Welcome to the UAE
The United Arab Emirates Destination Guide will provide a historical overview, scholarship information, health and safety tips, plus identity-specific resources to ensure students feel prepared with insight and resources for their global experience in the UAE. The information shared below is a bird eye’s view and meant to provide some country-specific context. We encourage students to conduct further research and chat with relevant points of contact including advisors, program leaders, international student services at the host campus, internship coordinators or peers who have traveled to the UAE, to gain a greater understanding of their host country and/or city.
The United Arab Emirates is a Middle Eastern country located on the southeastern end of the Arabian Peninsula bordering the Gulf of Oman and the Persian Gulf, between Oman and Saudi Arabia. It is slightly larger than the U.S. state of South Carolina. The country is made up of a federation of seven political territories ruled by an Islamic monarch, or emirates. Previously under the administration of the U.K., six of the emirates -- Abu Dhabi, 'Ajman, Al Fujayrah, Ash Shariqah, Dubayy, and Umm al Qaywayn -- declared their independence and merged to form the United Arab Emirates. They were joined in 1972 by Ra's al Khaymah. Today, the economy of the UAE, based almost exclusively on the export of crude oil and tourism, rivals those of many westernized nations. Also, because of its moderate approach to foreign policy, the UAE is far more stable than many other countries in the region, avoiding armed conflict and civil unrest.
Known to the rest of the world as the oil rich state profiting from its exports and lavishly displaying its profits, United Arab Emirates is an emerging center of global commerce and a location of undeniable importance to the Middle East and the rest of the world. The United Arab Emirates has a desert climate – mostly hot and dry. The winters can get pretty cold due to the lack of moisture. The best time to visit United Arab Emirates is during the late spring and early autumn, when the weather is at its mildest.
The UAE adopted a federal law that makes swearing in Whatsapp and on other forms of social media punishable by a $68,061 fine and imprisonment and any expatriates are deported. It is very important for your personal safety that you research any new laws that are enacted before you visit the United Arab Emirates.
Cities & Education
The United Arab Emirates is made up of seven emirates: Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Ras Al Khaimah, Fujairah, Ajman and Umm Al Quwa.There is something exciting to do in each of them. United Arab Emirates is on the move to propel itself to the likes of modern industrial giants and it is moving fast. This creates a scene contradictory in nature: nightclubs and hip bars less than a few blocks from mosques with holy relics; the breathtaking mountain scenery of Hatta several miles away from the emerging metropolitan giant Dubai. In this sense many people observe that the United Arab Emirates no longer carries a strict definition of oneself, a distinct identity; its identity is constantly changing and evolving – which is what makes this destination so attractive for students seeking to experience something ‘new’.
The following universities offer exchange programs:
- United Arab Emirates University: Located in the city of Al Ain, UAEU comprises nine different faculties serving a total of 15,000 undergraduates. UAEU annually ranks as one of the top 3 universities in the United Arab Emirates.
- American University in Dubai: Offering an American style education for UAE nationals and international students alike, AU Dubai is one of the best universities in Dubai. It has nine different schools and departments and is only 15 minutes away from the center of the city.
- American University of Sharjah: AUS is known for its accredited bachelor degree programs in chemical engineering, civil engineering, computer engineering, electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, computer science, architecture and business administration. Sharjah is a unique location as it is known as the “cultural capital” of the UAE due to its unique history of world trade routes and it is the only Emirate with access to both the Arabian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman.
In addition to exchange programs, there are also short term programs to the UAE led by study abroad program providers and faculty-led programs affiliated with universities. Read about some student experiences studying in the UAE:
- Western Michigan University student experience in an Intensive Arabic Program
- University of Minnesota student experience on a business program in UAE
Marymount University student experience at the American University Dubai:
Events & Tourism
UAE is home to one of the fastest growing economies in the world. Students who choose to study in the UAE will find a unique mix of religious traditions and western influences no matter where they go. As a student studying in the UAE, depending on on the time of your study, you may experience one of more of these national holidays: Ramadan, Awafi festival, and National Day. Stay up to date and learn more about community events and festivals in the UAE here.
Dubai is especially known for being western friendly, and while students can get by with speaking English, they should take advantage of learning Arabic. Arabic is the official language of the UAE. If you are looking for a truly immersive experience, learning Arabic is one way to connect with locals and gain insights into UAE culture that you would not be able to access otherwise. Abu Dhabi is another popular destination of choice for tourists, students and those aspiring to teach English. It is western friendly and students can get by with English.
The UAE’s list of attractions is constantly growing and its accommodations for visitors are always being improved. Whether you are looking to do some shopping, clubbing or relaxing on the beach after class, the UAE will not disappoint. The city of Dubai is an emerging industrial giant and home to Burj Khalifa – the tallest building in the world, standing 828 meters high. Dubai is also home to some of the most western friendly malls, which are frequented by locals and tourists alike. Alternately, visit the beautiful Sheik Zayed Mosque in Abu Dhabi, a beautiful space of worship that is more reminiscent of the deeply rooted Islamic faith of the native Emirati.
