Q&A: First CSU graduate to minor in Arabic on living in United Arab Emirates

Megan Fischer

The concept of time is something that changes depending on specific countries in the world. In the United States, time is strict, but elsewhere, it is more fluid and relaxed. This is something a Colorado State University alumna has experienced in her time working abroad in the United Arab Emirates; even though her job requires her to keep a close watch on the clock, outside of work time is much more relaxed.

Anna Meenan graduated from CSU in fall 2011 with two bachelor’s degrees in international studies and technical journalism, and a minor in Arabic. She is the first student at CSU to have obtained the Arabic minor, and currently works for The Emirates Centre for Strategic Studies and Research center in the country and has been there for about three and a half years.


The following is a Q&A with Meenan about what she now does living overseas and how her education at CSU helped to get her there:

Collegian: Explain the job you currently have and the steps you had to take to get it?

The center where I currently work is a governmental research and publications center that focuses on issues that pertain to the United Arab Emirates and the Arabian Gulf in matters of counter-terrorism, security, economics, politics and the social sciences. Here, I am able to combine my interests of cross-cultural communication, global affairs and writing; and work closely with a number of intellectuals and local United Arab Emirates people interested in the same fields. It’s been interesting to see the way that the studies conducted here have been implemented throughout the decision-making process for leaders of the United Arab Emirates. The position I have now enables me to utilize and develop my interests in U.S.-Arab relations, intercultural communication, global affairs and writing.

What does an average day look like for you?

The requirements and expectations at my current job are very strict. Before the work day even begins, I’ve gone through a security process that would rival any airport screening process. It was a bit intimidating at first, but now I’m used to it. Once in the office I’m responsible for editing a myriad of content and projects and preparing them to be published. Most of the material has been translated from Arabic to English, so my background in Arabic studies has certainly proved useful here. 

What are some challenges you have had to face and overcome?

Coming over here by myself hasn’t been easy and I’ve certainly learned a lot, not only about the culture and region in which I live, but about myself also.
(A) challenge encompassed within the… life (living aboard) is that of solitude, as it can get a little lonely at times. I’m a quiet person and for me, it’s OK, but just as it is anywhere when you move to a new city and completely start over, it takes time to develop true and lasting friendships, and when you add cultural differences to the mix it adds an extra element that could be both beneficial or detrimental, depending on how you allow yourself to see it.  Throughout my time here, I have been blessed to meet and create lasting friendships with people from all over the world and from all walks of life.

Colorado State University alumna Anna Meenan currently works as an editor at a governmental research and publications center in the United Arab Emirates. Meenan graduated from CSU in 2011 and was the first student to obtain a minor in Arabic; she majored in international studies and technical journalism. (Photo courtesy of Meenan)
Colorado State University alumna Anna Meenan currently works as an editor at a governmental research and publications center in the United Arab Emirates. Meenan graduated from CSU in 2011 and was the first student to obtain a minor in Arabic; she majored in international studies and technical journalism. (Photo courtesy of Anna Meenan.)

What has been one of the most memorable experiences you have had working and living where you are now?

Last year, I was in the United Arab Emirates throughout the whole of Ramadan, the Islamic holy month in which Muslims abstain from both water and food from sun up to sun down for 30 days. While I’m not a Muslim, I fasted the entire month. This was an experience that I will never forget, as it impacted me greatly. Here the country slows down, and while a little sleepy at times, it is filled with cheer and an atmosphere of camaraderie regardless of the shared hunger and thirst. Fasting for Ramadan challenged my normal routines on every level, and while it was very difficult at first, it got easier, and dare I say it, enlightening. I emerged from the month much happier, stronger, more at peace with myself and the world around me, and even more thankful for life’s blessings. I only had to give up food and water, but in return I got everything. I will never forget how profound this experience was, and I look forward to trying it again this year.


What is it like living abroad? What are some things culturally there that stuck out to you at first? And now?

Living abroad stretches you and molds you in ways you never thought possible. I think it’s important to note that it is extremely safe and secure here, which is impressive in itself considering its geographical proximity to the strife and violence that mars many parts of the Middle East. Never once have I feared for my safety. As far as being a woman here, it’s been quite fascinating. Chivalry isn’t dead here, which seems to surprise many people when I tell them that back home. Here, doors are opened for me, I don’t have to pump my own gas, I dine and shop in some of the world’s most luxurious restaurants and malls, and I play sports and enjoy outdoor activities.

How is living there different than living in the United States?

It’s amazing how I’ve become so accustomed to life here. I actually experience a little culture shock when I come back to the States. While the comforts of home are widely available here, there are differences that make life here really unique. The United Arab Emirates is an Islamic nation; throughout the day, there are five calls to prayer. Each neighborhood has a local mosque from which you will hear the azzan, the music-like call to prayer; at first it was striking,especially when it’s outside your window at 5 a.m., but I’ve gotten used to it and now enjoy hearing it.

When Americans think of the Middle East, this region has become synonymous with veiled women wearing black dresses (called the abaya). Here you will certainly see covered women, but to them, most feel as though it is liberating. You’ll see many different styles and designs, and I actually think it’s quite feminine; the way Emirati women walk is almost queenly, they exude a comfortable and effortless beauty. I have to admit that I do wear it sometimes, not because I’m forced to, but because I actually enjoy it. While this is seen as a hotly contested woman’s rights issue, the abaya and the veil shouldn’t necessarily be seen as a symbol of women’s oppression. 

What is a piece of advice you have for students who want to work abroad?

Get involved now. CSU has a significant population of international students and there are a myriad of opportunities to get connected and to gain fresh new perspectives about the world. Keep in mind that everyone in their own right is an ambassador of where they come from, whether we realize it or not, our interactions with others help them form their own opinions of who we are as both individuals and citizens. By making these first steps, you’ll make lifelong friends and who knows what doors this could open. Continue pursuing what you enjoy and be both steadfast and resilient about it, don’t give up. When the time is right, the right opportunity will come along.

Collegian Reporter Megan Fischer can be reached at news@collegian.com or via Twitter @MegFischer04.