door. If they’re wearing a shirt you like, ask them where they got it. If they have dyed hair, ask them about their natural color.
Talk to people you see multiple times a week, like classmates. If you hit it off, then it’s more likely a friendship will take root than with someone you click with but never see again.
Find out what people do in between classes and try to do it as well. For example, students at my university sit in the Student Center and chit-chat.
Don’t get insulted easily, and be forgiving. Remember you’re talking to someone from another culture, so something that’s rude back home might have no social baggage in the host country.
Many students choose well-traveled study abroad destinations in Europe – or none at all! – because of worries about the change in lifestyle. Will I have to dress differently? Can I drink the water? Will I get food sickness? What if I get lost, how will I find my way home if I don’t speak the language?
Natale is a blind exchange student from Argentina. He fought against reluctant advisors for a year in order to come to the UAE for the last semester of his undergraduate education. As an International Affairs major, he loved Arab culture and wanted to experience it first-hand. His mother tongue is Spanish, meaning that all of the classes at his English-language foreign university are in his second language. Plus, he’s in my advanced-beginners’ Arabic class and speaks it better than everyone else – a fact he likes to disagree with. He also likes to say he is not very knowledgeable, but every time there’s a question about global affairs he’s the first to answer. He finds his way around campus with his walking stick, and takes notes in class using a voice recorder.
When his study abroad advisor was reluctant to let him leave, he called up the ISEP headquarters near Washington, D.C., contacted the study abroad office at the American University of Sharjah, and got a professor at his home university to personally support his decision.
Natale is living proof that when there’s a will, there’s a way.
Well, here it goes! I’ve spent the summer in Germany working as an intern, and I’m about to leave the Western World for the Middle East as an exchange student. During that time, I will keep a blog of my experiences.
I would like to thank Northern Arizona University and those who donate to the NAU scholarship funds for making my study abroad dream possible!