Stint overseas boosts Emirati identity: study

A small but in-depth study of Emiratis who study abroad has found that the experience reinforces their cultural values.

DUBAI // A small but in-depth study of Emiratis who study abroad has found that the experience reinforces their cultural values. For the study, the cross-cultural psychologist Samineh Shaheem, a consultant at Human Relations Institute at Knowledge Village, interviewed 26 Emiratis at UK universities and the same number who had returned home.

Ms Shaheem found almost all had kept their identities intact while away from home, though some had trouble readjusting upon their repatriation. The study will serve as her PhD thesis and is to be published next year. "The Emirati culture outcome was one of accepting and learning cultural values necessary to adapt in London or in the UK, but very much maintaining and strengthening their identity," she observed.

Sharing food, music, television shows and prayers with acquaintances all played a role in reinforcing Emirati values. The study's findings seem to hold regardless of where in the West an Emirati goes to university. Khalifa BinHussain, a 20-year-old at university in Adelaide, Australia, said he observed his national traditions just as he would at home. "I spent Ramadan and two Eids here and we celebrated the national day together" by wearing a kandoura and headscarf, and by preparing Arabic coffee and dates for colleagues, he said.

Faith also keeps the overseas Emirati rooted. "I always talk to my parents," said Khadija Ibrahim, 20, who is graduating from an Australian university. "I don't see how talking to them would keep my culture intact. It's really only religion that matters." One potential difficulty for Emiratis is that the West emphasises the individual rather the collective. "In the UK they became more independent and not [only] in the logistical issues, like opening their own bank account, but they also became independent in decision-making," Ms Shaheem said. "So what happens is that when they come back with this individualism it is questioned by family members."

But some students were not so sure that independence was a trait acquired abroad. "One always assumes that because you have lived abroad you are more confident," said Omaira Farooq, 30, who studied in the US. "However, many Emiratis who have studied in the UAE are just as individualistic and have strong identities."