Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Settling In

Settling in here hasn't been nearly as difficult as I was expecting (I can say that now that we are two weeks into the semester). Some days are rougher than others, but no day has been unmanageable. Which brings me to my next story: *Attempting to spend* A Day at Jumeirah Beach

It started well.. for about the first half hour. Danny left his phone on the bus. Caitlin, Danny, Matt and I took the bus to Rashidya in an attempt to spend the day a the beach. As soon as we got to the metro, the day started downhill. I called Danny's phone, thinking the bus driver would hear it and answer. He didn't, but he did call me back a little later and he and Danny made arrangements to exchange it. We got directions as to which stop to get off and which bus to take and we thought all was going well. Except Matt didn't bring his metro card and had to buy a day pass. So we get off at (what were told) the right stop. 1st We were told the exit to the terminal was on the wrong side of the highway, so we had to go all the way back through to the right side. 2nd We walked though this empty bus parking lot to what we thought was our bus. 3rd We were told our bus should pick us up in the round about. 4th We see bus 88 at the bus stop and run to it to get on. 5th The bus driver won't let Matt on without the right metro card. 6th We can't understand each other, Matt gets off the bus, before we realize what's going on, the door closes and we drive away - without Matt. 7th We start riding and will call him to let him know which exit to get off and meet us. 8th The bus driver makes us swipe our cards, get off the bus for 2 minutes, then get back on. Apparently we were at a terminal and for our cards to be properly accounted for, we had to make it 2 trips. Found out Matt just went back to AUS. 9th We rode the bus practically an entire loop when we got to the round about we were originally told to get on. Fail. 10th We finally get off at the Iranian hospital (which was actually very gorgeous. There is also a beautiful mosque inside the gates) and decide to walk the rest of the way. 11th We finally arrive 3 1/2 hours later. 12th On the metro going back home, someone puked in one of the cars and it stunk. Bad.

Now for everything in between

I guess we can start at #11. This is what the beach looks like - absolutely beautiful!

Unfortunately, by 3:30 it was warm, but the water gave it a cool chill and the water was pretty cold. But we did walk around a bit and go to see some nice scenery. Before we got to the actual beach, we stopped to see another mosque thats right across the street. Unfortunately, they only let the public in between 10 and 11:30 or something in the morning so we couldn't go inside to look around. But the outside was beautiful (as is just about every mosque I've see).

So we're at the beach, laying in the sand, enjoying the nice weather, talking about what we want to do from there. I kept remarking about the quality of the beach. Beaches here (like anywhere in the Caribbean, Bermuda, Europe, basically anywhere besides the US) are nearly flawless. The water is bright blue and clear, the sand is free of broken glass bottles, the sand is well groomed, the landscape is well taken care of; it just looks like a place where the people in charge want people to come to. 

(this is just one of my favorites of the day)

Also at this beach, there is a long dock that goes well out into the bay. It gives you an astounding view of both the beach and the skyline. People walk, roller skate, ride scooters, run, and just enjoy the view. There are also a lot of big rocks surrounding it that a group of older teenage boys (17? 18? 19?) were running on it - bright ones, I'll tell ya. They also started wrestling on the rocks.. right where if you slip, you'll fall onto maybe 10 more feet of rocks into the shallow water surrounding the bay with more rocks at the bottom. But anyway, here is the view back into Dubai. This pictures has quickly become my favorite picture of my trip thus far (and is also my new desktop background).

Aside from that frustrating trip, everything is still going great. I've been reading a lot of things online, like these most recent Somali Pirates and it's pretty upsetting. But know, there is nothing like that going on in the UAE. There is no civil uproar and anything that even points to unrest; so anyone out there concerned, don't be.

Classes are going great. We've gotten our first few homework assignments and for possibly the first time in my life, I have them done more than a week before they are due! We'll see how long that lasts ;-) We've started working on our bridge design for the wooden bridge competition at the American University of Dubai in March. We've only just begun putting together our best drawings and some SAP testing should find the best one through trial and error. I think I have a working model and I hope I can contribute to our group effort. The other three have competed both previous years the competition was held. I'm also starting to make more and more friends from the area, and not just through the exchange program.

