Teenage expats in the UAE who decide to pursue further education frequently have to move away from home and experience independent living abroad. Since suddenly handling one’s own finances, personal safety, schedules, transportation, and other things at the early age of 18 is not so much the next step as it is a giant leap, this is a substantial source of worry for many families, which is understandable.
Parents are increasingly believing that the UAE offers their children a high quality of life (an enormous 26 percent of respondents said that this was the single biggest reason they had chosen to continue living in the UAE). However, the most frequently voiced concern about the long-term success of children raised in the UAE was that they wouldn’t have the necessary self-reliance when they left their parents’ care and the UAE.
Then, how can parents and educators effectively prepare young people for entering the harsh adult world, relocating abroad, and adjusting to university life? To further investigate this issue, we met with parents and educational authorities in the UAE.
Personal Security and Safety
Parents we spoke to frequently expressed concern about their teenagers’ lack of understanding of personal safety and security. Parents raised concerns that growing up in the UAE could mean kids are “sheltered” from the harshness of the outside world, despite the country consistently ranking as one of the safest places in the world to live and being named the “safest country in the world to walk at night” in 2021. Mother Navina Das, who lives in Dubai, said:
“Since she was ten years old, my daughter has resided in Dubai. She has apparently experienced a very nice yet “soft” side of the world by the time she is 18 years old. She has never really had anything taken, and she has never had to be cautious when walking down the street. She had a wonderful, safe childhood in the UAE, but she now seems to be very trusting and perhaps even naive of others. A similar worry was voiced by Mr. Peter Rowlands, Head of Secondary at Raffles International School: “In the UAE, we have a highly trustworthy and safe society. With little chance of theft, students are accustomed to leaving pricey phones and laptops lying around. Students frequently lack the skills necessary to manage their personal security as a result.
Parents can support their children’s awareness and skills in staying safe by talking to them about risks they are likely to face, such as the dangers of walking alone at night, the risk of theft of expensive electronic items, and the necessity of keeping doors locked in student housing. While it may be unwise to scare a teenager with stories of attacks and burglaries before they begin a new chapter of their lives, doing so can support their children’s awareness and skills in staying safe.
Mark McDonald, a father from Abu Dhabi, shared with us what had been successful for his son. We planned to visit the UK several times during the year before my son’s departure, seeing universities, utilizing the underground, and even going to a student union bar. This was after my son made it plain that he intended to study in the UK. These visits sparked numerous discussions about what he and I needed to consider in order to reduce the number of surprises for him. Additionally, it made me realize how little he actually knew about living in the UK, despite the fact that we are British and frequently visit family there.
The fact that expat children in the UAE are not accustomed to taking care of themselves is another frequently voiced worry. Teens in the UAE might not get the chance to develop the skills necessary to get about an unfamiliar place and deal with practical challenges on their own because they prefer the Mum-and-Dad-taxi service to public transportation and can order just about anything online.
According to Mr. Ben Parkes, Deputy Head of the Senior School at Kent College Dubai, the UAE can actually offer the ideal setting for fostering independence: “We live in a nation where parents may feel certain that their kids are protected and safe. The UAE can offer a setting where young people can securely express their independence. We owe it to our kids to use the resources the UAE offers to help them grow into young adults prepared for the next step.
In fact, this aspect of expat living in the UAE may be one that families unwittingly select for convenience rather than necessity. Instead of impeding this development, the UAE may provide as a secure training ground for young people to establish their independence, as Mr. Parkes advises. Mr. Parkes further emphasized Kent College’s potential for fostering the acquisition of independence-building skills: “While learning about a wide range of cultures and honing new abilities, school vacations can give pupils experience living away from home. We as a school take advantage of this by offering a wide variety of trips, both domestically and internationally. Similarly, our Duke of Edinburgh award program offers plenty of chances for pupils to tackle problems on their own and gain confidence.”
Djamel Khadir, the year 12 head at Nord Anglia International School Dubai, listed other benefits of extracurricular activities: “Our sixth form residential tours have sent students to Thailand to finish IB course requirements while getting involved in neighborhood projects like sponsoring animal shelters and building schools. We understand the value of these kinds of encounters and how they help shape our children into more well-rounded and aware people.”
It may be argued that UAE expat teenagers will likely have had less opportunity in this area than most, even if the majority of university freshmen have less experience handling their own funds. Most teenagers in the UAE will not have their own income and may not have a full understanding of their spending because there are few opportunities for weekend jobs alongside their schooling (new revisions to employment law may change this). It could seem like a big step to manage rent, bills, groceries, and social life.
The Raffles International School’s Head of Secondary, Mr. Peter Rowlands, emphasized that many teenagers were still learning how to manage their personal funds. “Many students are not accustomed to handling their own finances. They can find it difficult to make sure that what they have lasts the entire year and that necessary expenses for college life are budgeted for. He continued by saying that after their final exams, seniors at Raffles International School attend classes on this topic: “To help students go on to their next levels, we present a series of courses. These include classes to help students get a head start in their chosen industry as well as “Managing My Money” and “University Skills.”
The Advantages of Growing Up in the UAE
Of course, not everything for expat teenagers entering university life abroad is doom, gloom, and anxiety. In ways that their counterparts who have grown up in their home countries may not have the benefit of, parents and educators described to us how living in the UAE also prepares young people for this shift.
Andrea Gomez, a mother living in Dubai, said to us: “After living here, my kids were much more globally aware when they attended college. They were able to connect with so many different people from various backgrounds and they didn’t cling to one social circle as I did when I was their age. I have no doubt that living in the UAE gave them the confidence and comfort to be around different people that they do.”
Similar sentiments were voiced by Djamel Khadir, Head of Year 12 at Nord Anglia International School Dubai: “Dubai’s young people are typically well-traveled and attend schools with a variety of ethnic backgrounds, which helps them to develop a global perspective and familiarity with various religious and cultural conventions and beliefs. In order to avoid feeling social isolation and loneliness after they leave home, this should make it simple for pupils to meet friends.”
Parents rank this ability to cultivate a global mindset as the top perk of raising children in the UAE, ahead of the variety of chances for kids to pursue their own interests and the UAE’s high standard of education. These findings demonstrate the importance of the advantages of growing up in the UAE. While there may be some negative parts to expat living in the UAE, parents, and educators may help children prepare for maturity by helping them see their unusual upbringing as a strength rather than a disadvantage.