September 8, 2023- How Does my Hometown Differ From That of a Student From the UAE?

Let me propose a question; can you experience culture shock over a Zoom call? Before our first call, I probably would have said no. I would have thought that culture shock only happens when you leave your hometown, or leave the country where you originate and truly immerse yourself, physically, in other places’ culture. I had a bit of culture shock just moving from Chicago to Carlisle; I was introduced to new restaurants, people, shops, activities like car shows, and small-town farmers markets, etc. However, after our first call, I would definitely say you can experience culture shocks just by interacting with people from different places, online or in person, as the students in my group could probably tell by the sheer amount of times my jaw dropped to the floor as they explained life in the UAE. To preface, I would like to note that we all had lots of similarities, not solely differences, though we do come from very different places. We were all somebody’s daughter, most of us were sisters, we’re students, and through our special objects we all bonded through our close and loving relationships with our best friends, families, and childhoods. However, what I really found interesting about our conversations is how those similar details of our lives were truly shaped by where we all originate from. 

We started our conversation explaining to each other where we were all from. Personally, I’m from Joliet, IL which is in the Chicago area, and the others in my group were from Dubai and Abu Dhabi respectively. When we were sort of just talking about what life is like at home, one of the girls from Abu Dhabi had explained that she sees her hometown as a getaway, where she can go home and just be with her family, to which she explained that Abu Dhabi is a very, very family oriented place. She said that whenever she’s home, she just walks over to her cousins or aunt’s house to spend time, because families tend to buy big plots of land and build homes within that land so that they all live in close proximity. We then started to talk about how we all sort of see our cities in terms of our family lives, to which a group member from Dubai explained that she loves her family life in Dubai, so much so that she doesn’t want to live anywhere else. She sees herself living in Dubai in her future, even starting a family there, which is something you don’t really hear much from younger adults in the States. She explained she likes how she was raised, and would like to raise her children similarly, as she likes the values and skills that living in Dubai instilled in her. This really had me thinking; what do younger adults in the states say about where they’re from? It’s very rare in the States for someone to know, with certainty, where they want to live when they’re older, nor is it often that place is their hometown. In many ways, I feel as though in Joliet, we were raised to move out of the city, get an education, learn life skills and become independent. Not to say that Joliet does not have a sense of family life, I did, however I tend to look at Joliet as where my family is from, but not where I will live again someday, whereas it seemed as though my partner from Dubai was confident and even looking forward to starting a life back in Dubai.

The other part of our conversation that I found particularly interesting was the perception of Dubai in the states, versus what Dubai is actually like. If you’re from the states, what comes to mind when you think “Dubai”? Huge Skyscrapers, a booming city life, urbanization at its peak? Well apparently, no, most of Dubai is rural. Yes, like farmland. This was genuinely something that my partner was passionate about, as this Dubai goes unnoticed by the media, and those outside of the city, but it’s her Dubai and where she is from and wants to continue to live and build a life. I find this interesting because one, Chicago and Joliet are very much what you see is what you get, there’s not much more to Chicago or Joliet than the city life people perceive. But more than this, it got me thinking about how the media and the news can so heavily shape our perspective on how we see the world, as obviously we can’t go everywhere or be everywhere at once, and so when we are fed these perceptions of major cities, like Dubai, that’s the only side of them we get to see. It’s pretty unfortunate too, as she described the farmlands of Dubai as a very beautiful place. 

Last, the way that we talk is just so different in the vocabulary, slang and different terms we use in general, to the point where it would genuinely catch me off guard in our conversations. Two quick examples, my partners had asked me how “Uni life” was and I was immediately thrown off. What is Uni? It’s a pretty basic term, but I definitely over-thought it at the moment as in the States, most people just ask “How’s College”. Also, we were talking about the weather and they were explaining how awfully hot it gets in the UAE, which as someone who endures Chicago winters I found interesting, and they said it could “get up to 48 degrees”. Here I was thinking 48 degrees means you stay inside so you don’t get frostbite, but here’s the thing, that’s in degrees Celsius, which translates to 118 degrees Fahrenheit which is insane. But these moments in the conversation just really made me realize that sometimes the differences between our lives are in the details, not so glaringly obvious.


Here’s what pops us when you search “Dubai Urban vs Dubai Suburban”. It sort of shows how those outside of the UAE would perceive the city as just that smaller, inner, urban area. From the photo, we see its more than that. More suburban, and in some place, rural. (Pond 5, 2023,
This is what pops us when you search for “Abu Dhabi Suburbs”. (Abu Dhabi Magazine, 2022,
Storm dumps 8 inches of snow on Joliet, National Weather Service says – Shaw Local
This is what a typical day of Winter looks like in my hometown of Joliet, IL. (Shaw Local, 2023,


4 thoughts on “September 8, 2023- How Does my Hometown Differ From That of a Student From the UAE?

  1. Thanks for posting. Your experience was definitely different from mine, my group seemed to focus on similarities rather than differences. It definitely seems like family structure / conception may be one of the if not the largest differences between our cultures. I went on a gap year trip to Nepal, and I had a very similar experience. My homestay family’s home was inter-generational, and many relatives were literally next door. Sometimes I feel like that lack of these strong familial bonds are something we really ought not to have lost in the west writ large.

  2. Hello, really nice post here- I enjoyed the contrasting pictures you included! One thing that you pointed out was the difference in vocabulary and slang that we often do not notice until we visit another country- or even zoom call with them. I think the difference in vocabulary or terms are frequently overlooked because we usually surround ourselves by the same group of people; however, when we move out of our comfort zone and begin meeting new people the first shock we have is how different we speak (even in the same language). The first time I came here I told people I was studying Political Science, yet for locals that was not a thing it was INS – International Relations. Over time, we begin to notice that the small differences can reveal which culture you are from. What is a slang that you use in your town, that others will not immediately recognize? In New York, when it gets really cold we say “It’s brick outside”.

  3. Thanks for posting. What you said about culture shock is very accurate. Although people here know what the US culture is about, most of their knowledge stems from the media. Whatever I learned about the US was extreme to some extent. When I had conversations with students from the US I did have a culture shock. My understanding of the US culture is that it’s mostly focused on individualism. Where people move out when they are 18 just like you said in the blog. Nonetheless, two of my colleagues during the meeting explained to me how much family is valued to them. we may say that they might be an exception, yet I was still interested to hear what they have to say about family.

  4. This was truly an enjoyable read – thank you for sharing your insights! As you said, mainstream media heavily influences our perception of the world, and I’m glad you got to learn more about the UAE. I found it particularly interesting when you discussed the concept of viewing your hometown as just where you’re from rather than where you’ll reside in the future. In my own experience, people here place great importance on proximity to family when deciding where to live. This might be one of the reasons why many people living in the UAE also envision their future here. I also think that people do not feel held back by their cities because of how small this country is. You are always close to Dubai, the land of opportunities. In your experience, what other factors influence young people’s decisions about where they want to live in the future?

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