Unfortunately, we only get a 1 day weekend and next week is a 6 day week.. I'm not too happy about that. Because of the holiday last Thursday, we have a make up day on Saturday - which means Saturday through Thursday classes. The following weekend will be a much needed break and it's also the weekend we are going on a desert safari! :-)

Well it seems as though I've written a lot more than I expected to. So I guess I'll stop here.
See ya later, crocodiles!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Strike 1!

Global Village is Dubai’s most popular outdoor cultural entertainment and shopping venue, welcoming millions of guests over the last 14 years. It’s the place to watch spectacular live performances, taste an array of authentic cuisines, purchase genuine merchandise from around the globe or spend a whole evening on thrilling rides.

^^ Well, I couldn't sum it up any better, so I took that from their website :-) We, as a group of exchange students, went to Global Village this past Wednesday evening. It was tons of fun and incredible to see all of the culture of this area. It really made me think about America's culture; or lack there of. What does America have? Really? The native Americans? Most American's don't even claim that, nor should we, because all we did was kick them off of their own land! But anyway back to the middle east - this place was so cool to see what each country has to offer. I had my first date in Saudi Arabia, they were awesome! I tried at least 10 different kinds. Some friends I was with at the time bough a combined 10 kilos of them! I sure hope they don't get sick... Other countries had things such as honey, silks, textiles, shoes, fragrances, incense, food, nuts, spices, anything and everything (mostly) authentic.  However, because the bus was late picking us up, we only got to stay for a few hours before it had to take us home.

So Caitlin and I decided to go back yesterday. Anna gave us a ride to Mirdif mall, which was a big help (especially to avoid the extra "you crossed an emirate border, that'll be an extra 20 dirham" charge) and we caught a taxi from there. Normally, it would have been only a 15 minute ride. Not today. We spend around 2 1/2 hours in that taxi.. that's how crowded it was. Traffic was backed up for miles to get off at the exit. We also felt bad because the taxi driver wasn't making any money from just sitting there. When we (thought, anyway) that we could see the entrance, we got out and walked, along with tons of other impatient people on their way. This is about how we felt a half a mile later... vv

This is my "I am not amused" face. The walk wasn't actually that bad. It was a nice evening, too. But finally we got there. Walked around a bit more. Spend some more money. I had the BEST ice cream! The previous day, I had bought book ends from Africa, but when I got home, I realized I got the head of the lion (which I wanted) and the ass of a rhino... So I brought them back. Luckily, the guy remembered me. However, when I was standing in his little shop, waiting, another guy asked me a question about something he wanted to buy. I kinda looked around with that "are you really asking me?" look. I skeptically told him I didn't work there and was just waiting.. That was interesting. But the guy quickly fixed the problem, and I now have both halves of the lion! I also got really cute shoes! :-) 


This is where our adventure really begins. We leave at 11:30 thinking we have plenty of time to get back for our 1am curfew (since it should only take about 45 minutes to get back). Well, we get to the bus stop and there is a line of people several hundred feet long... vv

Thinking "we'll miss curfew before we even get on a bus!", we went to talk to a guy who seemed to work there. He was a big muslim man, the kind you don't mess with. I guess we looked worried, so when the next bus came, he waved us over, held up the line, and told us to get on! 11:45 - We felt kind of bad for cutting line, but who cares? So this bus ended up taking about 45 minutes only to get us deep into Dubai. 12:30 - we arrive at the bus terminal and get on a Sharjah bus (the one the first guy told us would take us straight to AUS). It doesn't. 1:05 - we got off at the closest mall and jump straight into a taxi. Tell him to step on it! 1:25 - we arrive at our respective dorms. Late. Strike 1.

Not a huge deal to be late, just don't let it happen often. I think at 3, you get into some type of trouble. 

 the "lake"
Some guy selling tea

As always, there are many more picture on my facebook, so don't hesitate to check them out! Anyway - Beach tomorrow! :-)

Later Gators! 

