Get to know the API family – Interview with Dr. Linda Angell (AUS)

From time to time we like to shine a light on members of the extended “API family” – including partners at U.S. and international universities. In this edition of the API partner profile series we speak with Dr. Linda Angell, Director of International Exchange Programs at the American University of Sharjah (AUS) in the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.). API began its partnership with AUS in 2010, and offers summer, semester, and academic year study abroad programs in Sharjah.

Angell family at AUS (Lenny Muthiah Photography)

Angell family at AUS (Lenny Muthiah Photography)

(API) Dr. Angell, you’ve had a long and productive career in international education… what brought you to Sharjah?

(LA) I moved to Sharjah 8 years ago, after spending seven years living in Wellington, New Zealand. Originally from Boston, I had always wanted and planned to have an international career, and after completing an international internship in London, and then a Fulbright Research Grant in Muenster, Germany, I was not entirely thrilled to find myself settled into a tenure track role as an Assistant Professor at Penn State University. When the opportunity came up to move to beautiful New Zealand, my family and I jumped at the chance!

While we loved every moment of our time in New Zealand (living on the beach with the sun setting every night over the Tasman Sea in our back yard!), my family (husband and two daughters) had agreed that we were ready for a new adventure. We wanted to travel throughout Europe, and explore the world more generally, but it was difficult for a family of four to come up with the time and/or the funds to do that sort of thing coming out of New Zealand! As so often happens, just around the time that we opened our minds to new opportunities, one of my friends and colleagues – originally an Egyptian but long resident in New Zealand – told me about American University of Sharjah and suggested that they might be interested in someone with my background, e.g. female business faculty, doctoral degree from U.S. institution, willing to make such a move. I followed her suggestion and contacted the Dean of the School of Business, had a telephone interview followed by a campus interview, and next thing I knew we were moving to the U.A.E.! I taught Operations and Project Management in the School of Business for 2.5 years, until this role as Founding Director for International Exchange Programs came up! As this was my idea of a dream job, I applied, and now here I am, 5.5 years later, and loving every moment!

(API) How has your experience as an American expat influenced the development of the international program at AUS?

(LA) Over the years, my family and I have had a lot of experience adjusting to new cultures and viewpoints. We have lived and worked for long periods of time as Germans, as Kiwis, as Arabs. We have had to make a vast array of logistical and social transitions and we have really learned to see our own culture through many different lenses. I am sure that these many experiences of cultural shock, transition and adjustment have influenced the development of the international program at AUS. We treasure and celebrate diversity in our program, everyone on our team has lived and worked abroad (i.e. outside our own countries), and we understand what these kinds of transitions mean for people. I believe that these experiences have led to our program developing the reputation as a student-friendly, customer service-oriented, welcoming place that provides a strong and supportive base for study abroad students to venture forth into new cultures to have life-changing experiences.

API students at AUS banquet

API students at AUS banquet

(API) In your opinion, what is the profile of an ideal AUS study abroad student?

(LA) A student studying abroad at AUS will ideally be adventurous, outgoing, open to new experiences and ways of doing things, flexible, curious, and non-judgmental. I have observed that the students who have some of the best experiences here are those who start wearing the local dress (i.e. kandouras, abayas), learn some Arabic, make friends with local students, and generally throw themselves into the full experience with wild abandon!

(API) What has been your experience working with API and API students?

(LA) We have welcomed many students through API since partnering with them in mid-2010.  Our incoming API students participate in the full range of our Fall, Spring, Summer Direct Enroll and Summer Intensive Arabic Language programs, and form an important part of our student body every semester.  We consider the API Regional Director, Ms. Hong Ho, to be an honorary and crucial member of our IXO Team, and we enjoy working closely with her to make the study abroad experience for API students a rewarding, memorable, and life-changing one!

A recent group of API students at AUS

A recent group of API students at AUS

(API) Describe the international community and feel of AUS, Sharjah, and the U.A.E.?

(LA) AUS, Sharjah, and the U.A.E. generally are extremely diverse and multi-cultural! Only 10-16.5% of the population in any of those places are Emirati, and the population reflects a vibrant cross-section of nationals from across the Arab-Islamic world and beyond. I don’t believe there are many places in the world with this kind of amazing diversity! And the wonderful thing about it all is that we enjoy a very safe, accepting community with very low levels of violent and property crime. Everyone you meet will speak English to some extent,, but as you go about your day-to-day business here, you are as likely to hear Farsi, Urdu, Hindi, and English as you are to hear Arabic. In order to cater to this kind of diversity, the U.A.E. offers a wonderfully widespread array of restaurants, entertainment, cultural events, and heritage options.

