Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Visa(and other paperwork) Process

   This week has been consumed with not only classes, but trips to the Ministry of Health.  So we received our visas when we got into the airport in Dubai.  They're pretty on a slightly peachy colored paper with a shiny sticker on the front, but then we have to get them processed.

   The International Exchange Office was trying to be as helpful as possible, but the process changed from last semester, so us International Exchange students went in batches to the Ministry of Health to get our paperwork processed, and boy was it a process.  We come in and take a ticket.  This ticket is for getting our UAE ID that we need while in the country.  Then our name gets called, we provide proof of insurance.  Some of the students ran into trouble if the expiration date wasn't on the card, but if it was handwritten on, then all was well.  We then pay the fees for this at a different desk, come back and hand the receipt to the first person.  We then are told to make copies of our visa and passport and another type written paper that the first person has given us.  So we go wait in another line.  There's another line to get passport pictures taken at if you didn't have any with you.  When we went, the photographer was on lunch break at three in the afternoon, so we waited about twenty minutes for him to come back.  Then we turn pictures and copies into the first person and finished the first process of getting our ID application in.  We get mailed that in about three weeks.

   So we then go down to the medical part of the building to get blood drawn and chest x-ray.  They're checking for HIV and Tuberculosis.  It's the last step in the process for that trip and I was exhausted when I finally got back that evening.

   Today I went with one of the groups to pick up that paperwork.  After doing so we needed to get it typed up for a third and last time, paying for the cost of the medical stuff.  I just came from turning in the bundle of paperwork and passport to get my visa processed.  We were really happy to find out that it will get processed within three days, starting Sunday.

   Overall it wasn't too bad.  I agree with some of the other people that it wasn't an easy process, but I found that some of the people were helpful in showing me where I needed to go next or what I needed to get done.  I'm just glad the process is done.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

On the first week of school, my teachers gave to me...lots of homework

First week of school has been different.  Let's start with when school began.  Last Sunday was the first day of school, so it is different that the weekend has shifted, but I now get out on Thursday.  Unfortunately I kept wanting to think that today is Friday.  The weather has also cooled down a little since I first got off the plane.  Lots of the girls in the dorms are out walking around during the evenings, when there's just a slight breeze and its the perfect temperature.  I'm told that mid-October it should be even more beautiful.

But back to academics and school.  Majority of my teachers wanted to get started right into class, so lots of homework.

Grand total includes, choosing research topics for a presentation in Arab Islamic Culture and Civilization and a research paper due completed mid November over any topic concerning The United States of America and the Middle East which is a very large choice.  We were asked just yesterday if we'd picked a broad area to cover.  Our proposals are due in two weeks, so I'd better get on top of that.  Then there was normal homework, like exercises for one math class and then a whole p-set for my other math class.

Some exchange students were slightly surprised by the amount of work, entailed in classes here, but then others including me considered this a suitable level for being third year students.  Being an exchange student is an interesting position, where we have had some experience with classes at the college level and in our respective majors, although like freshmen we are unfamiliar with things such as getting a student ID, using stuff in the library and/or booking rooms in the library, or being able to use blackboard ilearn.  It's kinda' split as to how many exchange students are use to blackboard or other electronic class systems.

Oh and my other big discovery this week was the transportation schedule.  There is a shuttle that runs to the Sharjah Co-op (Grocery store) on Mondays and Wednesdays.  There is also a shuttle that runs to Al Ain and the capital, Abu Dabi on the weekends.  The co-op shuttle is free and it's not too pricey to travel to Al Ain/Abu Dabi for the weekend.  That could be planned for future ventures.  Right now its good to start off on a good foot with the academics.

Clubs and on campus organizations will be starting up in about two weeks, with the Clubs/Orgs Fair in the campus center on the 2nd/3rd of October.  There are also other activities on campus, such as gym classes and sports at the sport center.  I've signed up for women's aerobics, but there are also just about any kind of sport(including cricket) as well as spinning and bootcamp and other classes.

So this week is busy with homework, but I'm sure time will only get busier as the semester proceeds.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

This LIttle Piggy went to Market...and this Little Piggy went to class

So today was first day of classes.  Yeah?  It was fun, running around to find classes and such.  The bookstore was chaotic as everyone tried to find their right books.  The library was loud and noisy so rather than reading there, I decided to walk back to my dorm, read for an hour fix lunch then head out for another class.

