Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The End

My stay here abroad is starting to wrap up.  We had our final IXO farewell diner.  We watched the IXO semester in review video with pictures of everyone.  Jesus did a magnificent job putting the video together.  I received my canceled visa today.  I ran into other exchange students running around trying to get their housing deposits back.  One was leaving this evening, so it pushing things fairly close to the last minute.  Last Thursday was the last official day of classes, but many teachers canceled classes as final exams started that Friday.  My first exam wasn't until Saturday, so I searched for the energy and initiative to study hard for my exams.  Tomorrow morning will be my last in the UAE.

So this is probably the best time to recap the semester and what I learned.

This semester I went off campus a lot more than I would at home.  At Wellesley there always seems to be something going on oncampus, so that there's no need to go off campus every weekend.  Here there really isn't a whole lot going on campus and in my opinion not much of a residential life, in contrast again to Wellesley.  Some might claim that East side of the Wellesley campus is dead, but that really isn't true and at least I know the people on my hall fairly well, versus here it's like everyone has their doors closed or isn't in the dorm.  Getting off campus lead to the good survivor tool of learning and becoming familiar with the school bus schedule and utilizing taxis.  I would recommend that if you are over 21 and come here, consider renting a car.  With gas close to a quarter a liter, you'll definitely save on transportation fare.

Travel.  I got to travel and do a fair amount.  I did want to make it to the grand mosque in Abu Dhabi, but never made it there.  I got to see my fill of Sharjah, Dubai, and even made the day trip to Al Ain.  As for outside the country traveling, there are lots of opportunities.  Other exchange students had the luxury of traveling to India, Nepal, Turkey, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain, and other countries.  There were some good deals, but $200 flights start to add up, especially when you also include housing and food and transportation while on your adventures.  So if you want to take advantage of the traveling opportunities, budget it and take the adventure.

My Recommendations.  Jumaira Beach was fantastic.  The water was just the right temperature when we first came in September.  It also was an amazingly clean beach and the sand was the fine soft sand.  I liked feeding the giraffes as the zoo.  I'd never been so close to one. Desert safari is a must.  I think just about all the exchange students went on a safari during our stay here.

Academics.  Well, the university is based off of an American system, but I found it very different from Wellesley academically.  I still had an all girls Arabic class, which amused me.  I'll never get to practice using the masculine "you" form at this rate.  Joking aside, I found that here there seems to be a lot more individual study rather than group study.  Classes are rigorous, but two of them it was more can I memorize these facts rather than actual learning.  There is a very strict policy in place to prevent cheating which at times because rather annoying.  For example on an online exam we cannot go back on questions.  Once you've answered the question you are done.

It was also interesting to think about the fact that English is a second language for some people here.  So one of my classes tried to level the playing field for the class by giving multiple choice questions on midterms and now essay/short answer on the final.  Writing 101 is a pre-req for all the classes I took, but one professor explained to me that the class (Arabic/Islamic Culture and Civilization) used to test with essay questions but found this gave an unfair advantage to native speakers of English.  Yet in some of my other classes, such as History-America and the Middle East, we were expected to write well and have a good handle on the English language.  Our teacher was a hard grader on our response and research papers.

From talking with other students, exchange and non-, I think the academic programs here are very good for business, engineering, and architecture.  After being here a semester, I think the college of arts and sciences is still growing, but small.  The theater minor was just opened a few years ago and a biology major is still somewhat new(from what I've been told??)  The school has only been open for 15 years, so in a few years when it has aged, the academic program here for the arts and sciences will be stronger.

It's been a wonderful time here and here is where I sign off.  My semester abroad has come to an end and I return to Wellesley college for the spring semester.  Ma'salama ya al-emiraat al-mutahida al-arabiya.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Desert Safari

Finally after months of being in the UAE, I've went on a desert safari.  It may seem the designated tourist stop, but my roommate mentions that non-tourists also go on safari every now and then.  We went dune bashing which is fun.  It involves driving around up and down the sand dunes and you can feel the car as it slides in the sand.  I loved it.  Then we got to the campsite and I got to ride a camel!  Sorry, but that's one of those I wanted to do before I left.  Desert and camels go together in my mind, just like parrots and the rainforest. 

We also got henna designs on our hands.  Which I think is cool and then there was dinner, a tanoura dancer(Danna called him a pancake dancer, because he twirled around and around and his skirt flew up to look like a flat pancake.) and then a belly dancer at the end.  We joked about dinner as it included not only kabob meat and biryani, but also potatoe salad and spaghetti.  :)

I am now ready to leave on Thursday.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Ringing in the New Year

Happy New Year!  This new year my friends and I decided to trek down to Dubai Mall and watch the fireworks.  I think the best word to describe is an experience.  We took the metro down to the mall starting from Rashidiyya at about 6-ish.  As the train got closer and closer to the mall, it got more and more crowded.  Then we finally got to our stop.  It was full of people leaving the station and arriving at the station.  I give the transport people props to their organization.  They were getting people in lines and the lines moved fairly rapidly for the amount of people trying to get out of the station.

