United Arab Emirates
Studying in the United Arab Emirates gives you access to both lavish luxuries and a chance to experience a culture firmly rooted in Islamic traditions. Sharjah is the third largest emirate of the seven that comprise the country and has been deemed the cultural capital of the UAE. It boasts a wide range of museums along with other cultural offerings such as traditional markets, heritage village areas and a working port. The official language is Arabic, but English is more commonly used in daily conversations. Admire majestic mosques and discover the beauty of true Arabian deserts, mountains and beaches.
Arabic, English, Persian, Hindi, Urdu
The higher education system in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) comprises both a public and private sector. In recent years, it has made significant strides in terms of providing equal education opportunities to both men and women and opening new universities with greater access to education for students from rural areas. Students in the UAE choose between attending a public university free of charge (if they are Emirati Nationals) or one of the many private universities that usually model an international system of education. In addition to management by other international entities, the UAE Ministry of Education and Higher Technology oversees and accredits both public and private universities.
Founded in 1997, the American University of Sharjah (AUS) was established to be a leading independent, nonprofit, coeducational institution in the Gulf region. Consciously based upon American institutions of higher education, AUS is thoroughly grounded in Arab culture and is part of a larger process of the revitalization of intellectual life in the Middle East. AUS offers 26 majors and 46 minors at the undergraduate level, as well as 13 master's degree programs. While Arabic is the official language of the UAE, the language of instruction at AUS is English: all classes and administrative functions are conducted in English
COURSES AND GRADING SYSTEM
AUS is structured on 15-week courses, and 18 to 20 week semesters. Students can expect a similar course setup to that of other American institutions, including similar credit hours, number of classes, class structure, number of tests, homework amount, etc. Courses are usually worth three credit hours, and classes meet on Sunday/Tuesday/Thursday (usually for 50 minutes) or Monday/Wednesday (usually for 75 minutes). Grades and transcripts are issued in the American letter-grade format of A, B, C, D, and F.
AUS has a very diverse student body, joining the university from a wide number of schools and academic systems. In order to cater to this diversity, teaching and learning methods may differ from the traditional US-system, with more frequent assessments the norm in order to help keep students current with the material. AUS maintains an Academic Support Center for advising purposes, and this center provides numerous workshops (e.g. time management, study skills, etc.) to help smooth the transition for incoming students.
Visa and Residency
Students are required to have a visa when staying for longer than one month in the UAE. As visa rules and regulations change often, it is recommended that students refer to information from the UAE embassy and from paperwork provided by AUS. Because all visas will be sponsored and prepared by AUS, international students first need university acceptance to apply. Visas cannot be processed for passports expiring within one year of the visa application date. Additionally, students need at least 1-2 blank pages in their passport before applying for the visa.
Prior to arriving, students need to upload the following to AUS via the university's online application system:
- A clear passport-size photo
- Visa Form 3
- Arrival information (arrival airport, arrival time, carrier, flight number and departure city)
- Dorm application and leave requests
Students should expect the following after submitting their visa applications:
- AUS will send students a scanned copy of the temporary visa prior to arrival and this paperwork MUST BE KEPT IN CARRY-ON LUGGAGE while traveling.
- When going through passport control, students MUST ensure they receive a stamp from the passport agent on BOTH their passport and the temporary visa. These stamps from passport control are valid for 30 days from entry. Students should ensure the temporary visa is stamped at Passport Control; otherwise, they have to pay approximately 650 Dirhams for a new one after entering the country as a tourist..
- Upon arrival at AUS, the International Exchange Office (IXO) will advise students regarding the process for submitting their temporary visa and passport to UAE Immigration in order to receive their Residence Visa stamp. The process takes 3-4 weeks, during which time students won’t be able to leave the country. At the same time that final visa application is submitted, an application will be submitted for an Emirates ID. While the passport with visa stamp is usually returned within approx. 3 weeks, the Emirates ID can take considerably longer. IXO will update students accordingly throughout the beginning of the semester.
- Students will undergo an HIV blood test and chest x-ray completed at the UAE Ministry of Health.
This information provides guidelines about the visa process. Visa regulations often change, and procedures can vary by Consulate and/or Embassy. Students should verify the current visa application procedures with the appropriate Consulate or Embassy before initiating the process. While every effort is made to ensure these guidelines are updated and as accurate as possible, ISEP cannot guarantee that the visa information posted is the most current.
Religion is a deeply rooted and cherished facet of Emirati culture. The UAE is predominantly Muslim, but other religious populations include Christians and Hindus. Emiratis are tolerant of other religions but students should refrain from proselytizing (preaching other religions and beliefs), which is strictly forbidden
Because of the large Muslim population, students will frequently find themselves surrounded by the religious traditions associated with Islam, including five calls to prayer heard from nearby mosques each day (early morning, near midday, mid-afternoon, sunset, and after dinner).
