FAQs for Incoming Study Abroad/Exchange Students
Note: the information expressed within the FAQs is not given with the intention of curbing one’s personality or limiting an incoming student. Rather it is made with the express purpose of providing guidance in order to help you better navigate Arabic culture and Islamic societal norms. The hope is that you will be successful in this culture and that you will come away from your experience with many lasting friendships and a deep appreciation of the way others live.
Why is the UAE such a big tourist destination?
The UAE is a modern country but one that highlights its traditional Arabic culture. It is an extremely safe tourist destination with a low level of crime. Conflict that is seen in other countries in the region is absent from the UAE. The local Emiratis are very welcoming and friendly. There are many beautiful destinations from the beaches to the cities to the desert. One can find appropriate level of accommodation for all budget levels. People from all over the world come to live and work and take their holidays within its borders for these reasons.
What are some of the most exciting spots for sightseeing?
There are many. It depends on your interests. If you like cityscapes, check out Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, the tallest tower in the world. If you like the beach and swimming, all of the emirates have fantastic coastal areas. Ras Al Khaimah has several beautiful spots for swimming and sun bathing. This emirate also boast some beautiful mountains for hiking and viewing. Abu Dhabi has the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque which is a site not to be missed. In terms of shopping the UAE simply cannot be beat as its malls are some of the grandest and most opulent in the world.
Where is the American University of Ras Al Khaimah (AURAK) located?
AURAK is located in the northern most emirate of Ras Al Khaimah (RAK). This emirate borders the country of Oman. AURAK is in the Al Burairat area on the outskirts of town. You may check out a map of RAK here.
Are there taxis or buses for getting around town and to Dubai?
Taxis are the best and cheapest way to get around RAK if you do not have a car or a friend with a car. On average the cost from the university to the town center is 12 dirhams ($3.28 or €2.96). Buses are not found in RAK.
There is a bus station for transportation to and from Dubai and the cost of that bus is 30 dirhams ($8.22 or €7.42). A taxi to Dubai roundtrip with the driver waiting for you for several hours will cost on average between 350 and 450 dirhams ($95, $123 or €86, €110).
Are there groceries stores/supermarkets near to the university?
Yes, there is large grocery store/supermarket called Al Aswaq within 10 minutes walking to AURAK. You can see if from the residence halls
There is also a small kiosk in Building D on campus that sells food, drinks, and toiletries such as shampoo, soap, etc…
Other grocery stores/supermarkets in RAK are Spinneys (English), Choithrams (English), Lulu Hypermarket (Indian), Safeer (Arabic) and Carrefore (French version of Walmart).
You will find many other small shops with food items in RAK.
Is there a cafeteria on campus?
Yes, the Al Maraya restaurant is located in Building B. They have daily options along with set items such as pizza and salads. You can eat in the restaurant or have it delivered to your residence hall. The average cost of a meal at Al Maraya is 30 dirhams ($8 or €7) for lunch or dinner. If you ate every meal there during the month on average it would cost on average 2,190 ($600 or €539). Students often gather there to socialize and study (although the library is a quieter place to do serious studying).
Are there restaurants that deliver food to campus?
Yes, virtually every restaurant delivers food to the campus. This includes McDonalds, Subway, Burger King, KFC, and many tasty Arabic and Indian restaurants. Please expect to tip the driver at least 5 dirhams ($1.35 or €1.22) for his service.
Where can I get my hair done?
There are many places for haircare and shaving. Upkeep of one’s appearance is done in the UAE on a regular basis. Men often go weekly for a shave and women tend to go often for elaborate hair styles and beauty regimens such as manicures and pedicures. There are generally no unisex salons in RAK. Beauty parlors are female only and barber shops are for men only. It’s best to ask your fellow students where they go for hair care and shaves. Prices for a haircut or blow dry are very reasonable.
What should I wear or not wear at AURAK?
Modest clothing is appreciated at all times in the UAE. Showing of significant amounts of skin will raise eyebrows and may limit your interaction with others. This is especially true for women but it also applies to men. Generally, clothing should reach the knees for both sexes and shoulders should always be covered. Low cut shirts on either men or women are not appreciated. Malls and other public places have dress codes as does the university.
Shorts should be saved for the beach and for visits to Dubai where the tourists regularly wear shorts. However, during Ramadan pants and full length skirts are more appropriate as modest dress is highlighted and requested during the holy month. You may see male students wearing shorts to class but hardly ever female students.
