It’s something we’d been thinking about for a while, though I was never really was sure if it would happen, because it’s literally across the world. But we made it finally! There’s a lot I wanted to say about this trip, almost too much. Since we don’t have time for it all, I’ll do a quick recap of where I went and what I thought, but most importantly finish with a quick interview from Joe to understand what he really thinks of Dubai as he’s lived there for 15 years.

Dubai is certainly a trendy place to travel right now and with that comes, of course, the “top ten” lists for places to go. I was grateful to sightsee with a local, who brought me to the best that Dubai has to offer. Joe took me to the crazy malls, the tallest building in the world and the Grand Mosque, the man-made islands – all the trendy and must-see things. But also, thanks to his time spent there, he introduced me to a few of other things that I probably wouldn’t have known about had I not been there with him.

Two out-of-the-ordinary places stuck out to me. One being the Louvre in Abu Dhabi. It’s new so I understand why a lot of people haven’t gone, but absolutely an incredible building architecturally and a truly extensive, amazing collection, with support for local artists and attributes to the country’s history.

And as well the Gold & Spice Souks and Al Bastakiya. It’s an area of intense culture that is a little out of the high-rise center. It’s got restored buildings and lane-ways that predate the U.A.E., since before the oil boom this area was largely a port city. This area is now used as a great public space to feature new and old culture from the area. The Gold & Spice Souks are traditional markets that have an infinite number of retailers of mostly gold and jewelry or spices. The traditional style was a little overwhelming and definitely a culture shock to me, but exciting and I think truly important to see while there.

This was my first experience in a non-Western country so naturally, it was a culture shock. But to be fair I was culture-shocked moving to the U.K for exchange because people were not as nice as Canadians, so maybe that’s not saying a lot. What mostly came to shock me ended up being not having alcohol in restaurants and PDA.

Alcohol is incredibly normalized in Western society, so it’s more shocking to go to a restaurant that doesn’t serve alcohol. In Dubai, however, no alcohol is served in restaurants that aren’t attached to a hotel. This was shocking every time we went out for dinner. With it being a vacation, too, wanting to drink out seemed normal. But really, that’s just normalized in our society.

The attitudes towards public displays of affection were also shocking to me. The fact that I went there with my boyfriend made this more so apparent.  There are laws regulating PDA so I understand how it’s normalized to be shocked by it in Dubai, but to me, it’s just natural to hold hands in public. Joe and I do hold hands in Canada, but he felt odd doing it in his home city because he grew up in a place that simply did not display affection publicly! I couldn’t help but wonder how he felt when I first grabbed his hand in Canada, compared to how I felt when he swatted my hand away in Dubai. We truly are products of our environment, aren’t we!

All images courtesy of Alex Strachan

Here are a few questions and answers from a chat I had with Joe, someone who lived in a Middle Eastern country for 15 years.

  1. When did you move to Canada?

When I came to Queen’s, so when I was 18. I also lived here in the summers growing up at my cottage in Eastern Ontario.

  1. How often do you get to go home to see your family?

Only about once a year at Christmas, but they come to visit me here every summer at my cottage or in Kingston.

  1. Why did you choose Queen’s University?

Well, I am Canadian, and when applying to universities, I knew that I wouldn’t have to pay international tuition fees. But I got accepted and my final decision wasn’t really based on much. But my sister did go to Queen’s. It was either here or in the U.K.

  1. Was it a difficult transition to move to a Western country? And if so, what aspects about it? (any specifics)

I wouldn’t say it was difficult but it was strange.  There are a lot of intangible nuances to general conversation as well as ways of life here in Canada as compared to back home. It’s hard to go into specifics because I can’t tell what are parts of university life as opposed to general Canadian life.

  1. You said you spent summers here, was moving to Kingston in first year your first experience of a Canadian winter? What’d you think of it?

Yeah it was, it sucked and it still does. I was warned about it a thousand times so I think I was over prepared in first year. I do enjoy Canadian summers though.

  1. Do you have a place you prefer?

I’d say Dubai because I’m a fan of the heat and it’s a fun place to be.

  1. Which do you consider home, having spent 4 years in Kingston now? Or do you have two homes?

I have two homes for sure. But also, I basically have none, I find it hard to call either home. I’m not a citizen of the U.A.E. but I also still feel like Canada is just in some sense a place I went to university.

  1. Are you planning to move back to Dubai? Are you planning to live in Canada for another reason other than university?

I’m staying in Canada for one more year after graduation to work on my videography business (@Mercurymediaca) alongside my business partners and friends. Past that, I’ll have to take it as it comes.

  1. One last one. Give me one “hidden gem” tourist spot in Dubai.

I would recommend getting out to the Empty Quarter, the largest desert in the world. It’s around a five-hour drive from the city but is more than worth it. It’s one of the last few spots that are virtually untouched by humans. It is a very cool juxtaposition to the massive urban environment in Dubai.

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