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Preconceived Notion

I had an interesting conversation with my piano studio class today. There are only 5 students in it plus the instructor. We were discussing Western vs Easter/Arab music. Most of the conversation involved the middle east region not having an "identity" in the music world; when most think of classical music, they think Beethoven, Mozart, Chopin, and so on. The middle east doesn't seem to have their own style of music and the little they have, without it being passed between generations, is close to being lost forever. One way or another, this led to the opinions of mine and my instructor's (who is Spanish but also studied at Indiana University in the US) conversation of preconceived notions between the western world and the Arab world.

When I first began to tell people I might be studying in the UAE for a semester, I got several strange looks and reactions. A girl in this class brought up the fact that many American's see the middle east as simply terrorists. Because there is a war going on, few people can see the good that comes from this region. I want to be a pioneer on this and settle and disputes over the subject. I have met people from almost every country in the area: Emiratis, Saudis, Jordanians, Syrians, Nigerians, Egyptians, Iranians, Iraqis, Palestinians, people from Yemen, Oman, Somalia, Afghanistan, Bulgaria, Russia, Georgia and everywhere in between.. and not one of them, even knowing I'm American, didn't welcome me with open arms. I want to share with the world the kindness of the people and put to rest and uneasiness here is in anyone's mind.

Both the United States and the Middle East have so much to offer. It is a shame that the media portrays it in disturbing ways. Even with the disputes in Egypt now, the media can give an opinion and without first hand knowledge otherwise, it's hard to tell the real story. I will leave you with this: To everyone in America - if you ever have the opportunity, get out and travel to a world completely unknown to you. People can surprise you in a good way.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Another Day in Paradise?

So classes started yesterday.. yes, I know, on a Sunday! This Sunday-Thursday work week is going to take some getting used to. But today was our second day of classes and everything is going about as well as can be expected. I like all of my teachers and the other students seem really nice as well. I started in Steel Design. I felt slightly intimidated because the teacher kept commenting on how many good students were in the class, so I know I'm going to have to work extra hard. The professor is also the advisor for their ASCE chapter, which I think they are going to make me an officer for; pretty cool. He told another student he is really excited for me to be here, but I haven't actually introduced myself yet.

After steel design, I had coffee with my new friend Dana. She is also a civil engineer and is very nice. Some of her friends stopped by, so I met them as well. She gave me a lot of tips and advice for teachers and classes that I hope will come in handy. Then came Thermo.. round 2. The guy seemed nice and all, but I can tell he has some power issues. He spent the first 5 minutes basically asking us to drop the class, and I can understand, because he normally has maybe 30 students in it, but this semester has around 60. Then later in the class he spent a bit of time talking about how stupid Americans are for using the English system rather than SI. Personally, for a lot of things, I much prefer the english system, but he is right, SI is just easier when it comes to engineering; I just don't think he knew I was in there just yet.

To finish off my classes, I had aerospace engineering. This class, I can already tell, is going to be fantastic! There were only 5 people that day, but I'm sure there will be more later. We even get to build hang gliders! And have an expert fly them with us! How cool is that?! I can just see it being such an awesome class, especially because it's only a minor course so it's not taken as heavily as a major course. We will see, though.

Today was completely different. I only had one class today at 2 (that quickly changed). Today was a "takin care of business" day. After much fighting with the ID people, I finally got my ID. After more fighting with the bookstore, I finally got my books. After many pleasant conversations with many computer nerds (and mac lovers!) I finally got my computer to connect to the wifi. I also got a mailbox.

The ID people.. it took me 4 trips and waiting in loooooong lines there to get it... not cool. The first time, I didn't have a passport size photo.. shame on me. The second time, they said my blood type wasn't in the computer, so to go back to the health clinic. The IXO director called them instead and they said it already was in the system. Third time, they took my info and told me to come back the next day. Fourth time (today), waited and waited behind this group of guys with something wrong with their accounts. Finally I looked at the pile of IDs and said "see that ID card on the top? It's mine. Can I just have it?" She handed it to me and I left.