It would be wise to bring a formal dress or suit for occasions where you are invited to formal event such as a local wedding.
You may feel comfortable wearing a bathing suit when at the beach as locals will not be insulted by bathing suits in designated swimming areas at the beach. Please do not wear a bathing suit on campus for the purpose of tanning.
Can I bring my prescription medication to the UAE?
There is a long list of medication that is not permitted to be brought to the UAE. Please ask the manager of the Department of International Programs and Partnerships to e-mail you the list. Please understand that the UAE is a major travel hub and takes great pains to ensure that no drugs are imported into the country. The penalty for importing even a very small amount of a forbidden substance is much stricter than in other countries.
To note: If you cannot bring the medicine with you, you may be able to obtain it in the UAE after a visit to a doctor.
Is the regulation of social media different in the UAE?
Yes, acts such as posting a picture of someone doing something foolish are expressly forbidden. Citizens and inhabitants of the UAE are not allowed to take away another’s dignity, which may occur if postings of them or their actions are done. Below you will see a link to an article regarding an Australian woman. She noticed a car parked across two handicapped spaces, took a photo, and made negative comments about the European owner of the car. This is forbidden here as she broke the law by slandering the car owner. Instead she should have gone to the nearest police station to report the violation of the handicapped spaces. Taking it upon one’s self to publicly shame someone, even if that person has done something against the public good or is illegal, is only to be handled by the proper authorities. Please be careful in the way you express your outrage at another person in the UAE. Social media may lead to legal repercussions. https://en-maktoob.news.yahoo.com/australian-abu-dhabi-resident-arrested-facebook-054329932.html
Does the UAE protect against discrimination?
Yes, many cultures coexist in the UAE in peace and safety. The country is a model for the entire region. It’s one of the reasons so many people flock to this country for work and leisure. People are free to practice their religion and to go about their day to day lives without fear of persecution. The UAE recently passed an anti-discrimination law which is very progressive as authorities continue to keep the public good in mind. The law makes it illegal to insult anyone’s religion or spread hate speech or to discriminate based on a person’s race, religion, ethnicity, etc… This is another way the UAE is working diligently to make the country a safe haven for people to live and work and not fear that they will be harassed. http://www.thenational.ae/uae/government/anti-discrimination-law-enacted-across-uae
May I take pictures of locals or local sites?
You must always ask permission. Women will not allow a photo of their face to be taken in most cases. Men should not approach women to ask to take their photos. This is disrespectful. Women may ask other women and they may also ask men.
Please be careful when taking photos of buildings. You are not allowed to take photos of sensitive government buildings or sites. If it has barbed wire around it or sentries, it is probably a sensitive area. An architect was arrested in 2014 when he was out and about on a holiday in Abu Dhabi as he inadvertently took photos of military buildings. Once it was realized that he had no criminal intentions, he was released.
What are proper greetings in the UAE?
In many countries hugging or kissing of both sexes upon meeting is fine. Here in the UAE it is not appropriate to greet people in such a fashion. Women generally kiss each other on each side of the cheek. Men may also do this to each other and shake hands at the same time. Emirati men will do what is called a nose kiss. They will kiss each other quickly on the nose if they are close friends or related. Watch what others do and reciprocate. Men and women are not allowed to engage in public displays of affection. So no hugging your dear friend from the university in the mall if they are of the opposite sex. This would greatly embarrass them and it could offend passersby.
Please remember not to touch the opposite sex. This is hugely important for visiting male study abroad/exchange students to remember. For emphasis it will be repeated – Do Not Touch the Opposite Sex, especially if you are a man. Touching a female student would be the most disrespectful thing you could do. Even touching her arm to get her attention. Even if she thinks of you as a friend. Should this misstep be done publicly, the female student would be within her right to act and to tell everyone present that she does not condone being touched. This could be a sharp rebuke or it may materialize in a visit from a university staff member or even a family member.
If a visiting female study abroad/exchange student were to touch a male student, it might make him consider that she is romantically interested him. This could have all types of negative consequences. So please keep your hands to yourself and if a mistake occurs apologize and explain about your culture. You will need to clarify even if he says its fine.
Handshakes may not be accepted from a female visiting student. Some men will limit their contact with females. The best rule of thumb is to wait to see if the man extends his hand.
