This, in a way, is a continuation of my October post on disillusionment.
This is weird.
I’m awful at saying goodbye. Horrible. Attrocious.
I can tell you off the top of my head the day I held my farewell party from New Zealand. I cried for about 48 hours straight when I left Yellowstone the first time. I told only three people that I was leaving when I left Yellowstone the second time to avoid goodbyes. I get melodramatic and sentimental with the end of every regular semester in Maryland.
But I have absolutely no sentimentality about leaving Dubai. Deuces, Dubai. It’s been fun, but I won’t miss you.
Dubai isn’t in any sense a home to me. As I said earlier, Dubai is very transient and very Western. Very capitalistic, very artificial.
I am definitely glad I came here. I am forever grateful to the Clinton Foundation, and I encourage any US college students to apply for the Clinton Scholarship that funded this semester for me. Words cannot express how incredibly grateful I am.
But that doesn’t mean I loved it.
I’ve been blogging more about experiences and various trips than about the general feel of things because I’ve been living in university dorms, attending classes, and working on my internship just as I would had I been in Maryland. Life really hasn’t been that different. There’s been very little culture shock because my culture hasn’t changed very much.
My favourite thing about Dubai is the variety of people one will meet. Only around 15% of the population is Emirati, which means that there are a lot of people who have been born and raised in the UAE but celebrate another culture just as fully. I love that I’ve studied alongside many Egyptians and Sudanese, that I have friends from Lebanon and Nigeria, that I know people from Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. I am all about celebrating multiple perspectives and the various stories people have.
However, I have found at my school there is a lot of privilege. There are a lot of people who are very entitled. Some are just taking classes in order to stay with their families as the school sponsors their visa. Some are just taking classes to kill time before they take over their family’s companies. Some are here because their parents are paying and they have nothing better to do.
The educational environment was very different to what I’m accustomed to, and I think this was the hardest part for me–this was my culture shock. The students moaned about ten page papers in a 300 level class. In one of my classes, I was the only person who didn’t cheat on the midterm. Three of my teachers were always late to class–one never showed up less than ten minutes after class had started. As someone on scholarship paying for a good chunk of her college education, I can do the math quite quickly to tell you that, were I paying full fees here, she would have wasted approximately $810 of my money on time she wasn’t in class.
I don’t know. Maybe I’m being elitist myself. But I learned how to write ten page papers in freshman year of high school.
I’m disappointed in myself because I told myself I wouldn’t hang out with the other exchange students, but my best friends here are definitely those coming from European universities. I have a couple of good friends who are full time students, but I definitely could have tried harder.
My biggest irk with the elitism here though is how the upper class–students included–treat the lower class. It’s absolutely atrocious and disgusting. At the malls, they leave messes everywhere because cleaners will come. In the dorms, if they drop a piece of trash, they don’t bother to pick it up. After practice, the soccer field is littered with empty plastic bottles. I’ve overheard girls in the dorms screaming at the cleaners who come every week to wipe up their messes. These cleaners work twelve hour days, six days a week, and most people spare them absolutely no thought. I asked a fulltime student what he thought, and his response was that they give the cleaners leftover food from events, and that makes it all okay. I hear horror stories about how many poorer immigrant workers live behind signs on the highway or ten to a room in an overpriced apartment. Maybe I’m more of a socialist than I thought, but when the government can afford to pay for sleeve surgery for any obese citizen and can build massive architectural structures with little purpose, they can afford to at least create some low-income housing.
People just have different mannerisms and aren’t as conscious of other people–whether it’s on the metro, when everyone tries to get on without letting people out, or whether it’s standing in the center of a moving walkway so no one can go around. This is, to me, particularly true of the Western tourists too. I feel like there’s a class divide here, not a cultural divide.
I was raised in New Zealand, where everyone’s pretty darn blunt. I’m half-Dutch, and we’re known for being pretty darn blunt. But where I was raised, everyone was equal. And we said ‘please’ and ‘thank you.’
I was also raised in San Francisco where we’re known to be pretty crazy tree-huggers, but the lack of environmental consciousness in the UAE is truly concerning. I hope it changes soon, because it doesn’t matter if half the world works towards sustainability if people are still over here throwing everything in the rubbish. This is true of many countries outside of the US.
There’s too much unnecessary extravagance in the UAE for me. I’m more of a utilitarian, so I’m not very impressed by the Burj Khalifa or the Burj al Arab. (Saudi Arabia’s apparently working on a building taller than the Burj Khalifa–seems to me like a competition to see who has the biggest…building.) I don’t understand the point of an $18,000 a night hotel suite. I’d rather have my $10 hostels that allow people from all backgrounds to explore.
I’d rather see Old Dubai and the restored huts there that show what life might have been like many years ago. But walking around the souq, I’ll encounter many people who simply want to sell me ‘designer’ handbags and no locals who can tell me about their country. Coming back from Iran made me like at Dubai with different eyes, and from my perspective, they’re trying too hard to erase what had given them culture.
I’m also disappointed in my lack of Arabic proficiency. I may have passed Arabic 101 (barely) but I can barely introduce myself. I can tell my roommate she is a chicken, and I can call a camel beautiful. I cannot, however, communicate with any semblance of sense. I feel like I got very little out of the time I put in. Part of this is because everyone speaks English in Dubai–I think more people speak English than Arabic.
There are some things I’ll miss about Dubai. I’ll miss the security guards outside the dorms who always smile. I’ll miss being a $100 flight from Iran. I’ll miss the swimming pool. I’ll miss the ready availability of pomegranates.
But I don’t think a bone in me is sad to be saying goodbye, and I don’t think there’s anything I’ll miss enough to want to return.