Michelle Bergeron is a senior computer science and math major who studied in the United Arab Emirates in Spring 2013. She is also planning to participate in the Fall Break trip to Montreal sponsored by the University Programming Board. This Winter Break, she’ll be taking a course in Ecuador with the Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences.
Where did you study abroad? How did you choose your program?
I studied abroad in Spring 2013 in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates. I wanted to go somewhere that would challenge my idea of the world and study somewhere with a non-Western culture. I'd taken an Arabic class and a Middle Eastern Politics class, so I decided that the Middle East was as good a place as any (especially because the U.A.E. is safe!). While I was there, I made lasting friendships with exchange students and locals alike and learned more about the world and about myself than a textbook could ever teach me.
What was one thing you did abroad that you couldn’t have done in Cleveland?
I went with a few other exchange students to the middle of the Dubai desert to watch a camel race! Before getting in the taxi, I had no idea that such events even existed. After the camel race, we went to a restaurant and tried camel burgers, which are a new trend in Dubai and was actually pretty good!
What advice do you have for students who are considering study abroad?
Do it! Before I studied abroad, I didn't entirely know what to expect and was leery of the prospect of living on the other side of the planet from my friends and family. It might seem like an extended vacation, but it's so much more than that: it's a chance to live your life in a setting that's pushing the edge of your comfort zone. You'll see the main touristic sites, but you'll also have smaller, more meaningful experiences. The memories that are the most vivid for me are not of the Burj Khalifa or the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, but of befriending the campus cats, figuring out which vending machines sell the best chai karak, and haggling with shopkeepers for new scarves. Go with an open mind and you'll begin to see things in a different light.
How has studying abroad changed your global perspective?
As a girl who grew up in a small town rural Michigan lacking diversity, it's easy to forget that there is a whole big world out there full of other people and their stories. The view of the Middle East and of Islam there tends to be unfavorable due to lack of education on the topic outside of the news. I had the opportunity to see it firsthand and discover that the people there aren't so different than me. Whether you're wearing a headscarf or a t-shirt, we all have favorite foods and jokes and songs and a desire to share them with others.
What was something funny that happened to you while studying abroad?
A core part of Middle Eastern society is hospitality. I learned this firsthand when I visited Bahrain for a weekend and my taxi driver was an older gentleman who was so excited to welcome me to his country that he took me out to lunch with one of his taxi driver friends! In the morning, he bought me fruit and juice boxes, and he also left me with two packages of dates as a parting gift. While it seemed funny and overwhelming at the time, I realized that I should be following his example. If you're ever in Bahrain, call Abdullah.