One young adults take on going to Middle School in the Middle East:

Asalamalakum, isme Cecilia

I’ve been really lucky to spend my middle school years in Baltimore Maryland, rural Idaho and the last year in the Middle East. It was a very interesting experience going to Secondary School in the United Arab Emirates or the UAE. Living in the Middle East I saw big differences in movies, video games, cellphones and social networking among kids.


Going to a movie theater in the UAE is very different than in America. We had heard that the more risque scenes in movies got edited out. I’d seen Scott Pilgrim vs. the World in the US. And when it was released in the UAE, I went with my family to see it in the theater there. It was interesting to see what scenes got cut. When you go to a movie theater, you buy your seat in the theater, not just the ticket, like you would if you were going to a Broadway show or the symphony. Going to see a movie there is like going to a group activity. People are talking the entire time, they don’t turn off their cellphones, they text and talk on them, even with other people in the same theater.


Just like movies, video games and websites are filtered. But it was hard to know the rules because the big game that was released while we were there was Call of Duty, and my big brother would play it on Xbox Live with his friends in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and the United States. The interesting thing we learned was that the games are regionally locked. The games over there can only play on a console from that region. That’s the same for DVD’s we bought over there.  So now that we are back in the US we have an Xbox that plays games from Europe and the Middle East and we have our Xbox that plays games released in the US.  We also have a DVD player for our regionally locked movies purchased in the Middle East and a blue ray player for movies purchased in the US.


In the UAE, on average, people own three cellphones each. There were first graders who had Blackberry’s and iPhones. Kids weren’t supposed to bring their cellphones to school, but every time the teacher would turn their back, most cellphones were out, and they would take pictures of anything in the classroom just to prove that had defied the rules. I consider this a big mistake, because if you’re doing something you’re not supposed to be doing, you don’t want proof.

When I moved over there, I had been saving up, and campaigning, to get an iPhone. I’ve had a cellphone since I was 11, but I had been hoping to upgrade. It was surprising to see how often people exchanged their phones. Kids would get new phones just because they decided they wanted something new, or if they got good grades, they would get a new phone. And not just a new phone, but the latest technology that was available.


But some of the biggest differences I saw were online. Kids primarily used Facebook as their social networking platform. The first thing I noticed was that most people didn’t have a picture of themselves, they had pictures of famous people or cartoons. So when I got friend requests, I wasn’t sure who some people were. They would post messages in English, Arabic, French, and slang. So I couldn’t understand half of it.

The most amazing thing to me was the amount of bad language and insults online between kids in my class. It seemed like they would say provocative things just to one-up each other. Then, when we got to school, it was like nothing happened. At school, there was a computer class, and as soon as the teacher wasn’t looking, kids would pull up their Facebook pages. It seemed to me that most of these kids parents didn’t know that they even had a Facebook. There’s many parents that spoke multiple languages and English wasn’t their native tongue. Some parents didn’t even speak English at all. But all the kids spoke English. So, for some parents, even if they knew that their child had a Facebook page, they wouldn’t understand most of it. Cyberbullying wasn’t addressed.

It was a really interesting year. I met some really nice people. The people I met in the middle east had a lot in common with my friends from the US. They liked a lot of the same music, liked getting together with friends, and liked socializing online. But when it came to their internet life, there was no guidance.