The bookstore. I went this morning to get my textbooks. When I went to checkout (with my new ID card) they told me I was an inactive student and to go see the cashier. I was frustrated. I was clearly an active student because everything said I was. It turned out to be just a misunderstanding because I am an exchange student. So I got my books. 5 text books and 3 smaller books for under $450! All brand new! People kept asking me why I was so excited. Books in the US must just be ridiculously overpriced compared to the rest of the world.

My computer is your typical "my computer won't connect to the wifi" story. Apparently Marshall's certificate was messing with the AUS one and it wouldn't connect. But it took me all the way to the architecture IT people to get it to work. They are good with macs there because it's the only department that actually recommends it (being an engineer with a mac isn't very practical, that's why I also have a Dell desktop). So they got it to work and now I'm a happy camper. The architecture building is incredibly nice. There are so many computer labs full of macs and giant printers and such. We were overwhelmed when we got one plotter in the engineering department (their engr dept only has a few)! AUS also gives their students free software! At least the stuff used in their classes. As long as you can prove you are in the class and are going to use it in the class, they'll give it to you... free!

I had my first meeting with the music professor and piano player. They are both really nice and I'm excited to see how this semester turns out. I believe we'll have one recital open to the public but I'm not sure when that will be. We didn't play today, although I was hoping we would.

And that's where I am now. Content with a days full of getting stuff done. Here is my mailing address, in case you want to send me anything ;-)

Kristen Bobuk
American University of Sharjah
P.O. Box 26666
Box 239
Sharjah, United Arab Emirates

And this is my shout out to Anna Ray! I sure hope you read this!!

The end :-)
For now!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Last Day of Freedom

So classes start tomorrow.. on a Sunday. I'm not sure how long it's going to take to get used to that; maybe by the end of the semester.. maybe not. But none the less, today was a great day. We took a bus to the metro station and the metro to the Mall of the Emirates. That mall is beautiful, just like all of the others. This is the mall with the ski resort, which is pretty awesome. I'll be back sometime soon to actually go skiing or snowboarding.

We stayed at the mall for a while, then took the train to the textile souk. A souk is like a market. It's a bunch of little stores selling anything and everything. The first one mostly sold clothes and textiles. After that one, we went to the spice souk which had tons of amazing spices. They also sold tons of other stuff too, but the spices were what they were known for. Here is a picture I stole from Axel.

We walked and walked and walked (someone with a pedometer said 17,000 steps today!) and saw some pretty cool things. We took this nifty little boat (it has a special name, but I don't remember what it's called) and it only cost a dirham each way across the river(or gulf, or lake, or whatever it actually is)! That's 27 cents. Also before we left we sat down at this little outside cafe and had some tea. It was a very nice night, quite chilly, actually. But in all, a very nice day.

I came home and my new roommate was here. We haven't talked much, but I'm sure we'll get to know each other soon.

Unfortunately, classes start tomorrow. I have steel design, thermodynamics and intro to aerospace engineering. Shouldn't be too bad since it's the first day. But I'm sure will be very interesting. 

Well, I don't have too much to write about for now, but I'm sure I'll have a lot tomorrow!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Feels Like Home to Me!

Since I'm bored, I figured I'd post a new blog...

So I've been here 6 days now and I'm still on EST. Not a good place to be. I went to bed around 12 last night after reading for a little while. I woke up around 1:30 and couldn't fall back asleep. I kept getting on facebook to see if there was anyone on to talk to. Finally, around 7:30 I fell asleep. This wouldn't have been a problem if I had woken up before 3:30.. A whole day - wasted. We had a new student dorm meeting at 4:30 so by the time that was over and I ate, the day was essentially over (things on campus close early) and I didn't feel like leaving campus.. Hopefully I can get adjusted to the time change soon (although staying up the entire night before to watch the superbowl then taking a long nap, I'm sure didn't help the situation).

So anyway: Sharjah
Sharjah is absolutely beautiful! It's such a traditional and cultural place. We took a bus tour around the emirate to see some of it, but didn't actually stop anywhere except one of Sharjah's malls. They have a "cultural block" full of museums, libraries, wildlife centers, theaters and many other things, all the remind me of the architecture of the Library of Congress!

