Sunday, May 11, 2014

This One's a Doozey

There are 22 days left before I hop on a plane and leave the United Arab Emirates. TWENTY TWO DAYS. It seems like I just got here, but on the other hand I'm ready to leave. I've been so busy with schoolwork (mostly) that a blog post is long overdue, and since it's almost the end of the semester I'm going to write a reflection. I'm going to be completely candid, and what I say might not be what you want to hear, so brace yourselves.

I've valued my time here, but I haven't necessarily loved it. That's not to say that there haven't been parts that I've enjoyed, but on the whole my experience fell short of my expectations. And because I feel that way I feel like I'm going to hurt some one's feelings... Well she wasted her entire experience and a lot of money. Why couldn't it have been me that went abroad instead? How could she not have had the time of her life? Everyone seems to think that studying abroad is this amazing, life-changing experience that will produce lasting friendships and an overwhelming feeling of wanderlust that will stay with you forever. I had that expectation, and it seems that many people actually have that experience. Let me clarify, though, I DO NOT regret studying abroad.

I may have mentioned in an earlier blog post that I'm a lot more introverted than I ever realized, and that has made it really difficult to put myself out there to make friends. Now that the semester is ending, I feel like I'm finally starting to establish myself socially. In that respect, I don't think that a semester is long enough to fully socialize yourself into a new, foreign school, especially not for me. The friends I've made have mostly been other exchange students, and my friendships have shifted. I never got very close to anyone, and I drifted away from the friend group that I had at the beginning of the semester. In the prep class Maryville College students take before they study abroad, we discussed the importance of maximizing your experience by making "local" friends. In theory it makes sense, and in practice it still makes sense. But in practice you have to talk to new people who aren't white and notice right away when your face turns red because you're shy, so naturally they point it out, and you make the striking first impression of a red, sweaty American girl. I know I'm exaggerating, slightly... But my point is that introducing myself to local students has been really scary and difficult! Even though most of the people I have met have been exceptionally kind.

This brings me to another point: the pressure of maximizing your experience. It pretty consistently makes you feel like you're not doing enough to maximize your experience. But as the wise and venerated Tyler Jones put it, "...I don't need to get lost everyday in order to have a life-changing epiphany." His blog post ---> <--- made me realize that simply living and adjusting to a foreign place is an accomplishment. I MISS YOU TYLER!

As far as being an "adjusted" expat in Sharjah goes, IT'S HOT. I really miss being able to go running during the day, or even being able step outside without suffocating. I think this is honestly a significant reason why I'm ready to leave. Even the people who live here leave during the summer and vacation somewhere that permits walking outside.

I'm not a changed, worldly person after studying abroad for 4 months. I can say a few words in Arabic, I've eaten a lot of new foods, and I might be half a shade tanner (or redder). I have learned so much about Arab history, culture, and politics, though, which is the main reason why I came here. I have also decided that I'm not going to pursue international relations after I finish my undergrad degree, but instead pursue art. HA! JOKE'S ON YOU SUCKERS! But being here has made me realize how important learning and staying informed is, even if you decide you don't want to become an environmentalist, biologist, psychologist, or a diplomat (I have given every single one of these options a try). And even if you aren't completely happy with where you are physically, socially, whatever, you can still learn something. My mom has been reminding me over and over that I came here to learn, especially when I've felt discouraged, and at first I was like, "Yeah mom, but I just don't feel like I belong here, and I want to draw and paint pictures and avoid talking to people!" But she's right (Happy Mother's Day, by the way), and this is why I have valued my study abroad experience even though I haven't exactly loved it. 

And to conclude, here are some pictures to highlight the high points of the rest of my study abroad experience! 

This is the track at the Dubai World Cup races, the richest horse race in the world worth $10 million. J Lo performed after the races, but my phone died. I swear I saw her perform, and she is the most fabulous 44 year old I've seen. I wish I could look as good as she does at 21.

This is the winner of the Dubai World Cup

And this lady is wearing an entire peacock on her head.

The Incredible Hulk at the Dubai Comicon. The group I was with used him as a landmark to find each other if we got separated.

I have no idea who this guy was dressed up as, but the decapitated head he was carrying looked a lot like me!

Dubai Comicon propaganda

Any Breaking Bad fans reading my blog? You'll understand why I decided to make this picture bigger than the others, then. 
I found a barn to ride at, and a horse to ride! His name is Hugo, and I want to take him home with me.

Being able to go to the barn has made my experience more enjoyable.

This is from an exchange student trip off the coast of Oman.

It was such a beautiful trip, and I got my first jellyfish sting! It was a big day.

They don't like it when the grass touches things here, or when it gets longer than half an inch.

This is a student's car.

This is a picture from a lunch date myself and a few other exchange students had at an emerati's house. She was so kind and served us SO MUCH food. This was one of my favorite experiences of studying abroad. Being invited to some one's home is a huge deal when you study abroad.