Exploring the UAE While Studying
If you’re unfamiliar with the Middle East and are contemplating overseas study, you might be forgiven for overlooking a tract of land between the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman. You’ll doubtless have heard of it, but you may be surprised to learn that tens of thousands of internationally mobile students are flocking to the universities of the United Arab Emirates every year.
Which is hardly surprising: The region offers countless attractions and a vast wealth of academic institutions, from public UAE universities to smaller private local and international colleges.
Academia: The Basics
A federation of seven separate Emirates, the UAE affords opportunities to study as an exchange student, or by enrolling directly as a student at a UAE university, or as a student with one of many third-party establishments: colleges and universities in the UK, US and France have campuses in the UAE offering undergraduate degrees to local and international students alike and if it leads to employment, you’ll enjoy largely tax-free status.
Travelling around the region’s easy, with major airports in Abu Dhabi (the nominal capital), Dubai and Sharjah, and although they offer great international connections, you won’t want to travel beyond the immediate region, so much is there to do and see.
Given its location, the sea plays an important role in the country’s economy. But it’s not all about trade and fishing: due west of Abu Dhabi, you’ll discover the Marawah Marine Biosphere Reserve, with an impressive array of important coral reefs, a number of different turtle species and humpback and bottlenose dolphins. Fujairah, on the Gulf of Oman, offers fantastic beaches, great snorkelling and deep-sea fishing.
The third largest Emirate, Sharjah received the accolade of Arab Capital of Culture in 1988 and its historic old town is ideal for exploration on foot. The Maritime Museum on the waterfront is compact and well designed, with some interesting displays on the history of the pearl trade, but it’s wise to buy a combination ticket for the museum and the aquarium next door.
The best time to travel around the seven Emirates is November through April whenever study permits, with warm sunny days and cooler nights, virtually no humidity and extremely low rainfall. Tipping waiters or taxi drivers isn’t expected (but always very warmly appreciated!).
As a mark of respect to your hosts, it’s considered common courtesy not to show the soles of your shoes. In Islamic culture, feet and shoes, being in contact with the ground, are seen as dirty and as such displaying them is taken as an insult. But you’re likely to pick up on those nuances from your engaging Emirati classmates, so there’s no need to stress: it’s a cultural adjustment which most students make in the blink of an eye.
You’ll discover that it’s a wonderfully friendly and safe country: the fact that about 80% of the UAE’s population is non-Emirati demonstrates the warm welcome it offers to different cultures and nationalities, and with about 50% of its students from outside the UAE, you’ll be in great company.
Photo Credit: *Crazy Diamond*