First class of the morning was Arab Islamic Culture and Civilization.  I think this will be a really interesting class.  It is structured to be a History/Religion course.  We will be looking at the Qur'an and Hadith and how those books/teachings were the basis for the Islamic religion looking at philosophy, theology, law, and the preservation and expansions of art and science (and math too!).  Our grades will depend on two midterms, a final, participation/attendance, and also a presentation, which can be done in a group or individually.

After Lunch it was time for Number Theory.  I found it slightly amusing that all of the girls showed up for class about five minutes early and the guys came strolling in exactly on time.  The decision to run the class was made about 2300 in the evening on Saturday, so the Professor was notified just last night, that he was now teaching this class.  As a result he had only a sketch of syllabus, but plus side is we got out of class with twenty minutes.

Final class of the day, Arabic Language.  Originally I was to be put in Intermediate, but there are only three students currently enrolled in the advanced and the Arabic teachers are trying to sort out who's at what level.  In intermediate we have student having studied one year of Arabic and a few us studied two years, but we used different books or our university/college programs were set up differently so we didn't cover the same material.  It's a mixture of levels, but one benefit however small is that since there are actual guys in the class, I have to pay attention to masculine conjugations as well as feminine.

We, my roommate Mariam and my Australian friend Michelle, ended our day with a trip to local Carrefour.  It was exciting and fun as Michelle and I had not seen so many exotic fresh fruits and Mariam was showing us the different Arabic foods and/or brands.  We tried Zaater Mana'eesh as well as some crazy fruits.

The Mana'eesh is in the background and then there is the range of fruits.  The mango and pomegranate were really good, as well as the dates.  The guava and prickly pear has so many seeds in them, we probably should have worked at taking the seeds out before biting into them.  We didn't eat all the fruit, but tried bits and pieces.  Definitely a new experience to add onto the first day of classes.

In case you are wondering we also got "normal" western food at the grocery store like popcorn chicken, stuff for spaghetti, and ingredients for tacos.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Dubai, a State of Business--Part 2

This adventure needed two parts. After our wonderful presentation at the mosque, we stopped for lunch at one of the nearby malls.  There were quite a few lunch options I ended up getting a juice smoothie from Jungle Juice that actually used real fruit in their juices and smoothies.  I considered getting date and banana juice, but in the end decided I wasn't that brave.  Instead opting for mango and banana.  I also bought a baked potato with BBQ chicken from Potato Hut.  This is such a cute idea!

After lunch, we started our typical tourist sightseeing of Dubai.  Here's the picture adventure.

The Burj al Arab; one of two 7 star hotels in the world.

If an Arab woman and Arab man marry, the government grants them one of these houses. along with a 20,000  dirham marriage gift.

Here are some of my classmates with the Atlantis hotel in the background.  The Atlantis hotel is the largest in the world and is located on the crescent in the palms.  It's massive and a very pretty building.

Here is down by the Dubai marina.  We don't know the exact purpose of the twisty building in the back, the student who works in the International Exchange Office, Moataz, says he left for his study abroad, came back and its was built and doesn't have a clue its exact purpose other than perhaps hotel accommodations or business cubicles or maybe apartment suites or restaurants

Dubai Mall.  The biggest mall in the world, supposedly.  It has an indoor aquarium and an ice rink.  I though the Mall of the Emirates was supposed to be bigger...

The Burj al khaleefa.  The tallest tower in the world.  I hope you are getting the trend now.  Dubai = tallest or largest, biggest or best.

The Penguin towers.  This was definitely one of my favorite buildings, but they all were so neat.

 Here are the gates to the Sheik's ancestral/official residence in Dubai.  We weren't invited in, so here's the main gates with the Dubai police out front.

Peacocks roam outside the residence of the Sheik.  I couldn't get any pictures of the peahens, because of other tourists, but here is the peacock hiding in the bushes, avoiding the paprazzi.

The Sheik's stables.  Have you ever heard of Arabian stallions?  Horses were very important in the past and still have a significant important in horse racing and horse exhibitions today, although there is no gambling in the country.  Instead you go online.

