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.