I heard that one cannot swear/curse in public or show inappropriate hand gestures?
That is correct. Swearing or cursing and using profanities is illegal. In public bad/rude behavior is not tolerated. The feeling is that families and others should not have to deal with ugly crass behavior when they are out and about. Respect is key in this society.
Hand gestures that signify a rude word are also expressly forbidden. Should you give someone a physical gesture such as “the finger” expect for them to possibly go to the police to complain.
Can I travel around the country on my own?
Yes, of course. You may travel as a solo traveler or with friends from the university. There are many unique and interesting places to see in the UAE. A bus runs from Ras Al Khaimah to Dubai many times a day. You may also decide to take a taxi although this will cost more. It’s in your best interest to make friends with students with cars. But please offer to share the cost of petrol/gas. They will generally not ask but you should insist.
Are the residence halls nice?
Yes, the halls are very nice and modern. The EDRAK residence halls are conveniently located right on campus so you can easily walk to all your classes. They are akin to a four star hotel with en suite bathrooms and kitchenettes with granite counter tops. Rooms are shared and two beds are provided along with two desks and two club chairs for relaxing while studying. Each room has a balcony. There is a TV room and study room in the halls. Laundry facilities are on the ground floor and the cost to operate the washers and dryers is nominal. Maid service for room cleaning is provided free of charge once a week. Wifi is available in the halls. You will need to purchase linen and towels for your stay. The Department of International Programs and Partnerships can do so for you before you arrive upon request. Please see photos of the residence halls. http://aurak.ac.ae/en/student/academic-support-services/international-programs-partnership/edrak-residential-halls-campus/
Is there a curfew?
Yes, in the EDRAK Residence Halls on campus the curfew for incoming study abroad and exchange students is midnight. If you return to the halls late three times, please be aware that you may be asked to leave the halls. This will then result in you needing to find other accommodation in RAK and this will be stressful and problematic for you. So please keep this in mind. The Department of International Programs and Partnerships will not assist you in finding other housing options, many of which require a one year lease.
Will I have a roommate? Will he or she be an Emirati?
Yes, you will be given a roommate. It is unlikely that you will have an Emirati roommate. Most Emirati students continue to live at home during their university study. They generally only move into their own housing when they get married. This is true for both men and women.
Can I live off campus?
Most leases are for one year. There may be some hotels that you could rent a room for a few months. If you are a study abroad student this is possible. For exchange students it is not possible due to the nature of the exchange agreement. The Department of International Programs and Partnerships will not be able to assist with locating accommodations off campus. DIPP will only be able to provide a list of several hotels, which you may contact.
Can I request a host family?
No, unfortunately due to cultural norms, living with a local Arabic family is very difficult. Homes are organized with the separation of sexes so that only father, brother, uncle may see a women without her head covering or shaila. Many homes have a guest area called a majlis. The majlis room (or even a separate building in the family compound) will have gatherings strictly for women or for men. Emiratis and many Arabs do not socialize in their homes with both sexes the way Western families tend to.
I have heard that Arabs are wonderful hosts?
Yes, this is true. Arabic culture celebrates hospitality like few others and Emiratis are well known for their generous hospitality, which stems from their Bedouin history. A guest is a very important person. The host or hostess will go to great lengths to make the guest feel welcomed and valued. Please remember this extends to when you travel with Arabs as well. They will often pay for everything. If this
person is another student, please try to reciprocate and do not let them pay. Just like you, they have limited funds. While we want you to make the most of this culture, because of the nature of their hospitality code, it is possible for people to take advantage of others. Be mindful and offer to pay for yourself. If a student pays for a lunch then do the same the next time you eat.
*photo is of His Highness Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi receiving UK guests.
What do students do for fun?
The general partying culture that exists in the West for college students is absent at AURAK. There are no alcohol fueled parties. This is simply not part of the culture. Generally students go shopping or see a movie or attend a sports event. There is also the beach for those who swim and the mountains for the more active set. For relaxation some students go to cafes to smoke Sheesha, which is tobacco filtered through a water pipe. Your fun will no doubt entail learning and making use of your knowledge of the language and culture. Plus, you will want to travel around the UAE and even to Oman to see new places. Exploration is where you will find the most fun.
What is the legal drinking age in the UAE?
