From big sky country to the country with the biggest skyscraper. Victoria is now living in a very new environment. Traveling for her husband’s work, the couple first moved across the pond to London. Now, they find themselves in Dubai, where religion and culture play a very large role in day-to-day activity. Here is her take on living in the Middle East.
GXC: What is the hardest part about living in Dubai?
Victoria: The hardest part about Dubai was getting settled in a new and foreign country with a new and foreign system. Things that we are familiar with in the United States such as getting a residence permit, driver’s license, cell phone, or renting an apartment, have completely different procedures and often different requirements here in Dubai.
For example, most of the things I listed above require explicit written approval from your employer. The process may take much longer, or require pieces of information you would never have to provide anywhere else. In order to get my emirates ID, I had to have blood tests done, a chest X-ray, finger printing etc. In order for my husband, John, and I to live together, we had to prove we were married with validation of our marriage certificate from the US government and the UAE government! Also, women are not allowed to drive without the approval of a spouse or a business. It was a new and tedious process that took a lot of time to figure out and to actually go through!
GXC: What do you miss most about the US?
Victoria: Honestly, there are a lot of things. There are the obvious ones, like my family and friends, my hometown, and the four seasons in Montana. I miss the fresh crisp Montana air, for sure. Those dust storms? They are very real. On an even slightly windy day, you inhale a mixture of dust, sand and dirt. Sometimes I catch myself missing how easy it was to communicate with all native English speakers, but that has been a great challenge for me to learn to be better at! But, I also miss small comforts like Kraft mac n’ cheese, Target, Walmart (surprisingly!), my favorite restaurants (there are no Taco Bells here!?!?), and when I could order chocolate milk and not have something totally different brought to me.
GXC: What is the biggest misconception about Dubai?
Victoria: Dubai is often described as the most glamorous and wealthy city in the world. They boast the biggest and best of everything. While they do have a great deal of wealth here, and the world’s tallest building, biggest mall and largest aquarium, there is (like any metropolitan city) a large range of wealth distribution. The glamour and novelty of the city is overwhelming and exciting at first, but then you start to see the construction workers who have a minimum 12 hour shift in the blazing heat, and then ride a cramped hot bus home to their labor camp shared with five other men in one room. I’ve encountered so many hard-working men and women from Pakistan, India, and the Philippines who have left their families in order to make a better living here in Dubai. They send almost all their money to their family in their hometown. They are underpaid and overworked. Part of their working contract requires their company to send them home once a year to see their family. It puts an entirely new perspective for me on working hard, providing for my family and how truly blessed the average family in America is.
GXC: What is one thing you wish people knew about Dubai?
Victoria: That it is “unsafe” for women. I get asked all the time when I’m back in the US – “Oh my, you live there? Is it even safe?” Actually, it feels safer for women here. There are pink taxis if you only want a woman driver and feel safer requesting that. They have women only salons and even women only lines at the store, if you prefer. They have several carriages in the metro where only women and children are able to sit. Of course, you don’t have to sit in that area, but if you prefer to only have women around you then that option is available. The crime rate here in Dubai is one of the lowest in the world. They have security in all buildings, and there is always a police presence in the metro stations and malls. I also really appreciate that there are absolutely no billboards, ads or posters that sexualize women. Modesty is highly valued, mostly because of the Muslim culture, but it truly feels like a higher respect for women’s bodies and privacy. While I personally try to respect the culture by dressing modestly – Dubai is a heavy tourist destination, so a woman can basically wear whatever she prefers and there wouldn’t ever be an issue. However, generally it is recommended to have your shoulders and knees covered. So all of that to say, it’s safe here for women and for all. It is actually a really fun vacation destination.
GXC: What stereotypes have you encountered about the US while abroad?
Victoria: I recently just finished an interview where the individual blatantly stated that all American’s were cocky and entitled. She stated that while we were generally more intelligent, we didn’t understand the importance of working hard. I have also found that in both London and Dubai, individuals are shocked at the US’s gun control policies. I have also found a majority of individuals I meet feel the need to ask about my opinion of President Donald Trump, and the need to clarify that diversity, immigration, etc. are important to a country. I say this as a stereotype because it always seems like they are automatically afraid that you are the same as [President] Trump.
GXC: What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned living in Dubai?
Victoria: This is a personal realization for me. I thought I had an understanding of world religions prior to moving to Dubai. But, there was a part of me that didn’t understand many of the beliefs and values existing around the world. I remember the first few weeks living here in Dubai. I couldn’t get used to the call to prayer, the salat. It is piped five times a day through the loud speakers of mosques everywhere, resounding throughout the entire city of Dubai. It made me unsure at first and even distracted. I couldn’t believe it when cars on the freeway would pull over, pull out their prayer rugs, and pray on the side of the highway. I also thought Muslim women were forced to wear a hijab and an abaya. Also, I knew nothing about halal meat.
But the lesson I learned was (1) It was vital that I correct my naivety and know the true facts. For instance, the women here have made the personal and religious choice to cover up. They value it. Now, I deeply respect that, because I do things for personal and religious reasons too. They matter to me, and covering your hair and body matters to these women. I admire them. (2) I realized the hypocrisy that I didn’t know I had and the need for that to be fixed. I often pray in public and never thought twice of how it might make another feel. How was this any different for the salat here in Dubai? I made it a point to educate myself on what it means, and to appreciate the dedication they have for their religion.
GXC: How has this experience changed your perspective on the world?
Victoria: I’ve learned so much about the different cultures and values that make up our beautiful world. Dubai is so diverse – it’s rare to find yourself in a room with less than 5 countries represented! The Middle East in general is predominantly made up of expats of different nationalities. I used to be one of those individuals who thought they understood and appreciated all cultures, but I didn’t even know the half of it! I must be honest and say that I was completely content with the culture I was living in back in Montana, and didn’t feel the need to surround myself with anything else. But now, I recognize that as a mistake. I would only be limiting myself from the wonders and beauties that each culture contributes. The richest environment is one made up of different people, from different places, with different beliefs. It has made me fall more in love with humanity, broadened my views, opened my eyes to new values, and helped shape me into a better person. So, now my perspective on the world is to travel to new places and meet more and more people – and never stop!