The main response I got from my peers when I told them that I would be going to Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates was "why would you go to the Middle East?" Study abroad experiences are often associated with countries in Western Europe, and as a Finnish-American, I decided it was time to get out of my comfort zone and go to region I have never been before. After all, if you aren't challenging yourself through your experience, it really won't be worth it in the end. Now, as I reflect on my time here, I am so thankful I chose to go to an unfamiliar part of the world. The Middle East is deeply rich in culture and heritage and many aspects of my experience helped me have a glimpse of what life here is like.
The International Exchange Office at the American University of Sharjah, in conjunction with CIEE and our amazing program director, Rawya, had many events and trips for us to get acquainted with the area. This included trips to Dubai, Sharjah, Abu Dhabi, and Oman. Some highlights of these locations include Sheikh Zayed Mosque, the Burj Khalifa, and all the beautiful souqs.
But in addition to these excursions, studying at the American University of Sharjah and interacting with the students and the faculty was also a crucial part of the study abroad experience here. One of the best parts of studying at the American University of Sharjah is its rich cultural diversity. For once I was not the only person with multiple passports or nationalities, and everyone is eager to meet people with unique stories and backgrounds. The students are very welcoming and are eager to share the culture of AUS with exchange students. They love forming study groups and helping you navigate the university. A big shock for myself and many of the other exchange students was AUS’s academic rigor—studying abroad is often associated with less academic stress and more time for traveling and exploring, but this program is heavily involved with academics. However, this is greatly beneficial to students in areas like STEM where studying abroad seems impossible, since all credits as AUS are accredited and transferable in the states. In other words, you’ll probably have to work harder here than in another program, but you’ll reap the benefits when you return home from not only a transformative cultural experience, for you also won’t be behind in your degree.
If you are looking to study abroad, I encourage you to look at all the options available to you and perhaps look at programs that seem unfamiliar. Studying abroad can be a transformative experience and the more unfamiliar a location may seem, the more you will end up enjoying and remembering your experience.