Speaking for AUS, because most of us are expats and live on campus, we form a very close-knit and mutually supportive community in which our lives intersect in many different ways. Because we often don’t have extended families nearby, we take care of one another, co-exist quite peacefully, and every day we learn more about one another’s different cultures and backgrounds. Just like anywhere else in the world, the U.A.E. has its share of challenges, and some of these impact the international community. But, having said that, it is fascinating to observe that the [U.A.E.] Government is actively working every single day to improve the lives of citizens and residents, and to provide a dynamic and forward-looking place to live, work and play, while at the same time protecting, preserving and nurturing its traditional culture, language and history.

(API) What surprises students the most when they arrive? What do most say they didn’t expect?

(LA) This can depend on when the students arrive. If they arrive in the Summer, or at the beginning of the Fall semester, they are a bit shocked by the powerful heat, and the way that the city tends to come alive as soon as the sun goes down (which is between 6 and 7 pm year-round). Many are surprised by the diversity, the safety and stability that we enjoy here, and the way that almost everyone here speaks some English. Arriving students almost unanimously comment on the beautiful surroundings on campus here at AUS, and the wide variety of bird life. Many are also surprised by our work week structure, which runs from Sunday through Thursday, and the way the five daily Calls to Prayer tend to structure time and activities. After students have been here a few weeks, they start to really notice some of the surprising differences between Western and Arab cultures, and in terms of workload at AUS (many students comment that academics at AUS are harder than at their home universities).

Dr. Angell in the Sharjah desert

Dr. Angell in the Sharjah desert

(API) In addition to the prestigious accreditations and reputation of AUS, why would a student choose to come to Sharjah to study abroad?

(LA) One of the coolest things about studying abroad in Sharjah and the U.A.E. is that students not only learn about the Emirati culture, but are exposed to the full range of Arabic/Islamic culture across the Gulf Arab world and far beyond. You can come to AUS and continue on with your normal academic program at a fully-accredited university offering an American system of education, while at the same time learning the Arabic language and culture and experiencing one of the most diverse and happening places in the world. Sharjah itself sits at the cross-roads of many different cultures: 20 minutes to the South is the glitzy and cosmopolitan city of Dubai, 15 minutes to the West is the more conservative and traditional Arab city of Sharjah (recently celebrated as the Islamic and Arab Cultural Capital of the World and of Arab Tourism), an hour to the North is the beautiful Mussandam Peninsula in Oman at the mouth of the Arabian/Persian Gulf and surrounded by the Hajjar Mountain Range, and an hour and a half to the East is the Indian Ocean resort area of Fujairah and Eastern Sharjah.

AUS’s backyard is the open desert and Abu Dhabi is one hour and a half to the South. Every one of the seven Emirates has a different feel to it, and each are worth exploring. As a world-wide transportation hub, the U.A.E. provides a terrific base to explore Asia (e.g. India, Sri Lanka, Thailand, China, Russia), Africa (e.g. Kenya, Egypt, Morocco, etc.), Europe (e.g. Turkey, Hungary, Romania, etc.), and the Arab World (e.g. Oman, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, Jordan). Another very exciting aspect of living in Sharjah and the U.A.E. more generally is the incredibly rapid pace of change, especially considering that Dubai did not even have electricity only 60 years ago! This place is such an interesting sociological experiment in rapid growth and development while struggling to maintain a certain way of life, a set of values, culture and traditions, language, etc. Life here is certainly never boring, but instead, a wonderful adventure!

Sharjah Light Festival

Sharjah Light Festival

(API) Can you explain the philosophy of AUS and why it is modeled on the U.S. system? Why “American” University of Sharjah?

(LA) I think the AUS website expresses this best in its vision and mission statements (quoted below):

The vision of American University of Sharjah (AUS) is to be the region’s leader in higher education, known for excellence and innovation in teaching, learning, research and service.