The legal drinking age is 21. Almost all bars and pubs are located in hotels. Many students will not drink and many will never even have tried alcohol as it is forbidden by Islam. Drunk driving is not tolerated nor are any displays of public intoxication – this includes getting into a taxi intoxicated. Should someone become publicly intoxicated they could be arrested. Please remember that you are an ambassador for your home country. Try and act as appropriately as possible. Public intoxication is not good behavior and will earn one a negative reputation and again may even lead to legal action.
Alcohol is not permitted in the residence halls.
Are there any social meet up groups?
Yes, InterNations has a group in RAK and it is a fairly active chapter. Please visit their site here. http://www.internations.org/. InterNations in an international community for people living and working internationally. They have many various social groups – some dedicated to eating out others to outdoor activities.
Do women have rights in the UAE?
Yes, women are valued and respected members of UAE society. They work, they drive, they go to university. His Highness Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi, the ruler of RAK, is pro-women’s rights. He fully supports women’s accomplishments and the right to live their lives and make powerful contributions to society. It’s one of the reasons AURAK is a co-ed institution.
You will find that women enjoy a high status in the UAE and that extends to all women, not just Emirati women. Women visiting the UAE area usually pleasantly surprised to experience an absence of street harassment. Harassment of women is strictly forbidden and should it occur one could simply go to the nearest police officer/security guard and ask for help. The offender would have to answer to the authorities.
*photo is of Major Mariam Mansouri, the UAE’s first female fighter pilot and the leader of strikes against ISIS. http://www.thenational.ae/uae/government/emirati-woman-who-reached-for-the-skies
What are the cultural norms for men and women?
Generally both sexes are expected to be respectful and practice good behavior according to societal and familial norms. That being said there is more freedom for men than for women in terms of staying out late, clothing, friends that they may have, etc… Families do care about the whereabouts of their sons but will put more emphasis on the whereabouts of daughters and who they are socializing with.
Do students date in the UAE?
Dating is not part of Arabic culture. However, it is also absent from many other cultures as well, such as Indian culture or Bangladeshi culture. Your fellow Arabic students will know (they watch movies, listen to music) that this is perfectly permissible in other countries (South Korea, Mexico, Canada, Norway, etc…). So they will not judge ex-pat students for such behavior in their home countries. However, male students should refrain from asking a female student out on a date. This would be disrespectful to a female student.
A group of male and female students going out together is more tolerated. Though female students may not be permitted to drive in a car with male students. And female students may not be allowed to stay out late.
Be mindful that interactions between the sexes is monitored. The key word is respect. Be respectful of your fellow students and the society.
In terms of same sex dating, Islam forbids such encounters. Please remember that you are not in your home country when here for study abroad/exchange. Societal norms change from country to country. You are here to learn how others live so try to limit your judgments. You may agree or disagree with the views expressed within a country’s borders, but the expectation is that we all respect local customs and traditions.
Should I open a bank account?
This is a personal decision. For those students coming for a semester only, it may not be worth it. There are many banks in RAK but only one bank with branches in North America, Europe, Asia, and Africa – HSBC.
Should I bring a lot of money with me?
If you have a credit card or debit card this would be the best way to make sure you have enough money to spend in RAK. The UAE is generally a very safe place to live. But there are criminals in every country so exercise caution with large wads of money. And one’s ability to lose money increases as the amount kept on your person increases. It’s Murphy’s Law – if something can go wrong it generally will. There are numerous currency exchanges such as Western Union where money can be wired to you in a pinch.
Do I need a student visa?
Yes, you will need a student visa. The university will obtain a student visa for you once you have submitted the required items listed below & paid the student visa fee of 2000 dirhams ($547 or €496).
- Scanned copy of passport
- Scanned photo (headshot) with white background
- Original transcripts from home institution
- $547 for visa processing (2000 dirhams) please see wire transfer info below:
Beneficiary : American University of Ras Al Khaimah
Account Number : 0002-257074-001
Swift Code : NRAKAEAK
IBAN Number : AE700400000002257074001
Bank Address : RAK Bank
Nakheel Branch, Ras Al Khaimah, UAE
Note: For USD transfers ONLY use the following additional information may be required:
Correspondence Bank : Bank of New York
Swift Code : IRVTUS3N
Are there any documents I must give to immigration when I land at the airport?
Yes, when you arrive at the airport please have the following on hand in your carry on (do not pack in your luggage).
