Understanding local culture

Dr Dala Farouk’s doctoral thesis confirmed that expatriate university students and staff lacked local knowledge. Silvia Razgova / The National
Dr Dala Farouk’s doctoral thesis confirmed that expatriate university students and staff lacked local knowledge. Silvia Razgova / The National

Living in a different country doesn’t mean one necessarily gets to have insight into its culture. In the UAE, many expatriates live in their own bubble, in the sense that they continue to live the same lifestyle as in their country of ­origin and surround themselves with people from the same background and culture.

As The National reported yesterday, a new study suggests that more efforts should be made to bridge the gap in expatriates’ understanding of Emirati culture. Dr Dala Farouk’s doctoral thesis confirmed that expatriate university students and staff lacked local knowledge. However, the good news is it also found that students are open to learning more about the country in which they are studying.

This puts the onus on education authorities to implement policies that will achieve this. New York University Abu Dhabi provides a good example for other institutions to follow. The university requires students to acquaint themselves with the culture of the region by completing at least one course on the history, society, literature, religion or culture of the Islamic world, at least one course on the global Muslim diaspora, or a full year of Arabic language study. If all schools and universities required this kind of programme, young expatriates would have a much better understanding of the culture of this region.

This, however, does not mean that their parents will also be acquainted with the culture. Most expatriate communities tend to be inward looking, often with minimum interaction with different communities and especially so with Emiratis, who themselves constitute a community that is much more diverse than the homogenous image many outsiders seem to believe.

Ultimately, it is a personal choice for expatriates whether to make an effort to learn about this country. We all know some people who have lived in several countries without learning about the local people and their ways of life.

Those who choose to educate themselves deserve to be encouraged because some of this more nuanced understanding is likely to spread to others in their communities, bringing everyone closer.

Published: September 18, 2016 04:00 AM

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