American University of Sharjah (AUS) is a comprehensive, independent, non-profit, coeducational institution of higher education that fosters excellence in teaching, learning and research. Based on an American model of higher education and grounded in the culture of the Gulf region, AUS fosters a community that embraces cultural diversity and whose members are committed to the ideals of open intellectual inquiry, ethical behavior and social and civic responsibility. An engaged, productive and effective members of society, AUS educates lifelong learners who display mastery in the core competencies of their areas of specialization, and who communicate clearly, think critically and solve problems creatively.

AUS strives to offer students the chance to experience authentic American education in the Gulf.   This statement has four meanings:

  1. First, the standard of instruction is the same as that of outstanding universities in America.
  2. Second, the method of classroom instruction is American in its emphasis on individual initiative, active learning and the application of knowledge.
  3. Third, student life on campus is rich with clubs, sports and cultural events.
  4. Fourth, the curriculum is organized according to the American pattern of semesters and courses.

In addition, we are proud to be a reflection of the progressive spirit of the Emirates, admitting bright young men and women as students solely on the basis of their academic qualifications regardless of race, color, gender, religion, disability, age or national origin. Strategically placed between the Far East and the West, between Africa and Asia, our location is one of our greatest assets. From ancient times to the modern day, Sharjah boasts a well-deserved reputation throughout the region as an important center of commerce and trade as well as art and culture.

(API) How does the academic experience for students differ between Sharjah and the U.S.?

(LA) Most study abroad students tell us that our academic programs are more challenging then the programs at their home universities. Faculty here at AUS tend to include a lot more assessments scattered throughout the semester, including quizzes, homework assignments, papers, projects, presentations, etc. Students also need to adjust to very the different teaching and learning styles of Arab faculty and students, as compared to Western approaches, as AUS has faculty from many different nationalities. It is important for students to understand that some topics are very ‘sensitive’ topics and need to be handled very carefully in this region, and students may find that open debate and discussion may not be encouraged or the most appropriate way to proceed in these areas, e.g. religion and politics.

API students in the desert

API students in the desert

(API) What would you say to a student whose lack of proficiency in Arabic may be preventing them from considering studying in Sharjah/U.A.E.?

(LA) This is not a problem at all, students can get by perfectly fine without Arabic language abilities. However, I would encourage students to take an Arabic language course while they are here, as I truly believe that this deepens and strengthens their cultural experience and as would be expected anywhere, local people really appreciate it when visitors/guests make an effort to speak their language. Students will find that even rudimentary knowledge of the language will really help to open doors with Arab peoples. My advice – know how to be polite in Arabic!

(API) What are your favorite things to do in and around Sharjah? What is one thing that you recommend all students do?

(LA) There is so much to see and do in the U.A.E., it is difficult to specify one favorite thing! Personally, I love to walk and people-watch around the Heritage areas and the Corniche after nightfall in Sharjah. Spending a day on a traditional wooden dhow, swimming, snorkeling, fishing and sightseeing in the Mussandam Peninsula, is a real must, and a regular outing provided by our International Exchange Office (IXO). African drumming by moonlight in the desert is another favorite activity of mine, or bargaining for goodies in the traditional clothing, gold, carpet and spice souks down in the oldest part of Dubai, by the mouth of the Dubai Creek. Favorite wildlife activities include: observing the pink flamingos and other water fowl from the shelters provided at the end of the Dubai Creek, visiting the Arabian Wildlife Center in Sharjah, hiking in the Hajjar mountains/wadis along the Indian Ocean Coast, and kayaking in the mangrove forests of Abu Dhabi or Khor Fakkan. Camel racing is another activity that everyone should try while here (often accompanied by Camel Beauty Contests), and visitors should try the delicious camel burgers, shakes, and chocolate while here, too!

API students on Dubai Creek

API students on Dubai Creek

Dr. Linda Angell, AUSDr. Linda Angell is Director, International Exchange Programs at the American University of Sharjah (AUS) in the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.). Linda’s career spans 30 years as both an academic/faculty member in the field of Operations Management, and as a manager working for public and private universities and organizations in the U.A.E., NZ, U.S.A., Germany and U.K. She serves as Chair Elect for ISEP’s Council of Advisors, and is a member of AIEA, EAIE, and NAFSA. Dr. Angell holds a Doctoral Degree in Business Administration from Boston University, an M.B.A. with High Distinction from Babson College, and a B.A. Summa cum Laude from UMASS Amherst.

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