United Arab Emirates: Laughter and Singing

Submitted by Boris Manjic on the 2022 winter session program in the United Arab Emirates sponsored by the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering…

The group started the week by going to Arabia’s Wildlife Centre and indulged in a side of Dubai we haven’t seen before. Within the reserve, there were a multitude of animals including birds, monkeys, wolves, cheetah, and way more. My favorite exhibit was by far the baboons since they acted so much like humans did. We stayed there for at least thirty minutes just laughing because of their goofy behavior.


















After finishing up there, we went to Global Village, which in my opinion, was a much better experience than Expo. They had many countries there and we got to see what each had to offer within their markets. I ended up buying a cashmere scarf for pretty cheap and Mike/Matt/Scott got Damascus steel dancing knives. The best experience there was watching Brendon go into Syria and purchase traditional clothing and start walking around the market. Every person started bowing and calling him “Mashal al-Assad”, who is the current king of Syria. Everyone was so cheerful and our group was dying laughing at how much it was being said.

A few days later, the group went to the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world, and we got to see the best views of Dubai; including a beautiful sunset. Once we finished there, we ate at a Lebanese restaurant under the Burj and got to experience the fountain show. The hummus was delectable and the show was also the best I have ever seen.
Finally, during one of our “Expo days” we all went to see the Black Eyed Peas perform at the Al Wasl stage. There were thousands of people there and I am positive our group was the most hyped as we were screaming and dancing to every song. It was a great bonding experience for us all and not one person regretted it. I’m so grateful for this week as the group’s friendship tightened and I hope we can get even closer next week.

United Arab Emirates: Emirate Hospitality

Submitted by Erin Potter on the 2022 winter session program in the United Arab Emirates sponsored by the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering…

One of the most exciting things we did this week was visiting the Sheik Muhammed Center for Cultural Understanding (SMCC). Since being in Dubai I have seen super modern cities filled with foods and shops from around the world. However, I have been wanting to learn more about Emirati culture which is why I was excited to hear we were visiting the SMCC. We started out the day sitting in a traditional Emirati home; the main gathering space consisted of a large rug surrounded by thirty pillows for us to sit on. I learned that sitting on the floor for meals is often done due to the amount of people eating. Typically, an Emirati home could hold as many as 30 people so it is much easier to eat on the floor rather than having a table to hold that many people.

We also got to visit a mosque on the tour and learn about the Islamic religion. We had to cover our hair by wearing a hijab and wear modest clothes. We learned about the five pillars of Islam including Ramadan and the five prayers conducted every day. It was a great opportunity to ask any questions we had about being Muslim; the tour guides were encouraging us to ask a lot of questions and were eager to teach us. The tour finished off with a typical Emirati meal where we ate things like vegetable saloona and lugaimat. Lugaimat is a desert dish consisting of fried dough balls with date syrup drizzled on top. After the meal, we were served Arabic coffee and we learned that if you want more coffee, you hold out your glass and if you do not want any more, you shake your glass. It is traditional that the youngest member of the household serves the coffee. We also learned that you are not supposed to fill up the coffee cup all the way to the top; since the cups do not have handles, if it is filled to the top it will spill on the guest and is a sign that you want them to finish quickly and leave. It was a really amazing day learning about traditional Emirati culture, and I cannot wait to learn more throughout the program!

A windcatcher which is an architectural element used to naturally cool a house
Exterior of the mosque
Lunch spread

United Arab Emirates: Best Week of My Life

Submitted by Boris Manjic on the 2022 winter session program in the United Arab Emirates sponsored by the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering…

The second week in Dubai was somehow even more fun than our first week. It started with the entire group enjoying a meal at a Syrian restaurant that our TA, Waleed, recommended. Here, we ate a “mixed meat grill” and the best hummus I have ever tasted. On top of the great food, the service was impeccable. I am not exaggerating when I say the second I put a napkin down, the waiter came to pick it up immediately.  It was the absolute best service I have ever received and probably will ever receive. The following day, Dr. Small took us on a nature tour in the Green Planet Indoor Wildlife Reserve. Here, we saw over 30 species of birds, monkeys, and even bats. The enclosure was beautiful and I have never seen anything like it before as even the temperature/humidity was mimicking a real rainforest.