While living in the UAE, students should generally keep the following in mind with respect to religious traditions:
- Both men and women should ensure that their shoulders are covered and that pants/skirts go no higher than the knee when out in public. Students are expected to respect this dress code while in public in the United Arab Emirates. On campus AUS has the authority to enforce this dress code; for more details please read the dress code brochure provided by AUS.
- Most mosques are not open to non-Muslims. For the few that do allow non-Muslim visitors, it is important to dress appropriately. Women must cover their heads and wear long black gowns (abayas), which are usually provided at the entrance. Men must wear long white gowns.
- Alcohol and pork must not be consumed in public unless within the confines of a licensed establishment.
- Physical contact/affection between men and women (even long-term married couples) is strongly discouraged. However, physical contact (e.g., hand holding, putting arms around one another, etc.) between people of the same sex is considered to be perfectly acceptable and not representative of a romantic relationship.
- Religious discussions are generally fine but should not be turned into fiery debates.
The most widely observed Muslim holiday is Ramadan, which celebrates the Quran being revealed to the Prophet Mohammed. Participating in Ramadan is one of the Five Pillars of Islam. Ramadan is in the ninth month of the Islamic Calendar and requires participating Muslims to refrain from eating and drinking from dawn until sunset, pray, show self-restraint, and perform good deeds for the less fortunate. The dates of Ramadan shift 11 days earlier each year, depending on the lunar cycle.
When studying in the UAE during Ramadan, students will frequently experience Iftar celebrations, or the breaking of the fast that begins at sunsets. Iftar is usually spent with family or friends and includes socialization and the sharing of extensive meals, desserts, and coffee. During the month of Ramadan it is common for people to stay up later and sleep in longer. Working hours are normally reduced and the pace of life generally slows down. Students applying and studying during this time should prepare to be a little more patient with day-to-day operations.
Ramadan ends with the holiday of Eid al-Fitr, or the Festival of Breaking the Fast, which is usually marked by food donations to the poor (Zakat), new clothing, small gifts for children, communal prayers, and large feasts with family and friends. The Eid is celebrated 29 – 30 days after fasting and begins with the new lunar sighting.
The month of Ramadan is both a culturally and religiously important tradition in the UAE. If you are studying at AUS during this month, please keep the following in mind:
- During Ramadan, it is illegal for anyone (even non-Muslims) to eat, drink, smoke, and chew gum in public.
- To wish someone a blessed Ramadan, use the phrase Ramadan Mubarak.
It is not uncommon for students to experience culture shock when traveling to any new destination. The most important thing to remember is that this shock will subside as time goes on. After the first few weeks of living in a new culture, students typically begin to feel more at home and more incorporated into society. Emiratis are very warm and accommodating; students should feel free to seek out relationships with students on campus for support.
Since only about 16% of the population is made up of Emiratis, the UAE is extremely multicultural, with the majority of the population comprising immigrants from the Asian continent as well as from the Philippines and other Islamic countries. The UAE is a relatively class-based society—with privileges generally extended first to Emiratis, then to professional Westerners, then to other professionals, and finally to laborers. Students should be prepared to cope with being labeled as one class or another on the basis of appearances. Furthermore, students will frequently be asked where they’re from in everyday discussion with Emiratis.
Because of the mix of nationalities in the UAE, English is the common language, though not everyone speaks it comprehensibly. Outside of the major cities (i.e. Sharjah, Dubai, and Abu Dhabi), English becomes less common, but most people will understand at least some broken English.
The café lifestyle (spending time with friends while drinking coffee and tea) is also prevalent in Emirati society for all generations. As a result of the hot daytime temperatures, it is not uncommon for Gulf Arabs to stay up late, eating dinner around 10 pm. In the cooler months, people often enjoy outdoor activities such as desert BBQs, hiking in Wadis, falconry, and camel racing—along with more Western sports like rugby, cricket, water sports (e.g. swimming, snorkeling, fishing, diving, boating, etc.) and soccer/football. Beach activities are also very popular in the many beautiful white-sand beaches located around the Emirates.
The UAE has become a shopper’s paradise with many large malls and superstores nestled all over the country. Malls are often quite unique and include features such as indoor amusement parks, ski fields, skating rinks, aquariums, gold souks, cinemas, and restaurants. Every January, the shopping culture comes together for the Dubai Shopping Festival to celebrate the unique shopping experience offered in the UAE. Shoppers enjoy tax free shopping as well as heavy discounts on a wide range of items including jewelry, cars, perfumes, textiles, handicrafts and electronics items as shops and malls try to outdo each other in sales.