The small Dubai museum.  It held a few pieces from the beginning of the foundation of this city, from hundreds of years back.  It also had a somewhat freaky wax museum set-up, depicting early Dubai life, pearl merchants, bakers, spice merchants, tailors, etc.

Lots of maritime history and boats in Dubai.  Here's one from the musuem.

Here is a model of an old Dubai house, old here detonating before oil and when pearl diving was still a major income, somewhere before the mid 1800's approximately.

There was a small exhibit over folk music and dancing.  This is one big instrument and was a harp, but colorfully decorated.


We crossed the Dubai creek in one of these old fashioned dhows, although there was a motor to move the boat, no oars.  Although everyone realized we couldn't stand all on the same side if we wanted to float.  Below is just a picture of the edge, there was no railing and barely a lip.

 We visited the spice souq and some of our group bought spices like cinnamon for oatmeal or hibiscus for hibiscus tea.  One of my classmates said she was able to conduct the whole business deal in her native tongue of German.

One of the highlights wasn't the spices, but drinking coconut juice.  I hadn't seen a coconut outside the grocery store and I'm pretty sure that coconuts didn't look like that in our grocery store.

There was also a Irani ice cream that many people tried.  I it was almost too sweet to be enjoyable.  It's texture was ice with some kind of noodle, I think.

After the spice souq, we journeyed to the gold souq.  Which has a lot of gold shops up and down the walkway, although there seemed just as many people hawking cold drinks or hats or designer handbags.

This is the world's largest gold ring, certified by Guinness World Records.

Our trip in Dubai felt like it took longer than our similar trip to Sharjah, but that's perhaps because we had more places to go to within the same time period.  It was a very busy day, but an enjoyable one.

Dubai, a State of Business--Part 1

We made our first trip into the city of Dubai and do the usual tourist things, stare at the highest building in the world and the most luxurious hotels. But before all the modern architecture we visited a mosque that morning.  Dubai, a State of Business--Part 1 discuss the mosque and what we learned about Islam and in Dubai, a State of Business--Part 2, is all the more modern architecture and other sights of Dubai.

Jumeira Mosque was very pretty inside and very open.  I've included some pictures below.

When going into the mosque clothing was a concern for some.  Girls needed to wear a headscarf and conservative clothing.  Above you can see some of us in our headscarfs with long pants or kapris.  The clothing just need to go past our knee caps, but many of us ended up wearing ankle length skirts of jeans.  We were unfortunately very uncomfortable by the time we returned to the University with heat and humidity bearing on us most of the day.

The guys also needed to wear conservative clothing, cover shoulders and knee caps like the girls, but they didn't need to cover their heads although some of group wanted to be goofy and try.

Along with conservative clothing we also needed to take our shoes off.  Be warned, those stone steps are much hotter than they appear even at 1000 in the morning.  It was very nice inside though.  The AC and soft carpet underneath made it very comfortable to listen to our presenter.

Our presenter was a volunteer with the program Open Hearts, Open Minds.  This program's mission is that be discussing and sharing beliefs we can live more peacefully.  She explained the 5 Pillars of Islam; Kalima, Salat, Zakat, Sawm, and the Hajj.  

Kalima being the confession of believing in God and Muhammed as his prophet.  Also everytime Muhammed's or any other prophet is mentioned, the phrase "Peace be upon him" follows the name. 

Salat is prayer.  Muslims pray five times a day, facing Mecca when they do.  She also preformed and explained so of the movements of prayer.  Muslims believe the highest points of the body are the forehead and nose, so when they are bowed with nose and forehead touched to the ground, they are bowed completely before God.  When Muslims come to pray, they fill up the whole mosque in rows, facing towards Mecca.  When Muslims are praying they are praying shoulder to shoulder, except when a guy is next to a girl, then there's a bit of a gap.  The reason for this is to deny entry for the devil.  Not so much the devil, with horns and tail, but the human devils of wealth and power.  It puts a the house maid rubbing shoulders with a business woman or a construction worker next to a government official.  This is to show that all are equal before God.  The only reason for a bit of gap between the guys and the girls is that it might be distracting for guys if Angelina Jolie was rubbing against their shoulders or for the girls if Johnny Depp or George Clooney, perhaps, was rubbing shoulders with them.

