*This is a translated article. To view the original article in Japanese, click here.
My name is Misa Hayashi and I am a fifth-year student at the School of Culture, Media and Society. During my undergraduate studies at Waseda, I decided to spend a year of exchange studies at the United Arab Emirates University (UAEU) in the Middle East. When I tell people that UAEU is located in a city called Al Ain surrounded by desert, the first image that come to mind in many people tends to be an underdeveloped land. Contrary to what many would think, Al Ain is a developed city where you can find shopping malls, cinemas and fine dining restaurants.
I am a Middle East Studies major and the biggest reason why I chose this concentration was because of the murdering of freelance Japanese journalist Kenji Goto by ISIS and the Paris terror attacks in 2015. At that time, I was still a high school student but I was interested in finding out why such unfortunate events took place and what contributed to their occurrences. During my studies here at Waseda, I figured that there are many things I cannot learn without traveling to the Middle East and decided to submit my application to spend a year in United Arab Emirates (UAE).
When you compare Japan to UAE, it is easy to pick up some very obvious cultural differences. For instance, all of my friends from UAE are essentially religious and are firm believers in Islam. It is also difficult to separate religion and politics in the country. Further, fasting is a national event and the people there pray five times a day in a room designated for prayer. Even if you are a foreigner, you are expected to follow local rules and regulations. For example, you are not allowed to take photographs of women and upload them onto social media, and any female tourist visiting the country is required to be mindful of her choice of clothing, particularly the length of skirt and pants.
While it is easy to talk about the obvious differences, I resist against talking about these “oriental aspects” after coming back to Japan. Instead, I like to focus on what we have in common, on how kind and friendly the people there are. Even if there are things you are taken back by at first, you get used to them in less than month by living with it.
Traveling outside my home country made me realize that “normality” does not exist in the world. What is considered normal in my culture could be seen as unusual in a different country. I have learned that it is more important that we learn to respect each other’s culture and customs instead of focusing on our differences.
To all freshmen and students, I want to stress that there are many things that you cannot learn from books or secondhand information, and that it is through traveling and immersing yourself in the community can you truly understand the culture. Follow your curiosity and it will give you rewarding experiences.
Facts about United Arab Emirates
This is a typical dish in UAE in which lamb and chicken are cooked with rice and spices. The distinct lamb odor which some people dislike is usually not present when fresh lamb meat is used. Food like this is generally eaten with hand.
UAE is located in the Arabian Peninsula on the Persian Gulf. The sovereign constitutional monarchy is a federation of seven emirates namely Abu Dhabi (capital), Ajman, Dubai, Fujairah, Ras Al Khaimah, Sharjah and Umm Al Quwain. The official language is Arabic and the state religion is Islam. It is made up of mainly desert with low rainfall. During winter from November through March, the average temperature is about 20 degree Celsius. However, it can get as hot as 50 degree Celsius during summer from June to September. Even though rainfall is low throughout the year, humidity is high because it is located right next to the seacoast. A direct flight from Japan to UAE takes about 11 hours.