On the 14th, I had the best time of my life. Dr. Small took us out to the desert, which was a complete change to the extreme city life of Dubai I have been experiencing. We started by getting traditional Emirati clothing, kandoras and ghuṭrahs, and prepared to go in 4×4 vehicles. We stopped at the top of a sand dune and stayed till sunset. There, we got the most beautiful views of the terrain and had a wholesome experience as a group. Right after sunset, we went to a camp where we got to see fire dancing, belly dancing, and the traditional tanoura dance. Once the dances finished, we had a buffet which had the most traditional food we’ve seen so far. Everything included rice and some sort of meat/sauce.

On the 17th, Dr. Small took us to a camel race. This was the most unique event we attended since I haven’t even seen any camels prior to this program and now we got to see well over
200. The event was sort of like a horse race, but instead of human jockeys there were robots controlling the camel’s speed. The race was also extremely long and the average time to complete one was fourteen minutes. This was a once in a lifetime experience only available in select countries.

Finally, on the 18th we went to the Sheikh Mohammed Cultural Center and learned cultural differences between the U.S, and the UAE. For example, sons/daughters get married by the decision of their parents and not by the choice of their own will. It is widely accepted in the UAE, but was a culture shock for me. After we finished, we went to the Miracle Gardens, where there were the most species of flowers I have ever seen. They even had a life-sized model of the A380 plane completely covered in plants. It was such a pleasing experience and I wish we had more places like this in the United States

Overall, the best week of my life and I hope next week can live up to what we did this week.

United Arab Emirates: The NASCAR of the Desert

Submitted by Erin Potter on the 2022 winter session program in the United Arab Emirates sponsored by the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering…

One thing that I did not expect to see while in Dubai was camel races. In America, it is common for people to spend their weekends at local horse races so when Professor Small told us we were going to camel races, I did not believe it! I had always thought that camels were slow and relaxed, but I soon learned that they could run 8km (~5 miles) in 10 minutes! When we arrived at the camel races there were hundreds of camels lined up for various heats. Unlike the United States, betting is illegal in Dubai so the people that go to watch the races are doing so for enjoyment. A small robot jockey is placed on top of every camel to encourage it to keep running, multiple cars full of screaming people who control the jockeys follow the camels along the 8km track. The jockeys also have a walkie talkie so that the owners can communicate commands to their camel. The jockeys used to be small children, but the UAE wanted to move forward with technology to make the races safer; the UAE worked with UNICEF in 2002 to become the first nation to ban underage jockeys.

The camel racing track is not a small circle, but rather a long and winding track. We originally started watching at the start, but then crossed over to the finish line; we even got to try camel milk while we watched. It was also surprising to learn how much a camel can cost. A typical camel can cost $55,000, but winning camels can sell for up to $30 million! The owner also must spend at least $1,000 per month to take care of the camel so winning the prize money is super important. This was such a unique and valuable thing to experience!

United Arab Emirates: Arabian Hospitality

Submitted by Ben Horney on the 2022 winter session program in the United Arab Emirates sponsored by the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering…

My second week in Dubai was as exciting as the first. I am slowly acclimating to the Emirati¹ culture and recognizing my place in Dubai. Here, I am a guest who is treated very well. Hospitality is common practice in all Arab countries.

My classmates, TAs, professor, and I went on a desert safari that in my opinion, epitomized the welcoming Arabian way. In summary, we first caravanned through the desert in Land Cruisers with our thoughtful drivers who made a pitstop to ensure that we could watch the sun set over the desert dunes² . Then, we made our way to a camp where the tour group showcased different cultures within the Arab world. The night consisted of performances and food. I was intrigued by the Tanoura dance (an Egyptian folk dance according to Google) and I was impressed by the food, which included shawarma and falafel.