Zakat is the alms-giving to the less fortunate.  It is given from the Muslim directly to someone who needs it and if that person cannot find someone, they can give it to a charity, but must notify them it must be used to directly aid someone who needs it.   Zakat is 2.5% of a person's savings/income.

Sawm is fasting during the month of Ramadan.  That's no food or drink, including water, from sunup to sundown.  Our presenter gave a few different outcome of this action including, purification, learning patience(by waiting for sundown before eating), and experience thirst or hunger that others less fortunate may face every day.

Hajj is the last pillar.  This is the hajj  to the holy city of Mecca.  I think the number she gave was approximately 1.3 million Muslims visit Mecca a year for Hajj

The last few minutes, she left open to questions.  One of which was about women's dress and how much was Gulf culture and how much was Islamic ruling.  Women are told to dress conservatively in the Koran.  So covering between wrists to shoulders to ankles and clothing that doesn't cling too closely.  The Koran allows a woman to show her face and hands.  In UAE culture, the abaya is worn.  Our presenter explained that some women chose to cover their face because they it makes them feel more modest and is a personal choice, not one required by Islam.

The burka is one mask that covers the forehead, nose and lips.  There was a practical-ness to the burka, if you were walking where is is very sanding, the burka covers your nose/mouth from getting sand.  Burkas are originally a goldish color, but turn black over time.  In the UAE the burka references this mask, in other countries, though the burka in other countries such as Afghanistan can mean the full head to toe covering.

There was another face covering, which I can't remember the name for.  Below is a picture of our presenter wearing it.

I thought this part of our Dubai trip was very interesting, as I knew only a little about Islam before I came here

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Culture and Civilization in Sharjah

Today we explored Sharjah.  The International Exchange Office at American University of Sharjah (AUS) arranged for our tour today.  We visited so many different places and saw quite a bit.  We stopped by Union square to get some picture taking in.  Below is a picture of the Library at Union square, but not a public library.

There was also a few other government buildings.  In the center of the square is a Qur'an.  The Qur'an is very important to the culture and government, hence its monumental placement at the center of this governmental square.  Someone was trying to cool off in the shade of the large Qur'an.  I'm sure that must have some significance finding relief from the heat under the shade of the Qur'an.

Along with the government buildings there was also a mosque.  Here is a picture of the mosque tower.

On all mosques you find a tower.  It is where the call for prayer is made.  In olden days there was a person given the specific task of performing this duty, he was called a Muazzin.  In modern times, you will find loudspeakers mounted on the tower instead.

When then drove past the fort originally owned by Naboodah, who was a rich pearl merchant in 1845.  There is his house which does look like a house.  We didn't visit there unfortunately, but we went to the building that used to house his meeting rooms and such.  Nowadays, it is souq, where tourists can purchase everything from antiques and rugs to postcards and Sharjah T-shirts to jewerly and gold statues.  It has many different items, but remember to haggle.  I saw one of our exchange classmates haggle an embroidered parasol from 175 Dirhams to I think about 60 Dirhams.  We stopped in the small restaurant there to have chicken or lamb or beef Biryani with dates, some vegetables, and a hot vegetable soup/sauce one classmate said was to be put over the rice of the Biryani.  I was told it was a traditional Emirati dish, and another classmate said it was also an Indian dish.  It was good in any case and the size of the meal was too much for me to consume in one setting.

Next we stopped by the Museum of Islamic Civilization which was amazing.  The outside of the building is beautiful by itself.  It has colored bricks and from its shape you can obviously see that it once was a souq itself before becoming the museum.  Inside there was beautiful tapestries and rugs with Koranic verses threaded upon the cloth.  There was excellent information on the cards detailing the importance of the hijra and Kaaba for Muslims.  There were several different galleries.  My favorites included the Islamic art gallery which had many different pieces on display, from ornamented daggers and swords to  paintings and glassware.  My favorite gallery was the one on science and technology.  There were quite a few world globes on display along with other scientific instruments that assisted early Islamic scientists and explorers.  Below is a picture of my favorite item on display.

Inside the elephant is a water clock, that marks the passing of time and by looking at the top semi circle, you can tell the time.  When the clock strikes the hour, the man atop the elephant beats his drum and the two birds at top drop balls into the dragons' mouths who in turn drop the balls into urns behind the elephant driver to either side.  Below is a close up of the top of the clock, including the semi circle, birds, and dragons.