Then we finally got to the mall.  It was crowded, but Dubai Mall is big enough so that it wasn't shoulder to shoulder crowdedness.  We got to wander around and rather than eating at a restaurant(all were booked or way expensive because of the celebration) or the food court(it was crowded and lines for food, even McDonald's was very long) so we ended up going to the supermarket for sparkling juice and eating at a cafe on the bottom floor.  It was an unhealthy meal of a slice of cheesecake and crackers/pretzels, but all of us had some real food before we left.  Since we found a table at the cafe, we decided to stay there until ten forty five.  There wasn't going to be anywhere else to sit, so why give up seats sooner than needed?  The lines to the bathrooms were extremely long, but it would've moved faster if not so many people were cutting in line.  Grrr.  Somethings really annoy me.

Then there was the fireworks.  Below is some of the pictures a clip of the fireworks from our vantage point.  We first tried to follow the yellow signs that said "fireworks" and "family standing area" but soon ended up in a mosh-pit type crowded, which we then spent another ten minutes trying to get out of and finally ended up at our much roomier if not as good view spot.  The fireworks were really cool, but towards the end, there was so much smoke around the Burj, in my opinion the last bit was as cool because at the smoke blurred colors and there wasn't the stand out of the bright sparks against the dark night and more just a haze.

Ringing in the new year was great fun with friends like Danna and Michelle and we toasted the new year with sparkling cider when we finally made it back to the dorms at 2:30 in the morning due to traffic.  Michelle commented when we were debating on going to downtown Dubai or not, that she wanted to look back next new years and comment how she was in Dubai for the New Year's celebration.  Well I guess now we'll have to come up with something just as cool to ring in 2014.  That's also my graduation year!  No reason to rush this year along.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

School on Saturday and Christmas on Tuesday

I feel I haven't updated my blog in forever and it's been four weeks.  Well, everyone on campus has been busy including myself with the last round of midterms going around and final projects are coming due.  Then we had two make-up days in the past three weeks.  We missed two days of school for "unplanned" holidays.  Once in November, was because the hijra holiday was started a day earlier due to the lunar cycle.  But for some reason AUS forgot that National Day celebrations are held the 2nd and the 3rd of December, so we got another make-up day.  Now when to make-up the days?  They can't be tacked onto the end of the semester, so two Saturdays (today and the 8th) students had class.  So this weekend I go to classes on Saturday and Sunday, short weekend.  But the bright side is Christmas is just around the corner.

At AUS we do get Christmas Day off from school which is nice.  Our IXO Christmas party is planned for tomorrow where everyone will be bringing a dish, potluck style.  Deciding what to take was a process.  I was going to make homemade chex mix, because that's always something done in our house for the holidays, but I couldn't find chex cereal or any good cereal substitute.  So then I went on the hunt for crescent rolls, to try and make the Pampered chef turkey, cranberry wreath, but when I did finally find them they were way more than I really wanted to pay.  So homemade Mac'N' Cheese it is.  It's simple recipe, but it always does well at potlucks.  :) 

With Christmas here its only a hop skip and jump until the end of the semester.  26 days until I leave and most of the exchange students are leaving five days before me on the 13th.  Now's the time to finish any sight seeing and with exams and papers, I just don't know if I'll make it to Abu Dhabi before the end of the semester, but how knows, I might have a little bit of time during finals week to take a day trip and break from studying.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Let it Rain, Let it Pour

So yesterday we got not only rain, but a thunderstorm.  I love it when it rains at home and I didn't realize how much I missed the rain until yesterday.  Earlier that morning, it was sprinkling, but not too bad, so me and a friend, Danna, walked down to the little shopping center, Matajir.  It's not that big, it has a Carrefour, McDonalds, Shakespeare and Co, and a bakery, among other things.  We were getting groceries and then stopping by the bakery to get some fresh homemade Manakheesh.  It was very good.   When we turned to head back to the university, it was pouring buckets full from the sky.  We watched it just puddle outside for a few minute.  Around the entrances to buildings and then even on the ground between buildings in our academic quad(ish) there are these large tiles.  So the water was starting to create large puddles on these tiles and not soaking into the ground.  Slowly the water started to building up and the automatic doors were open for some reason and so the water was slowly piling up from the outside and spreading indoors.  It was a mess. 

We eventually were able to call a taxi and get back to the dorms, only slightly drenched.  On the way back though, the taxi was driving and sending up these huge sprays of water from where it collected on the road.  I guess rain is enough of a commodity to mean that not all roads are made with good drainage systems.  I heard Sheik Zayed road, which goes into Dubai, can get really bad at times from water build-up.  As we passed onto campus, right beyond the gate, there was enough of a dip, that the water was collected in just a big puddle and was sloshing over the sides of the curb.  I wished I had my camera to take a picture at that point.