The UAE is also one of the safest destinations in the Middle East.If you are looking to experience the Middle East without leaving the comforts of modern establishments, the United Arab Emirates is the perfect place to visit.
What is study abroad without intentional exploration of local culture and food? Learn about food culture in the UAE through one CIEE student’s experience here.
Diversity & Inclusion Climate
Capital: Abu Dhabi (1,000,000 2014 est.)
Note: The UN estimates the country's total population to be 9,445,624 as of 2014; immigrants make up more than 80% of the total population (July 2015 est.)
Language(s): Arabic (official), Persian, English, Hindi, Urdu
Religions: Muslim (Islam; official) 76%, Christian 9%, other (primarily Hindu and Buddhist, less than 5% of the population consists of Parsi, Baha'i, Druze, Sikh, Ahmadi, Ismaili, Dawoodi Bohra Muslim, and Jewish) 15%
Note: Represents the total population; about 85% of the population consists of non-citizens (2005 est.)
Ethnic groups: Emirati 19%, other Arab and Iranian 23%, South Asian 50%, other expatriates (includes Westerners and East Asians) 8% note: less than 20% are UAE citizens (1982, est)
The majority of the people in the UAE are expats and tourists, there is a great deal of ethnic diversity. Students are unlikely to experience overt instances of racism. Instances of discrimination often involve questions about citizenship. The U.S. Department of State reported that discrimination against noncitizens is prevalent and occurred in most areas of daily life, including employment, education, housing, social interaction, and health care. Many disputes involved people originating from Africa and the Indian Subcontinent being discriminated against in commercial disputes. Despite this, most students will likely be identified as American which affords a noticeable social privilege.
Most students of color will likely be identified as tourists and not experience the same level of discrimination as the local population. Students should take note of their privilege as Americans and how prejudices can fall along political as well as ethnic/racial lines.
Generally American students of color abroad, may be assumed to be nationals of other countries due to their skin color. Something that is important is to assess the difference between curiosity and discrimination. Students may also experience microaggressions while abroad. You may have many opportunities to engage in conversation with classmates or new friends about your identity, including your experience as a student of a particular race, heritage or background.
Staying Healthy & Safe in the UAE
Visit the CDC’s website to learn more about the recommended vaccines you may need before traveling to the UAE.
Depending on your health condition, you may also want to consider the air quality in the UAE as a factor in your decision making process. Real time Air Quality Index (AQI) daily readings for the UAE are accessible here.
The UAE has two distinctive seasons, summer and winter. If your skin is sensitive to the sun, please ensure that you have sufficient sunblock for protection if you plan to be in the UAE during the summer months. The summer weather there can be arid and sweltering. Make sure to stay hydrated at all times especially if you are out traveling or exploring your host community. Annual temperatures in the UAE range from the 50 - 100 °F.
Most travelers to the UAE are not affected by crime. Violent crimes and crimes against property are rare. The U.S. Embassy advises all U.S. citizens to take the same security precautions in the UAE that one would practice in the United States or any large city abroad.
No matter where you are in the world, whether it is your hometown or a new city, it is important to be alert and practice awareness of your surroundings. The UAE is a fairly safe place, however there are a few precautions any traveler should take while navigating the country. Be cautious in areas that are touristy and may have large crowds as pickpocketing may happen. Here are a few tips:
- Be aware of your surroundings
- Leave valuable items at home whenever possible and only travel with your necessities
- Avoid being flashy or careless with valuable items
- Ensure your bags and pockets are tight and completely zipped
- Do not leave personal items unattended
- Have a travel partner when possible
U.S. citizens, specifically women, may experience harassment and assault when walking or riding taxis alone. To ensure your safety do not go to unknown areas by yourself and always have a plan for going home. When riding in taxis, avoid sitting in the front seat. Traveling with a trusted male counterpart may also help draw away attention women may otherwise attract if traveling alone.
More information about safety:
Local emergency assistance numbers in the UAE are: 911 and 999.
In the case that you need to contact the U.S. Embassy in Dubai or AbuDhabi, you can refer to this website.
Funding Study Abroad in UAE
There are many scholarships to fund your study abroad experience. Here is a list of Diversity Abroad scholarships available for study in this country:
Also the Critical Language Scholarship program is a language and cultural immersion program for American undergraduate and graduate students. designed to increase the number of students mastering critical languages and building relationships with other cultures.
The Boren Awards fund intensive study of language and culture abroad by U.S. undergraduate or graduate students. Students accepted into Arabic language programs abroad in the UAE are eligible to apply. More information about program eligibility guidelines can be found here.
If you are participating in a study abroad program through a provider, always check if they offer scholarships to students. Some providers that have diversity and/or need based scholarships, for example, AMIDEAST, CIEE and CET, are among some of the providers that offer scholarships. Some providers also provide stipends to students who serve as bloggers or program ambassadors. Don’t miss out on any opportunities to alleviate the cost of your program! Do your research and also talk to your university's study abroad program staff to learn more about potential campus scholarship opportunities!
For more scholarships, visit https://www.diversityabroad.com/scholarships