If you're imagining endless expanses of sand dunes dotted with a few camel caravans and a palm tree oasis straight out of Arabian Nights, try adding a few futuristic city skylines and your vision may come closer to resembling the thriving modern-day United Arab Emirates. A stark contrast to the traditional study abroad locations in western Europe, studying in the UAE is perfect for those looking to step far out of their comfort zone and explore a rapidly developing corner of the Arabian Peninsula. Regardless of your major, an unforgettable experience awaits you in this desert oasis.
Seven separate emirates, each ruled by an absolute monarchy, come together to form the UAE, a relatively young nation formed in the 1970s. Although the UAE’s recent growth and economic success is deeply rooted in its oil supply and trade, its economy has greatly diversified in the past decade. The nation has taken great strides in reinvesting its wealth to ensure a successful future — the result is a booming airline and real estate sector, which has given way to engineering marvels and a tourism industry attracting the world’s jet setters.
The most well-known and populous emirates are the diverse urban centers of Abu Dhabi and Dubai, followed by the more traditional principality of Sharjah. Most study abroad programs take place in these emirates, with the American University of Sharjah and the American University in Dubai being popular, reputable picks. Sharjah is an ideal destination for students looking to study Arabic language, culture, and history. Its extensive collection of mosques and museums has earned the city its UNESCO label of the “cultural capital of the Arab World.” As a living museum, it’s the perfect place study in the UAE and absorb the Arabic and Islamic cultures.
From man-made islands and indoor skiing to the UAE’s largest mosque, Dubai and Abu Dhabi showcase the nation’s economic achievements through innovative architecture and a modern cityscape. There’s no shortage to air conditioned shopping centers, but if you’re looking to slip into the Dubai of the past, stroll through the Al Fahidi Historic District or take a wooden boat ride across the creek. Abu Dhabi’s shipyards will throw you back to the city’s humble maritime heritage once you get your fill of the futuristic high-rises. After a long week of classes, you can stretch out your legs in the vast sand dunes outside of the cities for some dune bashing, sandboarding, and camel rides.
Studying Abroad in the UAE
The American University of Sharjah, American University in Dubai, and American University of Ras Al Khaimah provide students with the unique experience to study abroad in the United Arab Emirates while still adhering to an American style of instruction at an institution accredited in the United States. This global focus draws international students from all around the world to study abroad programs in the UAE and creates a diverse student body at all three campuses. Popular study programs include engineering, architecture, design, business, and the arts and sciences. Architecture is an especially popular field due to the impressive architectural feats scattered across the country.
Summer programs are offered, yet temperatures in the summer soar to an average of over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. If you have a hard time withstanding the heat, it might be wise to check out a semester or year-long program outside the scorching summer months. For the American universities in UAE, the academic year is structured to mirror the American academic calendar. The semester starts around August and ends at the end of Spring, with a break in between.
Although the campuses have an international student population and environment, they are strongly rooted in Arab culture. As such, students should abide to specifically outlined codes of student conduct, which include information on appropriate dress codes and behavior both on campus in and the surrounding communities. Learning about a new culture and environment is an integral aspect of study abroad in the UAE, so remember to always be mindful of your host country’s culture and expectations!
Scholarships & Costs
The cost of living in Abu Dhabi and Dubai is by no means low, but it’s quite comparable with any large city around the world, such as New York City or London. Many of the services and businesses in the UAE’s larger metropolises cater to high-earning expats, and have extravagant price tags to match. Being surrounded by luxury boutiques, indoor waterparks, and five-star restaurants may make it difficult to resist temptation, but it’s certainly possible to tailor your lifestyle to suit a more student-friendly budget. Sticking to local foods, rather than imported international brands, and regulating your spending on clothes and pastime activities will have your wallet thanking you.
While program costs for study abroad programs in the UAE will typically include tuition and accommodations, students are expected to cover costs for transportation, meals, and other personal expenses independently for most programs. Several scholarships are available to help students cover program costs such as the Boren Award and the Gilman Scholarship, both competitive awards funded by the U.S. government. For the American University in Dubai students can apply to the William Jefferson Clinton Scholarship, which fully covers housing and tuition for one term.
Accommodations & Visas
Study abroad programs in the UAE provide students with accommodations, usually in dormitories, a nice perk that eliminates the hassle of navigating through the nation’s expensive rental market. Off-campus housing in apartments is not only pricy, but landlords also require a year’s payment to be paid up-front in the form of several checks, which are cashed in throughout the rental term. If a check bounces due to insufficient funds, you may find yourself in a legal predicament. This makes university housing the most attractive option for study abroad participants. In the sizzling Arabian desert air conditioning is a given in your accommodations, so don’t sweat it.
If you’re not a resident of the UAE, you will need to obtain a visa for your stay. Universities and program providers will inform students about the visa process, which requires several documents such as a confirmed acceptance into an accredited university, proof of sufficient fund for the duration of your stay, and a sponsorship letter from your host university. Additionally, you will need to provide a valid medical examination, among other documents. It may sound overwhelming, but remember that your program is always there to help you along the way. Please refer to the GoAbroad Embassy Directory for more up-to-date visa information for studying in the UAE.
Benefits & Challenges
The UAE helps ease the transition for any foreigner looking to make the Arab Gulf country home thanks to its significant expat community. Over 80 percent of the UAE’s residents are originally foreign, so while the jumble of languages spoken around you may leave you scratching your head, it’s safe to assume that most people speak English. In fact, the overwhelmingly high expat population has even raised concerns among the locals that young Emiratis may soon forgo Arabic in favor of English as their dominant language.
Although the widespread use of English and locals’ familiarity with foreigners helps reduce the cultural gap, the country’s foundations remain firmly entrenched in traditional Islamic beliefs, a stark contrast to American and Western society. Aspects of everyday life back home that you may not have given a second thought to may be regulated by law, such as public displays of affection and revealing clothing. The conservative social norms and strict laws may at first be difficult to grow accustomed to, but as a student studying abroad, you most certainly won’t be expected to instinctively know every rule in the book.
With man-made marvels built on vast deserts, modernity coexisting with history, and tradition challenging globalization, the United Arab Emirates is truly a nation of contrast. Boasting an extremely low crime rate and a high standard of living, students can freely immerse themselves in this dynamic jewel of the Arab world, while studying in an international and diverse environment. Study abroad in the UAE and come away with an experience as rich as the nation’s oil industry.