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Expat Advice: Culture Shock in Dubai, UAE

What is the name of the city or town that you are reporting on?


Did you receive any cross-cultural training for your move abroad? If yes, was it before or after the move?

No, I didn't. I spoke to several people that were already here and they filled me in on some of the things I might expect.

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If they speak another language in your new country, do you speak the language? If yes, did you learn the language before you moved or while abroad? If no, are you planning to learn the language?

Yes, they speak Arabic, however, English is commonly used. Since the country is well over 90% expats or third country nationals with a large India population, Hindi is also spoken. People in the service fields such as the front desk in my apartment complex or wait staff speak English. It is easier for me to understand the English spoken by the Arabic speaking nationals.

Were you worried or concerned about culture shock before you moved abroad?

Not too much. I wasn't going to be staying long, so I felt as though I could manage. Being a western woman, seeing women in full coverage is a bit shocking - that is something that I won't ever get used to, but it isn't so unusual to me anymore.

How significant was the culture shock you experienced when you moved abroad?

In terms of the overall experience, it is great. There is tremendous shopping and wonderful restaurants and so many other things to do that you are never too bored. The most significant shock to me was not being able to get fresh vegetables and fruit. The markets sell it, but they aren't nearly as fresh as what we get in the US. Also, if you eat pork you will have a difficult time finding it and when you do it's frozen and I've heard not too fresh. I don't eat pork or beef so for me it wasn't difficult. Overall the transition has been fairly easy.

Expats often talk about going through the "stages of culture shock." Examples include the honeymoon phase, the irritation-to-anger stage, the rejection of the culture stage, and the cultural adjustment phase. Do you feel like you went through these or any other stages as you settled into the new culture?

There was some of that, but being around my collegues that are also expats helps a great deal. Some had been there for over 2 years already, so they knew all the right places to go, the best restaurants and beaches. Just as any expat does, missing your family and friends is very hard, but Skype helps a lot. The connection isn't always great though - the infrastructure isn't as good as it is in the US. Phone calls are very expensive unless you have an international plan and before you go over, everyone should make sure you get that. Also, our company gave us a local SIM card for ease of us. I find myself getting irritated at the clerks in businesses and banks - they cannot make any decisions and apparently haven't all be trained on how to speak with their managers instead of saying they just can't help you.

What, if any, were some of the changes you noticed in yourself that might have been caused by culture shock? These might include things such as anger, depression, anxiety, increased eating or drinking, frustration, homesickness, etc.

My eating habits changed drastically because of the lack of fresh produce. I don't eat out of containers or boxes when I'm in the States, so not having organic produce that is fresh has forced me to eat more out of a can. Consequently, I've lost weight and don't feel like I have the energy I do when I'm home. Homesickness is always there. I long for green grass and trees.

What are some things you appreciate most about the new culture?

Although I don't like modern architecture, you just can't help but marvel over the buildings and beautiful water fountains. The Burj Khalif is out of this world and the fountains below are better than the ones in Las Vegas - (Designed by the same guy) Everything is over the top in style and beauty.

What are the most challenging aspects of the new culture?

The heat - by far the heat. And there is dust on everything especially after even the smallest dust storm. My deck off my apartment is like a beach most of the time!

Did you "commit" any embarrassing or humorous cultural blunders? If you did and you'd like to share them, please do tell!

I was pretty well informed on what not to do, but when I first arrived, I just couldn't help watching the Arabic women walk around in their black garb when it was 120 degrees outside. They don't like to be stared at!!!!

Do you have any advice or thoughts about culture shock you would like to share?

As always, go in with an open mind and be considerate of the culture. As a woman, be conservative in your dress - no short shorts and during Ramadan, cover up and don't eat except at home.

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Comments about this Report

Apr 4, 2012 10:06

Thank you for your insights as I am looking forward to moving to Abu Dhabi in August2012!

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