As universities across the globe begin their autumn semester they will surely find themselves welcoming a swarm of students previously based in the United Arab Emirates. From the United Kingdom to the United States (not to forget Canada), year after year students in the UAE pack their bags to head abroad. The thrill of an education overseas is something many students in the UAE are fortunate enough to receive.

It is surely easy to get caught in the thrill and simply move abroad without realising the realities of the situation. Culture speaks a great deal in cases where students do head out of the UAE and it requires students to understand the situation entirely before making the move.


Moving out of the UAE summons a great deal of courage from a student. Apart from the mere fact of leaving home, a student needs to step into a new society and the acclimatisation process is one that each student must experience. Perhaps some students mould themselves quite easily into novel situations, yet many others take some time to adjust. A new land demands a new lifestyle and coming to terms with this novelty is crucial if a student is to feel comfortable during the period of stay and study.

Cultural tug of war

One reality of cultural change that students tend to overlook is the impact of a foreign culture on an individual.

Students from the UAE who move far away often find themselves caught in a cultural tug of war and though one could say that in this age of media such an argument is invalid, the truth of it comes out in what some of the students we interviewed had to say.

Customs of a new land can impact not just our lifestyles but our thinking as well – it is perhaps why many parents at times hesitate to send their children out of their sight, fearing they will return completely different.

— The writer is a student of York University in Toronto, Canada

Students speak

Sheela Ahuja
Attended the Dubai Gem School and is now studying Finance at the University of Manchester. She said: "Dubai and the UAE in general is modern in every sense of the word. But there are cultural values that are strictly adhered to and this is what contributes to a large expatriate community settling in comfortably. In that sense, moving to the UK demanded a great deal of adjusting."

Sheela admitted that though there were cultural shocks, they were not upsetting. "Initially, I wanted to head back home, since I was missing my family. Eventually I got used to it and I am glad I did because it teaches you tolerance."

Sheela also pointed out the factor of accent. "I thought I spoke English and that would suffice for all communication. Little did I realise the impact of accent."

Omar Waleed Mughal
He is studying accounting at the Middlesex University (UK). "Experiencing different cultures means that you have thorough knowledge of good and bad. Ultimately it is up to you to decide which path to go on."

Omar felt that students and parents alike should accept cultural change as an inherent feature of education abroad.

"Once you meet more people you learn how to interact. It helps your character and it facilitates a good well-rounded education. Of course you will meet someone doing something your culture would disapprove of and in such situations you simply act at your own discretion." Omar stressed that students should place the purpose of an education at the top of their list and he encouraged students not to let cultural alienation hinder them.

Rajiv Zaveri
He is studying for a degree in Business Management at Purdue University in the US.

"I must admit that I felt secure going to the US since my siblings were already settled there. I knew that in terms of culture, particularly food, that I was well taken care of." Rajiv did not see any massive changes in culture and owed it to Dubai's modernity. Yet he did advise students to beware of staying alone. "Independence comes at a cost."

Aishwarya Viswanath
A pre-med student at University of California, Los Angelese spoke of the fun she had entering a new culture. "The first thing I encountered on a field trip was what many of us Gulf-raised children never faced, tax! Apart from learning to count my change, it took a while to adjust to different pronunciations and accents." Aishwarya accepted the fact that she missed her home a great deal but stated that though she was far away from home, she really felt that she was learning more rather than forgetting her roots.

"Here in LA you see people from a variety of ethnic groups and you are exposed to a different world altogether. I enjoy this and I like to learn more since it is what my education is all about."

From what most students have said, it is obvious that moving away from home into a new culture does present drastic changes. Students and parents alike need to accept that a new country and culture can ask questions of one's own — however, it is important for students to learn to behave diplomatically. If anything, students should only change for the better and the prospect of learning the good and bad should surely make an education abroad an experience worth every cent.

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