Though your coursework will inevitably be one of the most important parts of any abroad program, something I have found to be most rewarding in the Sharjah program so far is the cultural education I'm gaining outside the classroom. CIEE was generous enough to take us to Abu Dhabi this past weekend, and we were able to explore both the artistic and religious aspects of Arab culture. Tumbling onto the charter bus at 9am on Saturday morning, my exhaustion from the early morning quickly evaporated; in its place grew a gnawing desire to absorb every bit of new information I possibly could. As we pulled into Abu Dhabi, our first stop was the Louvre. Far from Paris, the Louvre in Abu Dhabi offers a wide assortment of renowned artwork from across the globe. Inside the museum, a tour guide led us through each room, regailing us with descriptions and stories of important artwork. After learning about pieces ranging from Leonardo DaVinci's artwork to sculptures so old the artist is unknown, the guide led us into a beautiful dome. The gray, crossed bar design of the dome allowed for little pieces of light to flood the room, leaving spots of sunshine on the otherwise colorless area. The contrast of concrete and sunlight created a sense of being both indoors and outdoors. Overlooking bright blue water, the dome managed to be beautiful without being complex, and the simple black sculptures scattered throughout the space allowed the mind feel all at once curious and at peace. I left feeling content and calm, which was a nice break from the fast pace of UAE lifestyle.
After leaving the Louvre, our bus headed for the Sheikh Zayed Mosque, a grand and beautiful mosque dedicated to one of the most important figures in the history of the United Arab Emirates. After a tour through the main prayer hall, we were set free to explore the building on our own. All of us had to cover to go inside the mosque- the girls wore abayas and headscarfs while the boys either sported the Kandoora (local traditional dress) or long pants. It was a cool way to experience the culture on a more personal level. In my life, I'm not sure I've ever seen something so incredibly beautiful. Flooded with light, the mosque is almost all white with accents of gold. With delicate floral designs on all the columns and blue backlighting at night, I could feel the importance of the building simply by standing outside of it. In the main prayer hall, there's a large wall showing the ninety-nine names of god. Though I'm not a religious person, my trip to the mosque made me appreciate the brilliance of believing in something so powerfully, and of being a part of something bigger than yourself. I'm endlessly grateful to CIEE, and our wonderful group leader Rawya, for allowing me to get the most out of this abroad experience. Upon deciding on where you want to go abroad, consider the trips outside of the university that the program will offer; often times it's the moments outside of a traditional learning environment where you learn the most.