I could go on and on about the desert safari, but I would like to get to the point: I am appreciative that Arabs are excited to share their culture! They are passionate and respectful hosts, and I would be remiss if I did not comment on their genuine behavior.

¹An Emirati is a United Arab Emirates (UAE) national. Dubai is one of the seven Emirates in the UAE.
²I read that many nationals go to the desert to escape city life and reconnect with their ancestral roots.

United Arab Emirates: World Expo

Submitted by Erin Potter on the 2022 winter session program in the United Arab Emirates sponsored by the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering…

Over the past week in Dubai I have been exposed to so many different cultures; what makes Dubai so unique is that it is home to people from all over the world. Only 20% of the population in Dubai are Emiratis, which means that most of the population is made of expatriates (people residing in their non-native country). I was surprised to see the amount of international food in Dubai; it is not uncommon to see Mexican restaurants located next to Chinese restaurants with Arabic restaurants across the street. I have enjoyed getting to talk to people from around the world from countries like Syria, Italy, Great Britain, and many others.

Another amazing part of this experience has been going to the World Expo. The World Expo is a large event held every five years that showcases various countries’ accomplishments and cultures around the world. This year it is being held in Dubai, so we are lucky to be able to attend this amazing event; the next World Expo is in Japan in 2025. I have been stopping in the exhibits of many different countries and have gotten the opportunity to talk to people around the world and learn about their lives. For instance, we went to Nauru which is the smallest island nation in the world. While in their exhibit, I learned a lot about their culture; before attending Expo, I had never even heard of Nauru, but now I know so much about it. I have visited over 25 different countries so far and I look forward to attending even more! I am so excited to see where the rest of this journey will take me and to learn more about Dubai and the rest of the world!

Dome located at the center of the World Expo in Dubai
Country of Oman’s Expo exhibit


United Arab Emirates: Discovering Dubai

Submitted by Boris Manjic on the 2022 winter session program in the United Arab Emirates sponsored by the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering…

Landing in Dubai a week prior to the official study abroad date was the best decision I have ever made in my life. I stayed at a hostel looking over the Dubai Marina and the Palm Jumeirah in preparation for the New Year’s Eve events. Every person I met at the hostel was extremely welcoming and hospitable, to the point of me even getting an interview for a real estate company and a partnership offer from a construction project manager from Iran, Arash, that owns seven companies in four countries. From Arash, I learned a year’s worth of information relating to my major during a two hour dinner meeting. I also met Gabriele, an Italian mineral company head, who is now one of my best friends and continues to show love and appreciation to every person he meets.

After Dr. Small, the TAs, other students, and I picked the rest of the class up from the airport, I immediately knew this was going to be a month of pure happiness and opportunity. I saw the same look in everyone’s eyes that I had experienced myself my first few days here. The amount of culture shock was significant, but not crippling. I thought to myself on my first day here that it was a mistake to go on my own, but I was immediately proven wrong since I was embraced by the whole community within minutes of getting there. The day after the students landed was eventful since we went on a bus tour all around Dubai. Dr. Small led the tour and took us to five different locations. My favorite place, the souks, is an open-air market for spice and gold, where you can practice your haggling skills and get every traditional Emirati item you could ever imagine.

In regards to cuisine, Dr. Small took us to an Arabic cafe/restaurant where we got a plethora of food and drink including, but not limited to: falafel, samosas, rice dishes, Arabic tea, and hibiscus tea. It was most people’s first time eating at an Arabic restaurant and every single person enjoyed their time there and the new culture they got to experience.

In this first week, we were fortunate enough to go to the Dubai Frame, Expo 2020, a boat tour, a helicopter tour, the Mall of the Emirates, the Dubai Mall, and many more tourist attractions. Every place we went to was unique and showed the culture of Dubai despite them being tourist attractions. Looking back, it was the most eventful week of my life and I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything. Looking forward, I hope we can experience more local areas and speak to even more amazing people.

