By Katie Ayers
The first thing you do when you are faced with an unknown is research. This is what we prepped for throughout our schooling and a skill we teach our students.
So, naturally, when I decided I would accept my teaching position in Ras al Khaimah (RAK), United Arab Emirates, I headed to the only legitimate place to do research, Google Images. When you type in RAK into the research guru you’re bombarded with results of beautiful resorts, water, and a fort (insert pause for you to fact check me). I, of course, checked Wikipedia, but I took very little from what I read.
Most of the time when you look up any Emirate in the UAE you get a lot of information about Dubai and Abu Dhabi. I had been in Dubai one other time and I couldn’t recall hearing anyone mention RAK, and even the friends I knew in Dubai couldn’t tell me much about my unique Emirate. So, I sprinted off the airplane knowing next to nothing about RAK (yes, sprinted 15 hour flight? Get me off the plane).
Since then, I’ve become accustomed to RAK, I know a lot about the Emirate, the region and culture. It’s amazing how accepting of our Western ways the local Emiratis are (I especially feel amazed when I consider how misunderstood their culture is in the U.S. - more on this later). There are still things that surprise me to this day.
5. The 5th most surprising thing since moving to RAK is...
You can actually get a membership to those fancy resorts. Maybe this is true in cities in the U.S. as well, but it surely wasn’t within my budget. Here you can join a resort and go there, everyday. It’s the same as living in paradise. (I’ve personally only partaken in this luxury for the month of Ramadan, but most of my coworkers are a member of a resort). At the resort you can use the pools, beach access and the gym.
4. The number 4 surprise in RAK are...
The weddings! When someone in the family is getting married, their house gets decorated for the week before the wedding. Think Christmas lights, in the form of nets draped over the house from ceiling to floor. It’s amazing. The actual celebration is different than I am used to. In the Emirates, the wedding ceremony is separate; Men all come together in celebration and women come together in a separate hall. I love to drive past the celebrations outside the venue, the men are frequently outside doing traditional dances. Recently there was a mass wedding in RAK where the Crown Prince as well as 174 other couples got married together in a mass ceremony.
3. Number 3 on the list is...
Family names. I used to teach at a refuge school in Chicago and I had students with amazing cultural names, each unique from the other. In this culture people pass down a lineage of names. Students don’t have a first, middle or last name. Their names can be 10 steps long. All kids second names are their father's first name. This year I have 6 Abdullah's in my class and only 5-6 “family/tribe names.” Your family name tells a lot about the history of your family in this region and where in the region your family originates.
2. The number 2 surprise in RAK are...
Desert BBQs. You can think of RAK as almost a suburb of Dubai - it’s where families live and many of them spend their weekends here. In the winter, when it is cooler, the most popular weekend activity is BBQing and camping off the side of the highway. Thousands upon thousands of people take their Nissan Patrols off the road, start a fire, camp and enjoy quality time together for hours. It is truly indescribable to see in person.
1. And the number one top thing that still surprises me is...
The entire driving culture! When I first began to compile my list for this article, every other thing I thought of had to do with the driving. From the cars with decals of Sheikhs on the back to the types of cars - it is all so unique. The way to tell an important person or someone with money is not in the car itself. Emiratis almost all drive incredibly nice and expensive cars, the way you set yourself apart is your license, the smaller your number the better. I have a standard 5 digit. One time I drove behind a number 1, it was very exciting.
Besides the fancy cars, driving here is like real life Mario Kart. I honestly feel like I’m putting my life on the line just driving down the block. It’s not that there aren’t laws, it’s just that they don’t matter. Especially the speed limit. You can go 140 km/h on the freeway as is, that’s 87 mph. Thousands of cars weave in and out going faster. When you’re in the fast lane people may come up behind you (and I mean inches from you) and flash their lights at you until you move out of the lane. Driving out here can be a bit stressful my little rental car can’t keep up!
Everyday is an adventure here and that’s why I like it!
A Chicago gal at heart and one of ITA's Alumni Ambassadors, Katie gained the travel bug in high school when she took a trip to Rome. Since then she’s been finding her way abroad whenever she can, two years ago she got that wish and she isn’t turning back anytime soon!
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- Learn More about ITA Ambassador, Katie Ayers
- Visit Alumni Ambassador Corner
- Teach English in the United Arab Emirates: Country Profile
- [Video] Ambassador Instagram Takeover - Ras al Khaimah, U.A.E.
- Teaching English in Al Ain , U.A.E. - Alumni Q&A with Carmen Oswalt
- What are the Basic Requirements to Teach English in the United Arab Emirates (Including Dubai & Abu Dhabi)?
- What are Salaries for English Teachers in the Middle East?