Perception versus reality
Upon meeting Riham and Ayesha—students from the American University of Sharjah—we discussed where everyone was from. From Somalia, but born and raised in Northern Virginia, Riham discussed the location of her school in the suburbs in comparison to downtown Dubai. Agreeing with Riham’s remarks about the suburb-city school dynamic, Ayesha explained how her family is from Karachi, Pakistan, but how she was raised in Sharjah in the UAE. As students from Dickinson College, Eve, Sofia, and I, discussed how our cultural and socioeconomic upbringings in suburban schools contrasted the city schools in terms of quality. Ayesha, interestingly disagreed, explaining that regardless of public or private, suburban or city, geography doesn’t play a role in the quality of students’ UAE education as much as it does in the US. In fact, they both claimed that location made no difference in the quality of education and that both areas had the same standard.
Continuing the conversation, we then discussed political differences. Based on our communities, there seemed to be semblance in signage protesting in front yards—at least during presidential elections—with Eve, Sofia, and I. Because Riham also originates from the US, she concurred that people would often stand outside supermarkets, attempting to protest, yet remarked that the
UAE is different in that it is a monarch—unlike the US. With clear differing politics, Ayesha detailed how the UAE is made partly of an exile population and how that population is not concerned with politics. Therefore, there is slightly less awareness. At the University, this changes, however. Students are more politically vocal, similarly at Dickinson. Though politically active during elections, Sofia believes her community in West Virginia may feel political, but will often speak from a place without factual information.
An interesting perspective difference is how students studying in the UAE view the US and vice versa. Ayisha exclaimed that before travelling to the US, she feared that there would be clear islamophobia, though this differed from her personal experience. She went on to say that the US didn’t seem to present outrageous racism to the extreme level the media proclaimed. Though not denying racism is clearly present, Ayesha came to the conclusion that her perception of the US differed from its realities. Riham proclared, “Why is everyone attacking the US?” yet also agreed that the US is far from innocent. With both perspectives present, there remains a delicate balance between stretched perceptions of the US and the clear cruelties.