- 6 Passport photos (white background)
- 4 Passport copies
- Acceptance letter from AURAK for Study Abroad
Can I receive mail at the university? What is the mailing address?
Yes, you can receive mail at the following PO Box – 10021. The address is simply the university name – American University of Ras Al Khaimah, the emirate – Ras Al Khaimah, and the country – UAE. And don’t forget the PO Box. For the phone number use the manager of the Department of International Programs and Partnerships mobile number -971-5-695-16280.
However, mail delivery is most likely different from your home country. Regular mail (not expressed mailed) will take several weeks to reach you. It can be a bit tricky as all mail for university employees and students goes to one PO Box in town. If the postal workers don’t inform the university driver regarding packages that are in the back, which don’t fit in the university mail box, then they will be returned to the sender. My advice is to bring what you need when you come over. Anything else that you require (like emergency contacts) you can have a family member ship via express mail (Fed Ex, UPS DHL, etc…). But try and limit this type of shipping as it expensive.
Can I travel to Oman and how far is it from Ras Al Khaimah?
It depends on your passport as to whether you need a visa and as to whether you can obtain it at the border. Americans, Italians, people from certain countries (Japan, Germany, Russia, etc…) can easily obtain a visa to enter Oman at the border crossing. Oman is only 40 minutes by car from RAK. One of the excursions that the university will take you on is an all-day dhow (boat) cruise of the coast of Oman in the breathtakingly beautiful Musandam area. There are photos on the DIPP website here.
Can I bike around RAK?
“Bike Friendly” is a foreign concept. There are no bike lanes in Ras Al Khaimah. Bikers take to the roads at their own risk. While the driving laws are strict, people often do not take special notice of those on bikes. Drivers also come from many different countries, places where driving rules are lax. For this reason, it is not recommended that one use a bike to get around town, especially after dark.
Where should I go if I become ill?
For non-emergency health issues you can visit the Health Services Nurse from 8:00 – 4:00 in Building B.
If you need to see a doctor, you will need to visit a clinic or a hospital. Doctors do not have private offices in RAK. All visits are done through a clinic or hospital. Many of the doctors are from the Middle East or India. The health care level in the UAE is superior.
The main private hospital is RAK Hospital. You can book an appointment by visiting their website and entering your information. A receptionist will call you back and schedule the appointment over the phone. This hospital is only 5 minutes from campus. They have good customer service as well as health care facilities. http://www.rakhospital.com/
How will my insurance work?
Your student health insurance that you will obtain in your home country will likely not be taken for direct billing. This means you will need to pay upfront for the doctor’s visit and medicine (they have a pharmacy in RAK Hospital) and then submit your receipt for reimbursement. A visit to RAK Hospital for the cold/flu or other minor illness will cost on average around 450 dirhams or approximately $123 or €113. So please always bring money with you to the hospital or clinic. The university will not pay for your medical expenses
The Department of International Programs and Partnerships can assist you with the submission of your health insurance claim forms. You will need to bring all receipts to the office administrative assistant along with your insurance claim form with it filled out and completed. She can then scan it and e-mail it to the company and cc you on the submission. They will likely send a check to your home address in your home country.
My family and friends are worried about my choice for study abroad/exchange…is the UAE safe?
The UAE is a very safe place to live and study. Crime rates are very low in the UAE. The police and other law enforcement agencies are diligent in fighting crime and preventing assaults and other unlawful activity. The conflicts that have occurred, or are occurring in other Arab countries, are completely absent in the UAE. It is no doubt one of the safest countries to travel to in the world. Please read and share this article from the Gulf News about the UAE’s low crime rate. http://gulfnews.com/news/uae/general/uae-is-world-s-lowest-for-violent-crime-1.1325098
How can I make sure I have the best experience?
If you are coming for a semester or even for one academic year, the time will pass extremely quickly. DIPP recommends you make a list of things you wish to accomplish or experience. After you have been in RAK for one month – review your list. You might need to get going on a few things. If at the end of your time at AURAK there were things you didn’t get to do, that will be normal. Goals change. You will find new items for your check list during your time here. You might even forget the check list and just go with it. Plans in the Arab World are usually not fixed. There is a wonderful spontaneity about the culture and friendships. Often you will get an invitation to do something incredibly exciting and unique to this part of the world only the day before or even the day of the event. Try and be flexible.