We could also see a lot of (what we think were) oil drills, an amusement park with a HUGE ferris wheel, and the Arabian Gulf. That's definitely one area I'd like to spend some time in! Luckily we have amazing study abroad directors here. They are all new, but are working so incredibly hard at making everything simple and exciting for us. They've planned trips every saturday for us. Most of which include going to Dubai, but a lot of others include going back to that cultural district, going on a desert safari, going to a wildlife center, an aquarium and experiencing heritage days. I'm so excited for things to come!

Perks about the school 
I'm so tired of Marshall nickel and diming us for everything! Here at AUS, we can do our laundry for free, have free printing (includes b&w, copying, binding, and probably a bunch more), regular students get 900dhm (about $250)/semester for books, I get 700dhm (about $200)/month for food, our rooms get cleaned once a week, and there are water coolers all over the insides of buildings. Happy students = good students!

What do I like most about AUS and the UAE?
Things here have this extraordinary way of being so laid back but also strict at the same time, in perfection harmony together. There are a lot of rules. There is a dress code for (what is supposed to be the entire country, but emirates like Dubai don't follow it as much) everyone: nothing above the knees, no low cut shirts, no showing your shoulders, no stomaches showing and nothing that "defines the body". Basically, just dress conservatively. People here are around to judge what you're wearing or what you look like, more who you are and what you have to offer. There is an early curfew. On weekdays, we must be in the dorms by midnight and weekends, by 1am. This might seem strict, but its there for our own safety. Not the the campus isn't the safest place in the world to be (literally!). There are armed guards guarding the main entrance (the entire school is gated in), armed guards walking around campus (you're never out of sight of one of them), and another gate around the women's dorm where armed guards stop everyone before they enter. Even at the main gate, often you are stopped and questioned. It's not that you're in trouble. It's just that they want to make sure the only people inside are those that are supposed to be there. Aside from that, if you follow the rules, everything else is rather laid back. When you go into stores or restaurants, often prices are rounded when you check out. Prices aren't $17.64, they are just $18. And no sales tax!! If something does happen to come out to an uneven number, the sales clerk will round it to the nearest dirham (1 dhm is about 27 cents). As you walk around, the guards and other workers look mean and like they're having a bad day; but if you smile at them and say hello, their whole demeanor changes. They immediately smile back and say hello. Often will ask how you are and if you look lost will help you. I'm yet to meet someone unwilling to help.

AUS is starting to feel like home..

Saturday, February 5, 2011

This small world just got smaller

Dear World,

Today was the first day of our orientation. We gathered in this small room with maybe 5 chairs set up along with a couch, so I knew there weren't going to be many of us. At 9, when the orientation was scheduled to start, there were about 4 of us when Linda Angell (the director) came in and said we would be waiting a few more minutes. Apparently we were getting more exchange students than they weren't expecting. This was because of what was going on in Egypt. The exchange students there had to be evacuated out of the country and some were sent here to AUS. Once a few more students arrived (directly from the airport) we had a brief info session and asked if we had any upfront questions. Some things were brought up about visas and ID cards, then when there was a pause, I, being me, asked if there was anywhere we could watch the superbowl. Surprisingly, this caused quite an uproar! Well, turns out, Linda's husband (they are from the baltimore/pennsylvania area) is a Steelers fan! So some of the students are going to watch it with them. Someone made a joke to me and I replied with "hey, I'm from Pittsburgh! And my Steelers are playing! I'm not going to miss it." To my surprise, a girl sitting across from me replied "I'm from pittsburgh too!" and here is how the conversation went from there:

Me: "Where did you go to high school?"
Caitlyn: "Ringgold"
Me: *insert shocked face here* "You've got to be kidding me! I went to Belle Vernon!"
Caitlyn: *insert just as shocked face here* "Are you serious! No way!"

For all my Marshall friends, you might not find the irony in this; but, Belle Vernon and Ringgold are neighboring school districts. I played soccer with and against a lot of their players, and again to my surprise, she knew some of them.

Define irony: two student who grew up relatively close to each other travel 7-8000 miles across the world to study abroad in two different countries without knowledge of each other, only to end up in the same small room at the same school.