After the Islamic civilization museum we had a quick break for Turkish coffee, before spending time at the maritime museum.  Maritime history was very important for Sharjah.  Sharjah is ruled by the Qasimi tribe and before the Portuguese arrived, this tribe commanded control of the gulf and maritime trade in the area.  This coastline was also famous for its pearl fishing, up until synthetic pearls became cheaper to buy.  Until then, the best pearls were claimed to be found here in the gulf.  This museum detailed much of this history as well as contained displays of the tools used in pearling, fishing, and boat construction.  There was one saw that was huge needing two people to use it.  Some of the most characteristic boats were dhows, but there were also models of boats built with Portuguese influence and a life size model of a boat made from bamboo.  This museum was very interesting, but didn't my attention for maybe 30/45 minutes.  

Our last stop for the day was at the Qasba area.  We had dinner at various spots in the area.  There is also the Eye of the Emirates here as well.  It was designed after the Eye of London, but not quite as big.  I unfortunately I didn't get the chance to board the eye, I was told I didn't miss out on much.  The eye is surrounded by the water on one side and then tall skyscrapers on the other side.  So there are great views of the water, but not so much of the actual city.

So today was a wonderful adventure.  There was so much interesting history we learned about and the sites were great.  All the oldness of the heritage sites and museums is collaborative juxtaposition with the newness of the malls, skyscrapers, and the Eye of the Emirates.  There is a trip to Dubai on Thursday looking at the great sites of Dubai.  I'm looking forward to finding out Dubai is known for other than shopping.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Food Glorious Food

Well, being here at AUS, there are multiple food options and a standard meal plan is not one of them.  Today its spaghetti and sauce, although it is the first time I've need to fix food (cereal isn't a real meal).  There have been several lunch/dinner type events for exchange/new AUS students. 

I was really pleased with the pricing in the mini-mart nearest to my dorm.  Since it is a college campus and the mini-mart is convenient, I thought that the food/stuff within would be snack food and over priced.  I was wrong on both accounts.  The min mart has household items, like towels, razors, and paper towels as well as a fairly varied grocery side.  It doesn't contain many fresh fruits and vegetables, but it has a few and some frozen items to chose from as well. 

Besides the mini-mart there is also a Carrefour fairly near to campus.  Carrefour is a French version of Walmart.  It has just about everything.  When we made a trip to one of the malls in Dubai, the Carrefour there is where I got my phone along with a few other miscellaneous items.  A few of the other exchange students have shared cabs to get there and back.  They've told me its about a 10 dirham cost one way.  During the school year, there is also a bus that goes from the university to the grocery store.  As of now I don't know times, but I think someone said it is free, so it will be something else to try out.

If I don't want to fix food, there is always the many options of restaurants on campus.  There are the usual fast food, such as Burger King, Subway, Dunkin' Donuts, and Starbucks.  In addition to this there is Delimarche which reminds me of cafetaria style food, but in large portions.  Then there is also Al Mawardi, which I haven't eaten at, but I've been told is very good option for lunch.

With all the food options, I had better start making a list of what to fix this week, so I can get food for meals this week.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

To Blog or Not to Blog

     Originally when I decided to go abroad, I didn't want to keep a blog.  I thought who would want to read about the American University at Sharjah, its a fairly new program through CIEE and I just found out that it is continually constructing new relationships with other universities, such as University of Victoria in Canada.  And then I started to meet the other exchange students here, not to mention all the first years I met earlier this morning at orientation.  I've met so many people and done so much already while here, that this experience is definitely one to write home about. 

     Also I remember when I was searching for information and tips about this program, I felt I came up very short on information about this University and the area, other than the bit of information on the CIEE program website.  The best book I found was titled Culture Shock: The UAE, which gave some really good information about the culture here in the Emirates versus American/Western culture.  Yet it was published in 1996.  There was a lot of information about Dubai which is near Sharjah, but much of the information I found discussed the shopping malls and all the grand sightseeing highlights. 

      Maybe I was looking in the wrong places for information or typing the wrong search words into Google, but here is my inspiration to keep this blog.  I want to give other students at my home college in Wellesley or elsewhere more information when they consider studying abroad, especially here in the Emirates which I've found fantastic so far.