Well, I made it. I’ve yet to be in a mysterious travel accident, contract some weird water-born parasite, or fall off of the Burj Khalifa. One month down on my 8 month study abroad experience in Dubai.
To read more about how I ended up in this gorgeous, man-made city check out my previous article, Why Dubai?
After packing my two checked bags and two carry ons, my flight from Washington DC Dulles International Airport left at 6:30PM EST, connected through Zurich, Switzerland, and landed at Dubai International Airport on September 1, at 8:30PM GMT +4.
What was my first impression of Dubai? BOY, IT IS HUMID.
In my research I had found out that Dubai was humid and not a dry heat like most people think, but seriously, no one warned me that it was a rainforest-hot-shower-hell here! Especially at night! Really, don’t be surprised when you walk outside and your glasses fog up because it feels like you just stepped into a sauna.
The taxi from the airport to my university was about 20 min, and of course on the drive down Sheikh Zayed road I caught my first glimpses of the Burj Khalifa, the Burj Al Arab, and the rest of the stunning buildings! I arrived to my new uni, the American University in Dubai, got my room assignment in the dorms and moved in!
My move into the dorms was easy, the beds are comfortable and it’s very clean and spacious. I haven’t had a roommate besides my best friend from home since my freshman year so I was nervous about sharing a single room with a stranger.
However I’m lucky my roommate is really nice, and really tidy. She’s from Bahrain and though she doesn’t speak much she lets me share her mini-fridge and control the AC setting, and that’s the international sign of friendship isn’t it?
It’s been an adjustment buying things all over again (shampoo, conditioner, hangers, etc) and it’s sort of annoying that this dorm has a full kitchen but absolutely no utensils! But it was easy to head to the Mall of the Emirates, which is only 3 metro stops away, and buy these cheap things at Carrefour which is sort of the Target/Walmart of the UAE.
In terms of friends I’ve been able to meet with the other study abroad students here, including the other Clinton Scholars like me. They’re amazing—they range from all over including Germany, Italy, the United States, Madagascar, and even some local Dubaians! Not joking, we all hang out every single day, made easy by the group chat on Whatsapp that we’re all in where we talk.
The campus itself is pretty small, and you can walk across it in less than 4 minutes total. The architecture of it is pretty spectacular though, and everything looks brand new and clean around campus. The dorms themselves are relatively new I believe, and each dorm gets a maid service that cleans the room and bathroom once a week.
There are four restaurants on campus in the cafeteria on the second floor of C-building, and a lunch-room style buffet on the first floor of C-building. I practically survive purely off of Bella Donna, the Italian restaurant in C-building. This is good because I absolutely love Italian food, and they make theirs spectactularly (the lasagna, ugh!). However, it’s bad too because I feel like I’ve turned into one big carbohydrate and am not really having much of a cultural immersion.
The locals here, at least the women are very cliquey, which makes sense as there are not a lot of universities here so most locals know each other or even went to high school together. Those who are attending AUD from other countries, of which I think are the majority of people here, are very nice and welcoming. I’ve made a few friends that go here from Japan, Madagascar, Nigeria, and Korea.
I’ve gotten the sense here that it’s not customary in most instances for men to approach women even in casual ways, for fear of disrespecting them. So, basically, men and women are often friends here but the women usually have to be the ones to initiate the first meeting.
The women walk to class in abayas and hijab, but an equal amount walk around in t-shirts and jeans. The same, men can be seen wearing the thobe (the long white “dresses”, which are more like long cloth shirts), or jeans and t-shirts as well.
Dress code at my university in similar that to my American high school: shoulders and knees covered, no excessive midriff or cleavage, no open backs, etc. I don’t mind the dress code at all because when surrounded by so many somewhat-modestly dressed people all the time, it feels odd if you wear something revealing at all.
Although when going to the clubs and bars in the nearby Marina, it’s okay to wear whatever you like! Croptops, cut out dresses, and mini skirts included.
My school schedule is: MEST 101 Intro to Arabic, MEST 210 Intro to Middle Eastern History, MEST 329 Islamic Art and Architecture, and ENG222 Numerical Methods in Engineering. While here I’ll be pursuing the school’s Certificate in Middle Eastern studies.
My overall first-month feelings are that I love it here. The hardest adjustment thus far has been how expensive clothes and shopping is here (H&M and Forever21 are not cheap here), the fact that I don’t have a private kitchen, and the fact that I don’t have my own car to drive around when I please. Also the restrictions between men and women are customary but coming from the U.S. they do seem sort of ridiculous. I always have to think twice before hugging a guy friend, or making eye contact too long with a male stranger. Sigh.
Hopefully I can become a digital nomad while I’m here too!
I have my student residence visa, health insurance car, and Emirates ID. I also just went on a visa run with everyone to Oman (which I didn’t have to do but, uh, OMAN), and had an amazing time adventuring including cliff-jumping!