The Pros and Cons of my Remote Semester in Dubai

Where are you right now? What time is it there? What’s it like?

Inquiries like these have been the reality of my interpersonal life for the past semester in which I have studied remotely from my home city of Dubai, United Arab Emirates. After a quick explanation of the nine hour time difference, a shrug of my shoulders, and some verbal form of “you gotta do what you gotta do,” I am always met with more pleasant curiosity from my peers and professors in Boston. As I look back on this particularly strange and unprecedented semester, I wanted to reflect in more detail than I usually do in my everyday interactions, and on the highs and lows of my experience.  

Getting ready for remote office hours with my favourite study buddy.

PROS

Dubai is Safe 

When Covid-19 came to its head in March, my parents insisted that I come straight home to Dubai instead of returning to Boston after my spring break trip to London. At first, I was resistant; how could I just leave the life I’ve created and love in Boston so abruptly? Now, having listened to my parents and having spent the last nine months in Dubai, I couldn’t be more grateful for where I am. The UAE initiated a swift lockdown in March, and after adopting strict virus preventative measures, our restaurants, theme parks, cinemas, malls, and much more opened back up just as swiftly. At the time of this writing, the UAE has conducted nearly 17 million tests within a population of only about 10 million people. I am very fortunate to be able to do normal things with friends and family with the comfort of knowing I will be safe because of these safety measures. 

Spending Time with Friends and Family 

Studying remotely in Dubai is inextricably linked with more face time with my family, friends, and pets. After coming home from university, I’ve started to realize that my parents, who have always seemed to be untouchable superhero-esque figures to me, are beginning to age. This time at home has allowed me a wealth of time to spend with them every night because coronavirus is a harsh reminder that life – and the people I love – can be taken away from me at any moment. 

Falling in Love with Home Again 

A walk by the Burj Khalifa 

Before coming to Boston University as a freshman in the fall of 2018, I’d spend every moment counting down the days till I’d get to leave Dubai. I was fed up with the regular life I’d lived here for the past 10 years and couldn’t wait to start afresh. Now, as a junior, I spend my time here soaking up the warm sun, cherishing the gorgeous views of the city skyline, and eating the falafel wraps from the local drive-by restaurant that I loved having as a teen. There really is no place like home! 

CONS

Missing Campus Life 

It goes without saying that university life can unlock incredible memories and experiences that you will cherish for years to come, and I would be lying if I said that I didn’t miss it a lot. The impromptu hangouts at 2 a.m. with friends, the crisp gush of Boston air as I step outside my dorm building, the plethora of languages I’d hear spoken while walking down one street – even simple things like lugging my laundry bag down the stairs. While I’m aware that Boston University’s Covid-19 preventative measures have affected normal campus life, I can’t help but feel a tremendous sense of FOMO. 

Meeting friends with Dubai’s mandatory mask-wearing rule

Time Differences

If you have an international friend who’s studying remotely this semester, you’ve probably heard them complain about the struggle of time differences. And it’s true – taking classes that end in the early hours of the next morning is exhausting. Don’t even get me started with trying to organize group meetings and office hours. While I have, for the most part, been met with great understanding from peers and professors on this front, unfortunately, some just don’t get it. 

Mental and Physical Health

Sitting in my childhood bedroom on day two hundred and something of being at home, I frequently found myself mulling over the stolen chances, canceled plans, and missed opportunities of the year. As an individual that undoubtedly relies on community, socialization, and meticulous life planning, I fell deeper and deeper into a state of frustration, anger, and irritability. My mother – who had to bear the brunt of my revived teen angst phase – could vouch for that. Unfortunately, my wavering emotional state and the lack of walkability in Dubai also led me to stay in bed all day – a stark difference from all the walking I would have done if I were in Boston.  

In 2018, when I first flew to the U.S. to begin my freshman year at Boston University, I would have never imagined that I’d ever be going to online classes all the way from Dubai. And while this semester has definitely been challenging, I look back on the fond memories and valuable lessons learned. I look forward to returning to campus for the spring semester and to sunnier days ahead! 

Giselle Goodwin Mehta, Staff Writer

Giselle Goodwin Mehta is a junior at Boston University pursuing a degree in Public Relations. Having lived in five different countries throughout her life, Giselle aspires to build a career in the public relations and marketing industry working for companies with a global presence. Aside from writing for The COMmunicator and working with clients at Boston University’s PRLab, you can find her sipping on green teas.

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