UAE Meet the Locals group breaks down cultural barriers

Published:  30 Apr at 6 PM
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Tagged: South Africa, Dubai, UAE, Jobs
Although the UAE is an all-time expat favourite for career development and high salaries, getting to know local people as friends is an unenviable task.

The lack of interaction between expats and Emiratis is based on many aspects, including language, culture and an inability on the part of incomers to understand and appreciate an unfamiliar way of life. The unequal ten to one demographic balance between foreign nationals and local people is another reason, as are the all but segregated housing complexes popular with expats with similar cultural backgrounds. It’s the same with tourists visiting the UAE, the vast majority of whom leave without having the faintest idea of Emirati culture and traditions.

Luckily, for expatriates who are more than happy to integrate with locals but have no idea where to start, Khadija Behzad’s Meet the Locals group is working to bring the two cultures together in a manner ensuring lasting friendships between foreigners and Emiratis. Along with her business partner Abdullah al Matar, she’s dedicated to breaking down the cultural barriers and promoting genuine interaction between expats and Emiratis. Her plan includes cultural tours, dining experiences and corporate inductions aimed at both new arrivals and long-stayers.

The group started by hosting breakfasts at local Emirati restaurants serving the region’s traditional cuisine, with a local host explaining how the dishes had evolved and their place in he UAE’s culture and history. Lunch and dinner events followed, along with sessions explaining the cultural customs surrounding Emiratis’ favourite beverage, Arabic coffee. Tours around the region followed fast, with Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah displayed to expats by fully trained Emirati guides. A recent development brought the group into the corporate sector, with employers now requesting crash courses on the UAE for new arrivals. Included are hints on how to behave towards female Emiratis, and what not to do when invited to an Emirati home.

At all the events and courses, questions are encouraged, with nothing off limits. The Meet the Locals group is now searching for more Emiratis to add to their 20-strong team, the majority of whom work on a freelance basis after finishing their day jobs. One new strand is the provision of bespoke packages aimed at expat delegates attending UAE-based conferences, and the business as a whole is due to be rolled out across all seven Emirates. Khadija’s strong belief is that understanding of each others’ cultures is through interaction, without which stereotypes are the only alternative and don’t lead to friendships and cross-cultural appreciation. As a result of her beliefs, Meet the Locals was a recent, well-deserving winner of the Khalifa Fund for Enterprise Development’s Ibtikari programme, for its work with mentorship schemes.
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