Cultural Comparisons

February 6, 2023

“Reflect on the differences between where you grew up or where you live now and where your exchange partners live. Some factors to consider here are the universal and the particular, environment and culture.”

When I began the meeting, I had anticipated a discussion into the similarities and differences between the United States and the United Arab Emirates regarding food, the weather, or maybe classes. Although we did initially talk about the weather and the difference between the cold climate in Pennsylvania and the dunes, cities, and mountains in the United Arab Emirates, the following topic in my opinion was much more interesting. 

 Surprisingly, our conversation began to take a quick but welcome turn into the nature of our communities, and culture. In my case, I could compare the relatively small town I grew up in and the tight-knit communities my peers had experienced in their homes in the UAE. We had many similarities, such as the feeling that our parents and family knew everyone and everything happening in our neighborhoods. It brought to mind shopping with my parents and being held up by every childhood friend and acquaintance stopping to say hello.

Among these similarities were other feelings of pressure to succeed, perhaps from friends and parents due to the small size of the communities in our hometowns. Maybe it allows easy examples for parents to compare successes.

We also discussed our schools and the fact that we were, as evident by this meeting, connected by our political science course. We found differences though, in the possible rigors of the schooling curriculum, as one of the group members who had experienced both pointed out. We shared similar struggles with our peers, especially when facing the pressure to look and act a certain way.

I initially imagined many differences, perhaps due to the distance between the two countries. However, I was pleased to find that we discussed far more similarities than differences. 

8 Responses to “Cultural Comparisons”

  1.   Malika Kaloo said:

    Thank you Annie for your thoughtful post. Although the US and the UAE are so far away, I see that you have found many similarities between the cultures of the two countries. I have had a similar experience. When I first came to the UAE two years ago, I imagined it to be very different from my hometown in terms of culture, traditions, food, and clothing. However, to my surprise, we were more similar than different. Due to a large expatriate population in the country, the UAE is highly multicultural which makes it easier for people to find their niche and adapt very quickly. For example, you would find so many people wearing their traditional attire in public places. As of 2023, the number of expats in the UAE stands at 9.0 million. While the US is also multicultural, do you think it reflects there as much as it does in the UAE?

  2.   elliotan said:

    Hello Malika and thank you so much for your response. In terms of multiculturalism in the US I think it varies by location and urban or rural environments (though there are many cities and states in the US I have yet to visit). That being said, I’m inclined to think the US is less culturally diverse than the UAE. As someone who has lived briefly in San Francisco and in Los Angeles though, I can say confidently that those are very multicultural places, perhaps simply due to large populations allowing people to adapt and as you say find their niche. Does it vary within the UAE based upon location as well?

  3.   Malika Kaloo said:

    Hi Annie!
    Thank you so much for your response. I believe it varies but it is more or less equally diverse everywhere. That said, there are some localities where you can see some nationalities more concentrated than others but overall, it is more of a mix.

  4.   Fatma Gargash said:

    First and foremost, I would like to thank you for your very well written blog. I took great pleasure in reading it and learning about what you discovered during the discussion. I take it that you found the meeting to be quite informative since you had initially anticipated differences regarding the weather, food, and classes, yet found that there are various similarities within both cultures. I like that your group discussed things that were quite different from mine since it made it that more enjoyable. It is interesting how you discussed the tight-knit communities in the UAE and found it similar to where you live. I can also say I’ve had many encounters at the mall where my parents stopped to say hello to someone we know. I also never thought about how perhaps living in a small community could pressure someone to succeed. I think that made me see things from a different perspective. On the same subject matter, an interesting fact you may not have heard previously is that here in the UAE you can know so much about a person’s background and ancestors from their family name; I am wondering if that is the case where you live as well?

  5.   elliotan said:

    Hello Fatma! After reading many of the blogs I was somewhat surprised to see that the conversation topics between groups varied greatly. It made it more interesting to read for me as well. I didn’t know that about the UAE, but that sounds very interesting. Especially considering one’s ancestors, as that is not a common custom in the states that I am familiar with. I can certainly say that I know many people’s immediate family such as siblings and parents, but this is mostly due to the multiple generations living it my town. It would be very interesting to know more about their ancestry. Do first names carry any significance as well?

  6.   Nour Alfalasi said:

    When reading Annie’s take on the exchange class and connecting with other students from across the world, it was interesting to see how similar my conversation in my breakout room was. I agree that it was surprising to find out how knit-tight the communities were and how everyone knew everyone. This is the case here in the UAE, where I thought there would be a difference between us when first joining the breakout room, and that was because I assumed that the UAE was a collectivist culture. The United States is an individualistic culture. I assumed many personal details that people here in the UAE would know. Just hearing an individual’s name would not be the case in the US, yet I could not have been any further than the truth. I learned how we shared that significant similarity.
    Another thing that I believed was a common thing that everyone in their lives experiences is the pressure one feels to succeed, but what was intriguing thing was hearing about that topic from someone who was from a different bubble across the world from mine and different perspectives on life. Another exciting aspect of listening was how we differed in the peer pressure one gets; the girls in my breakout room mostly agreed on that and how they feel pressured to keep up to date with the latest trends. I would say it is an interesting thing to look at what degree of peer pressure goes coming front the UAE; peer pressure can be spotted all everywhere; the need to stay relevant is a must to be included in a clique, and that was when being in a breakout room many people agreed. All in all, there were several similarities rather than differences. When speaking with someone from a different location, the only differences were how our governments were set up and the weather.

  7.   Claire Wayne said:

    Thank you Annie for sharing your experiences! I was also struck by how many similarities my group members shared despite such variances in our childhood experiences. Namely, we all immediately understood the norms of living in a major city (a less polite environment) despite having gained this knowledge in very different cities in completely different continents. Similarities aside, I would be curious to know if there were any differences that were particularly striking to you.


    Brilliant information here! Hopefully you wont stop the flow of such magical material!

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