Because the UAE is an Islamic country, weekends are Friday and Saturday. Friday is the holy day of the week, and, the school and work week is Sunday through Thursday. On Fridays, students can expect businesses to have limited store hours. Friday is viewed as a day meant for spending time with close family and friends.
In general, most people in the UAE have a relaxed approach to managing time, which is best described by the common Arabic phrase inshallah, or God willing, meaning if something is meant to happen, it will happen in its own time. Thus, students can expect to encounter a leisurely attitude toward getting things done, making it especially important to be patient with bureaucratic systems.
Arabic is the official and local language of the UAE. Students will find that the Gulf dialect varies slightly in pronunciation from the modern standard Arabic that is studied at most universities. Students will hear both Arabic and English on campus, but the vast majority of classes are conducted in English. Additionally, students will notice that English is prevalent off campus in stores and on most street signs. Other common languages include Urdu, Hindi, Farsi, Tamil, Bengali, Malayalam, and Punjabi.
The UAE takes great pride in offering a huge variety of trendy culinary offerings for every taste, cuisine, and budget.
Traditionally, Emiratis and other Gulf Arabs sit on a mat on the ground and eat collectively from a large serving dish. While eating habits today are extremely diverse, reflecting a multicultural population, Emiratis still have a collective eating style when it comes to sharing a meal. It is also polite to eat with your right hand and to never lick your fingers. When hosting guests, it is always considered polite to serve them Arabic coffee or tea and dates or figs upon arrival.
Remember that tipping is purely voluntary when eating out. If provided with good service or sitting with a large group, adding 10% to the total restaurant bill usually suffices. Tipping is also appreciated in salons, gas stations, and taxis since these workers usually make very low wages.
TRANSPORTATION AND TRAVEL
Compared with other countries in the region, the UAE has a fairly advanced transportation system. Dubai enjoys a series of Metro, Tram, and Monorail systems, buses, and there are plenty of taxis in most cities available for moderate prices.
The AUS campus is located only 20 minutes outside of Dubai and provides a regular transportation service from the campus to the closest metro stop. (For taxis, there is a 20 – 25 dirham surcharge for transportation from Sharjah to Dubai.) It is not recommended that students rent or drive cars in the UAE since road rules and regulations are not clear and driving can be very dangerous. Students should buckle seatbelts when possible in taxis or when driving with others.
Students who wish to travel in the region should be aware that an Israeli stamp in their passport may prohibit them from entering or re-entering the UAE and many other Gulf Arab countries.
The UAE is mostly hot and dry. Summer high temperatures in June, July, and August are usually around 40-45°C (104°-120° F) and will only cool down slightly at night. In the winter months—usually December, January, and February— high temperatures range from 10° – 14°C (50° – 57.2°F). During the winter months temperatures cool down significantly at night and students should pack like jackets and sweaters. Students can also expect to experience sand storms during changing seasons. Since there is very little rainfall throughout the year when it does rain in February or March flooding can occur because of inadequate drainage systems on the roads and sidewalks. Students should exercise caution when walking on marble and other smooth surfaces after the rain, as it can be very slippery.
There are two main cell phone providers in the UAE: Etislat and Du. Students are encouraged to get unlocked mobile phones (either in the UAE or from home) and must buy sim cards once arrived in the UAE in order to have an Emirati phone number. Sim cards are usually pay by the minute with relatively good rates and free incoming calls – deals vary over time and by provider. To call the UAE, dial +011 plus the country code (971) then the city code (2 for Abu Dhabi, 4 for Dubai, and 6 for Sharjah). If dialing within the UAE, add a 0 to the city code; in other words, dial 06-XXX-XXXX to call Sharjah.
Reliable high-speed internet access is readily available throughout the UAE and on campus.
Street names are not commonly used in the UAE; thus, most addresses usually include a PO Box number. A normal letter costs 6 AED to send to the US, 5 AED to send to Europe, 4 AED to send to Asia, and 3 AED to send to all other Arab nations. Most post offices are open from 8 am – 5 pm, Sunday through Thursday, and most postal services are not available on the weekend. Additionally DHL, FedEx, UPS, and Aramex are all available at the university post office for sending and receiving larger packages.
There are a wide variety of Arabic, English, and Hindi TV stations available via satellite and cable. Radio stations are also widely available in Arabic, English, and Hindi.
There are also a number of Arabic and English newspapers in the UAE, although freedom of speech is not a guaranteed right. English newspapers include Gulf News, Khaleej Times, and The National.
WHAT TO BRING
Students need to be aware of a rather strict dress code both on and off campus. For men and women, it is necessary to wear clothing that covers the shoulders and legs past the knee. It is also important to bring a sunhat, good sunglasses, and sandals for the many hot months, along with warmer clothing such as sweaters, warm pants, and a light jacket for the winter months.