View from the helicopter tour overlooking a major portion of Dubai
View from my hostel overlooking the Palm Juremiah
The Dubai Frame located in Zabeel Park

United Arab Emirates: Dubai Expo

Submitted by Ben Horney on the 2022 winter session program in the United Arab Emirates sponsored by the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering…

My first week in Dubai was nothing short of spectacular – the places, food, and people. Traditionally, culture shock is associated with disorientation and anxiety; however, my experience with “culture shock” has been a bit different thus far. Yes, I am not familiar with the local culture yet, but I quickly realized that it is important to keep an open mind while traveling (this is my first time traveling internationally).

Visiting Dubai Expo 2020 especially exemplified the good that is out there and reassured me that people are more or less the same at heart wherever they live. For the readers that do not know, Expo is equivalent to the World’s Fair. It is an exhibition that showcases architecture, science, technology, etc. from each country. Each country has its own pavilion and staff; it was great to talk to the staff and make new friends.

Overall, I want to get the point across that traveling does not have to be scary. I am grateful for the opportunity to talk to people of different nationalities, and I plan on making new friends along the way. In fact, I recently befriended two girls from England and learned about their way of life. If there is anybody that is contemplating studying abroad, I urge you to take the risk and jump! You are almost certain to reap an abundance of rewards.

The Al Wasl Plaza is a grand dome that welcomes all visitors to Dubai Expo 2020.
The Pakistan Pavilion is one of many eye-catching pavilions.

Dubai: A Bittersweet Good-bye

Submitted by Arya Shajpaul on the 2020 winter session program in Dubai sponsored by the Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering…

In a blink of an eye, my study abroad in Dubai was over. I can’t describe how fast the month went by. I kept myself busy through lots of excursions to explore the city, enriching myself in its culture. My whole class became a tightly knit community, and I will miss spending the time with them to do adventurous activities.

Trying the foods from countries like Iraq, UAE, India, Afghanistan, Lebanon, and Iran was amazing. It really encouraged me to eat foods from across the globe. When I picture biryani and hummus, I see the Arabian Teahouse in Old Dubai. The graveled floor causing your shoes to become white, the vines and flowers growing alongside each other on the ceiling, and the beautiful silverware encouraging you to eat all form a part in the atmosphere here. The food is rich in spices, flavor, and taste, proudly embodying authentic Emirati food.

Dubai has an endless amount of activities. By taking the metro system or taxi, I can do things such as water sports, skydiving, dune bashing, shopping, skiing, and much more. Skiing in Dubai was one of the most interesting activities I’ve done. This wasn’t because of the skiing. Rather, the sheer absurdity of it. No one would believe you if you told them that you went skiing in a desert. A mall called the Mall of the Emirates has an indoor ski slope with ski lifts, snow tubing, and a place to see emperor penguins. The city has plans to create even larger ski slopes in their future malls.

It was a bittersweet feeling as I went to the airport. I was happy to see family and friends, but I know I will miss the city for the food, activities, environment, and culture around me. I really hope I can visit again in the future and see the city develop.

Dubai: The Importance of Family

Submitted by Arya Shajpaul on the 2020 winter session program in Dubai sponsored by the Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering…

Family is one the biggest parts of the culture within the Arab world. Families stick together no matter what circumstances they are in, and the actions you take are not only felt by you, but rippled throughout the family. Compared to American culture, the emphasis on family is much more prevalent.

Throughout my high school and college years, I’ve noticed more and more adolescents are willing to leave their families and be by themselves in the name of independence. They tend to push family away, not happy being back at home. Being fully independent and being able to survive in harsh circumstances is one of the more brutal qualities within the American culture. It seems like being disjointed from family is becoming normalized.

As I have talked to local Gulf Arabs, I noticed that each one of them keeps family close. Family comes first in all circumstances.  In addition, they tend to have bigger families so they must support each other by sharing what they have. It’s expected that once the parents get older, then the older siblings must start having responsibilities taking care of family. The older sibling must increasingly support the younger siblings since the parents may not be able to provide everything. It’s rare to see disjointed families due to this support system.

American culture should adopt some aspects of family since it may be beneficial to future generations by creating an environment of mental and emotional security. The added supports in Arab culture can lead to a network that transforms families into a pillar of unbreakable support.