Celebrating My Birthday Abroad

In all honesty, I’ve never really liked where my birthday is placed in the year.

I grew up moving around a lot, and September 22nd was always just way too soon in the academic year. When I’d go to a new school, it was nearly guaranteed that it’d be forgotten just because, unless I went around announcing it was my birthday for three weeks beforehand, no one would know when it was.

When I got to college, I made some amazing friends, and they would always manage to make it memorable. So I knew my birthday abroad–especially my 21st birthday–would be hard, emotionally for me.

A couple of my fellow exchange students had made plans to celebrate my birthday the following weekend since my birthday was on a Sunday, the beginning of the academic week here in the United Arab Emirates. My UTR (Sunday-Tuesday-Thursday, yes I have class on Sundays!) academic schedule put me in class pretty much straight from 9am to 7pm, making it not conducive for celebration. But the actual day itself couldn’t be ignored: I mean I am turning twenty-one.

First off, the International Exchange Office has a tradition where they buy donuts for everyone when it’s an exchange student’s birthday. I was not left out.

An open box of a dozen Dunkin Donuts donuts sitting on a table with the words, "Happy Birthday Safia" written in green cursive on the white board behind it.
It was always a good morning when I could run into the IXO office and snag a donut, and it was even better when the donuts were for you!

My exchange friends also did buy me some tea (which I wish was pictured but I drank it before I had the opportunity #CollegeStudentProblems). And my Arabic class did sing “Happy Birthday” to me in Arabic, so that was pretty cute.

The rest of my day went somewhat uneventfully, until rehearsal. My final class of the day was the musical–I’m in a production of the Addams Family here as Wednesday Addams: more on that soon!–and the one person who knew it was my birthday made it a big deal, and they surprised me with a cake! And, a fairly out-of-tune happy birthday.

Some of my Addams Family cast mates surprised me with a cake! Definitely not a cake I was used to--it was a sort of honey vanilla cake. It tasted so good!
Some of my Addams Family cast mates surprised me with a cake! Definitely not a cake I was used to–it was a sort of honey vanilla cake. It tasted so good!
Here’s a short clip of my cast mates surprising me by singing “Happy Birthday”!

Then, a few of my friends surprised me by driving to Ajman (a nearby Emirate) to get some ice cream!

From left to right: Myself, Houda, and Nasreen each holding a different ice cream. Houda's is in a Nutella jar. We are seating in Nasreen's car, all smiling at the camera.
It was definitely late when we wanted to get ice cream, but Nasreen insisted on taking me to her favourite ice cream place. Totally worth it!

I want to note just how dry this birthday is. In the US, it’s pretty typical for a 21st birthday to include a person’s first alcoholic drink. However, in a lot of the UAE, alcohol is frowned upon and in emirates like Sharjah, alcohol is actually illegal. Even drinking in an emirate where alcohol is legal and then coming into Sharjah while it’s still in your system can get you in some serious trouble.

So my 21st may have not have included drinking and all of the typical US behaviours, but it was still just as amazing.

Published by Safia Hattab

Class of 2021 CIEE Sharjah, United Arab Emirates Computer Science, English (Creative Writing Emphasis)

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