Students may wish to bring a roll of toilet paper with them, particularly if they are arriving on a Friday or late at night, as the dorms don’t provide this when they initially move in. Women may also wish to bring preferred feminine hygiene products with them, as products sold in the UAE can be quite different.
Special note to women: The UAE is a very conservative country; it is not advisable to draw any unnecessary attention to yourself by wearing tight clothing, plunging necklines, or any type of transparent material. AUS enforces a strict dress code that allows campus staff to ask any student not dressed appropriately to return to their rooms and change clothes. While this may seem very different from traditions elsewhere, AUS staff is only looking out for student safety and security both on and off campus.
There are three main airports in the country: Dubai International Airport—DXB, Sharjah International Airport (from Eastern Europe or Gulf Arab Nations), and the Abu Dhabi International Airport (about a two-hour drive from the AUS campus). Arrival at the Dubai International Airport is usually the best point of entry. If arrangements have not been made for the student to be picked up by the university from the airport, then students can easily take a taxi from the airport to their destination at the university.
Health and Safety
The UAE is known for its high level of safety and security and its very low rate of violent crime. However, students are encouraged to be aware of their surroundings and not to travel alone late at night.
For women, it is important to avoid being overly friendly and to avoidt smiling to people (particularly men) in passing. In fact, women should ignore the members of the opposite sex except during store transactions and when paying taxi drivers. Additionally, women should never sit in the front seat of a taxi.
In general, the biggest dangers relate to driving habits in the region; pedestrians should exercise caution when crossing streets and always buckle up when riding in any car or taxi. If a visitor is involved in any traffic incident, s/he must insist on getting a police report for the incident asap (preferably at the scene), as they will be unable to access health care or insurance without it. Always, always, always insist on a police report, no matter what!
The UAE also has a relatively high standard of health care as it is served by a wide range of hospitals and medical clinics. The AUS campus has its own medical clinic that students are encouraged to use that is open during normal working hours on weekdays, and the University City Hospital (including Emergency Room) and Dental Hospital is located just around the corner, a 5-minute drive from campus
Although there are no special immunization requirements to enter the UAE, it is recommended that students be up to date on all standard vaccinations including tetanus. Once students arrive on campus, they will need to get a chest x-ray and HIV test from the health clinic before their residency permits are issued. Students should also have proof of their blood type as it will be included on the student ID. The health center can provide this blood typing service if the student is unaware of their blood type.
The UAE currency is called the dirham, usually abbreviated as AED or Dh. One AED is 100 fils. Coins, or fils, are available in denominations of 1 AED, 10 fils (quite rare these days), 25 fils, and 50 fils, and notes are available in denominations of 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, 500, and 1000 AED. In practice, the UAE does not use 10-cent coins—only 25 and 50. Prices, however, are sometimes 10.90 or 5.35. In these cases, just round up or down. Most small transactions are conducted with cash, and students should get into the habit of exchanging large bills for smaller denominations whenever possible. The UAE also does not have sales tax on any purchases. See Xe.com for the current exchange rate.
BANKS AND ATMs
A wide range of banks and ATMs are available in the UAE and can be found throughout the main cities and shopping malls. Many banks operate consistently with the principles of Islamic (Sharia) law. Sharia prohibits the payment or acceptance of interest fees for lending and accepting money and also prohibits selling goods and services considered contrary to Islamic principals. Most ATM cards with a visa logo can be used to make withdrawals for a small fee. AUS has a branch of the Sharjah Islamic Bank that is conveniently located on campus for students to use their ATM cards. Otherwise, cash is preferred in souks and small retail outlets where most cahiers will ask for correct change (usually preferring coins). Students should be sure to notify their banks of their travel plans before departing, and are encouraged to bring some dirhams in cash along with them (perhaps $100-worth), as occasionally new arrivals have difficulty withdrawing money from the ATMs.
Sources of Information
SOURCES OF INFORMATION
- Benesh, Gina Crocetti, "CultureShock! United Arab Emirates". Marshall Cavendish Corp, 3rd Edition, 1 December 2008.
- "Time Out Dubai: Abu Dhabi and the UAE". Time Out, 4th Edition, 17 November 2009.
- Walsh, John. "UAE – Culture Smart! The Essential Guide to Customs & Culture". Kuperard, 5 February 2008.
- "Dubai Complete Residents’ Guide". Explorer Publishing, 13th Edition, 14 April 2009.
- Jim Krane, "City of Gold: Dubai and the Dream of Capitalism", St. Martin's Press, 2009"
Public Holidays and Ramadan