In January 2015, I was a sophomore in college setting off to study abroad at the American University in Dubai(AUD). I had no idea what my next 4 months would be like but I knew one thing: This was about to be a life-changing experience.
In high school, I dreamt about the day I would have a chance to study abroad in college. When I started UAlbany, I double majored in Political Science and decided to pick up a new language; Arabic. Compared to other study abroad locations, Dubai stood out to me the most because of the city’s immense diversity and its exposure to learn more about the Middle East. Looking back on my experience, I realized living a 15-hour plane ride away from home taught me valuable lessons that I still value in my adulthood.
1.Get comfortable with being uncomfortable
When I first stepped foot onto AUD’s campus, I barely knew anyone. I only knew one American student, Charlotte, because we were the only UAlbany students that studied in Dubai during the spring semester. Outside of her, everyone was basically a stranger and as much as I thought I would make friends right away, that didn’t exactly happen. AUD’s socializing scene was very different and I just didn’t know how I would be able to make friends. I noticed most of my new classmates were very distant. Sometimes I would smile at people and receive a blank stare back. I would think in my head “Damm what I do to get dubbed?” Later I learned, it wasn’t personal but many of the students were pretty shy and took time to warm up to me. Additionally, smiling at strangers seems to be a very American thing.
Lesson: Looking back, I realize this experience of feeling uncomfortable in a new space is very common. As an adult, I learned to welcome the uncomfortable feelings and to remind myself that it’s only a temporary feeling.
2.Listen, Learn, Adapt
When I first arrived to Dubai, I was SOOOO American and I didn’t even realize it. As a Ghanaian-American, I always had this assumption that I was more “cultured” than the average American and that I was able to assimilate anywhere.
During the first few weeks I came to campus, I joined the African Club and in our first meeting, we were having a discussion on plans for International Night (one of the biggest events on AUD’s campus). I started naming all these ideas, strategies and excursions for my visions/plans for how we will execute our performance. However, later I realized that my actions could be seen as intrusive. I didn’t know how International Night ran, how much time we had to plan for our performance nor how to exactly execute my plans.
Lesson: Looking back, I realize that at times it is best to listen, learn and then adapt, especially in a new environment. As an adult, I will always find myself in new spaces and I’ve reminded myself to just observe my surroundings first before finding my place.
3. Sense of Independence
Something about going to the airport, hopping on a plane and arriving to a new destination all on your own is such an independent feeling. Learning how to navigate the airport all alone for the first time was such a rewarding feeling. What was even more rewarding is finding my way around Dubai and being okay with getting lost sometimes.
Lesson: Be proud of the moments you accomplish small wins on your own. It’s made me realize how important it is to be proud of these small independent moments.
4.The Islamic Faith/ Breaking Stereotypes
Growing up, I never really understood any other faith besides my own, Christianity. Being surrounded by Islamophobia, my curiosity about Islam and wanting to be more open minded pushed me to want to learn Arabic and more about Islam. Dubai was the beginning of this learning journey. One of my appreciations about Islam is how dedicated Muslims are to their religion. I found it amazing when my friends made efforts to pray 5 times day. I appreciated how open my Muslims friends were about answering any of my questions about the faith. Seeing how devote my friends were about their faith and prayer pushed me to want to pray more and become closer to God.
Lesson: Look beyond stereotypes and don’t feel bad about wanting to challenge a stereotype. Their’s nothing wrong with educating yourself beyond what you are pushed to learn in a traditional western school setting.
5.Don’t Doubt Your Vision
Before going abroad, some of my close family/friends were very pessimistic and hesitant about my decision to go abroad for 4 months. As much as I understood their concerns, I had to learn that in life sometimes you need to do what’s best for you and follow your vision. I’ve always wanted to live abroad (and I still do) and I wanted to gain a certain exposure I wouldn’t get if I didn’t study abroad.
Lesson: Be confident in you dreams and aspirations. Many people will give you advice but remember that it is still your life and your vision may not be understood by many.
By: Ermida K., Founder of Being Black In
Check out her vlog on her study abroad!