This weekend is also National Day Weekend.  So we have Sunday and Monday off from school.  It's a four day weekend, yay!  Although I've been asking some of my classmates if they have any great plans and most say no.  This weekend is being used as a weekend to catch up on sleeping, eating, and studying.  Unfortunately this weekend falls around the time for a second round of midterms.  I myself have a midterm coming up this week and then next week and then a paper due the following week, etc. until the end of classes, which is around the time of the new year.  It's January 7th in all actuality.  The end of the semester is coming closer and either some of friends are counting it down or avoiding considering the last day of classes.  I'm somewhere in the middle.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Zoo, Zoo, Zoo, we're going to the zoo...

So this past weekend was another three day weekend to enjoy.  It was the hijra holiday on Thursday, which is the first day for the Islamic year.  So despite upcoming midterm and other homework overloads, myself and another friend, took a trip to Al Ain in the Abu Dhabi emirate.  It was an adventure of itself.  We originally planned to stay until later evening, but ended coming back early.

So we took public transportation which was old, but air conditioned.  It was thirty dirhams to get to al Ain.  My friend thought we were getting stares, but I mean she's tall and I'm really pale which is one reason we stand out.  We sat in the ladies only sections, but there was this kid sitting in the row behind us who kept sticking his head between my friend's and my seats.  That was slightly annoying.

After getting to the bus station in Al Ain, we took a taxi to the mall were we had lunch at Applebees.  I know I fly half way around the world and end up eating at an American restaurant, but my friend had never eaten there, so we got the lunch special and then took another taxi to the zoo.

The zoo was a decent size.  There were lions and tigers and bears (oh my!") as well as lots of African safari animals and monkeys.  The zoo wasn't the biggest or nicest I've seen, but still a nice place to go.  There's a park inside the zoo that big and rather nice.  My favorite part was being able to feed the giraffes.  You really got to see them up close and personal.  There's tongues are really long and they have really big heads.  The weather was also beautiful and perfect, so it only made the day more enjoyable.

We finished off the day with a return trip to the Al Ain mall and eating at Shahryar Restaurant (Iranian food).  Overall it was a fun and enjoyable trip.

As a sidenote, we went to the movies today to Skyfall.  It was so very very good.  We got waffles will in the theater.  It was a first time for me to eat waffles with Nutella instead of eating popcorn in the movie theater.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Same Difference

One of the humanities classes offered at AUS is the Communication Across Culture's class and students in this class needed to conduct an interview with an exchange student concerning AUS and how it is the same/different than their home school experience.  I felt vary much the celebrity when I had three different groups asking me for an interview.  After having completed one and then looking towards the two that I have next week, it has given me the opportunity to look at the differences between Wellesley and the American University if Sharjah.

One question asked me about the difference in peoples and cultures and my experience with culture shock.  I have since adjusted fairly well(I think), but there are some differences.  Here the abaya and dishdasha are commonly worn to class.  That was a difference, but I also had this impression that the abaya was worn very plainly which is clearly not the case.  I'm actually kinda' envious of some of the styles that have these sleeves which are wide from the elbow to the wrist.  Making friends and interacting with other students and professors, wasn't some big deal.  Back to clothing, but there is the feeling to dress up for class here more than I would do so at home.  Occasionally I'll where jeans and a t-shirt, but I other students are usually much more put together. 

Classes and such are structured very similarly to American style teaching, because that is the basis of the school system at AUS.  More specifically comparing to Wellesley, I feel there is a lot more stuff that just needs to get finished.  Also at Wellesley I feel that between homework or studying for exams students in the same class at least get to know a few people in class.  My classes are still relatively small, but there's no "class spirit" if there is such a thing.

The biggest difference to adjust is not the shifted schedule, where we start classes on Sunday and end on Thursday.  It is not scheduling to take exams outside of classtime.  It is probably the residential life that is so different from Wellesley.  The dorms are newer than Wellesley and hallways are very open, but no one really keeps doors open like where I lived in Freeman for the past two years.  At Wellesley you can fill your life with school, work, and then squeeze a few extracurriculars to leave you in a constant panic.  Clubs and orgs are different here.  A normal club runs about 1000 people and hosts a few events during the semester.  Like the Book Club is going to the International Book Fair in Sharjah next week.  There is a music club, but I've had trouble finding information about their activities.  The clubs here are much larger and hold less frequent activities.  On the weekends at Wellesley, almost every weekend, expect maybe at the very beginning of the semester there is something going on on campus.  So reorienting my life from extracurriculars was a big difference and probably the one I took the longest time adjusting to.

After talking about all these differences, but I'm still enjoying my time here.  Classes are heating up as we past the midpoint in the semester.  It's nice to not have a million things to be doing for clubs, as a full course load here is 5 courses.  One course may not make much of a difference until you count in the fact that there is now 3 hours more of class time and whatever other time for homework.  That was another adjustment for me.  And contrary to what I was told, just because you are an exchange student doesn't mean you will have easier courses.  I feel that courses here don't offer the same stress perhaps as my Wellesley courses, but are definitely close to par learning wise.  I especially love the Language lab we have once a week for Arabic.