Though we now all live in Abu Dhabi, most of us have only experienced the city as a university student, after enrollment has already turned Abu Dhabi into a second home. But what is it like for those who came here earlier, having grown up in the Gulf as non-nationals?

Coming from an all-girls’ school in Pakistan, freshman Mashal Memon moved to Abu Dhabi six years ago and found the liberal international highschool she entered, as well as the many international classmates she met, a little overwhelming. Nevertheless, she felt that her transition was smooth, especially because there were so many individuals from various nationalities.

Because everyone’s different, you don’t stand out, and I think that that is a unique thing I would only get from living here,” said Memon, who has lived in the USA, Qatar and Pakistan. “Of all the countries that I’ve lived in, I feel the most comfortable here.

Memon agreed that having English as a common language definitely helped the transition, not only for her but for the many non-Emiratis who come to live and work Abu Dhabi.

Though residency rarely leads to naturalization except for in cases such as marriage with an Emirati, the lack of cultural and language barriers in Abu Dhabi has meant that Memon feels more like a foreigner in Pakistan, where her lack of fluency in Urdu becomes apparent.

Here [in Abu Dhabi] I fit in better,” she said.

Memon added that she feels comfortable approaching Emiratis and foreigners alike, and is at times even mistaken for being Emirati. For Memon there is no divide.

Most of my friends, they’ve lived here for most of their lives or half their lives. And some of them go abroad, but they all come back to Abu Dhabi,” she explained.

Freshman Sangeetha Mahadevan’s family is from India, but she was born and raised in Muscat, Oman and feels that Omani culture is a big part of who she is.

Omani people give you a chance to feel like you can partake in that culture. You are just one of them,” said Mahadevan. “You may not be Omani but you’re in their country, so their soil belongs to you as much as it belongs to them.

If anything, it is the slow pace of life in Oman that most non-nationals have a hard time adjusting to. Mahadevan also agreed with Memon about the perks of having English as a common language to eliminate communication barriers.

While she highlighted Omani culture as a big part of her identity, Mahadevan has still remained connected to her Indian roots with the help of her family, her school and her community.

A lot of people have [fear] being an outsider,” said Mahadevan. “A lot of people feel like, Will I be able to get into their culture? Will I be accepted?

[The Omanis are] very open and very understanding,” she said. “Although they do hold onto their own culture, they’ll always understand yours and try to understand what makes your culture the way it is. So you don’t have to be guarded about it because they are very welcoming.

Originally published by ‘The Gazelle’, an NYUAD student publication on 25th April, 2015.