To make it better, when we were talking about our schools, she says she goes to WVU, so naturally, when it's my turn, I add a bit about our basketball team beating theirs last month ;-) To make it even better than that, she asked if I knew Dr. Wilson, a physics teacher at Marshall. Of course I do, and she explained he is her friend's dad! Go figure!

I made some pretty good friends today. About 1/2 of the exchange students are American. (this includes students from ISEP and two other exchange programs) There are also 2 Germans, a girl from Japan, and a guy from Nigeria. After all the boring stuff and the campus tour, we had lunch and went bowling in the student center (and didn't wear bowling shoes! I wore sandals and it felt incredibly awkward. Apparently you can do anything in Dubai!) After that, Caitlyn, Sarah (from Germany), and I went to the mall. We had a great time and did some shopping. The mall we went to was in Dubai (just over the boarder from Sharjah) so it was very interesting to see the cultural difference just a few miles away. It's definitely a lot more relaxed there. The dress code is looser and certain rules aren't nearly as strictly enforced. After a long day, we took a taxi home and decided to go back tomorrow!

A girl far from home

Friday, February 4, 2011

First Impressions

I made it! My first solo flights! That also includes carrying ALL my stuff, getting my visa, passport control, retina scan, getting my bags, customs, getting cash, a sim card, and finding my driver alone in a new country (where most speak only broken english) None-the-less, I'm here. Settled into my dorm room.

So.. the flights.. The first flight was an express from Pittsburgh to DC. With all the storms, it was a pretty bumpy ride. Not gonna lie, it was actually kind of scary. But 30 minutes later, we landed and the pilot welcomed us to Chicago.. yup.. then he laughed and welcomed us to DC. The next flight was waaaaaay too long. It was supposed to last 12 hours, but we made it almost an hour early. That gave me time to get through everything in the (gianormous!) airport so the driver didn't have to wait too long. The flight itself actually wasn't too bad. Since we left at night, almost everyone went straight to sleep and put the blinds down. So aside from some small lights, it was pretty dark on the plane. This messed with my mind though! Image being in a dark box with no windows, no clocks, and no sense of where you are! The only thing I had was the TV on the seat in front of me with a map of where we were and a countdown until when we should be arriving. This didn't tell me what time it was (not that it really would have mattered, seeing how many time zones we were crossing). When we were right on top of Turkey I did open my blind to see what was going on outside and saw the most amazing mountains!

A little later, again I opened the blind and saw the most gorgeous sunset! I tried to take a picture of it, but it didn't come out so well. When we began to approach the UAE, I could see the lights of the city (which from 15,000 feet looks pretty flat) and I'll never forget it. I could see some rolling clouds above the city, well below us, and there was one building sticking out from the top. I can't say 100% but I'm almost positive it was the Burj Khalifa. Every other high rise building looks flat, and this one still looks huge! It was so beautifully lit, too! That's when I began to get incredibly excited!

So on to today.. It's Friday, so its the weekend. Since I had nothing scheduled to do.. I had plenty of time to just wander around and explore the campus a little bit. Its gorgeous! Absolutely beautiful! I've never seen anything quite like it! In pictures, yeah sure, then you get there and it's all run down, like they took the pictures they day it was built, 25 years ago! But not here! The sidewalks are marble and the buildings look like scenes from a movie! The grass is perfectly cut and the bushes are cut. There is nothing out of place. But anyway, here is a picture of one of the buildings you see when you first go onto campus (which is guarded by gates and armed guards, then the women's dorms have their own fence and armed guards, not to mention the guards at almost every building!)

The entire campus looks like this, too!

The people here are very friendly, too. (Aside from the people at the airport who do their best not to speak at all.) Especially the supervisors of the women's dorm, they'll do anything to help you get settled in. It's still a little difficult to communicate at this point. Everyone speaks English, but it's definitely a second language. They are very patient, as I am with them and eventually we each get across the message we are trying to convey. Sometimes is easier than others, of course.

Tomorrow is the first day of orientation, so hopefully I begin to meet people and won't be quite so alone before classes start! And I think tomorrow, we get to take a bus trip into Dubai! I'm pretty excited about that! 

But anyway, until next time!