Abu Dhabi Days, Dubai Nights

Abu Dhabi Days, Dubai Nights

Abu Dhabi Days, Dubai Nights

When Jillian Schedneck takes up a position teaching English to a classroom of UAE students in Abu Dhabi, she is young, idealistic, in love, and ready to take on the world. But it is not exactly what she anticipated: her mostly female students are only attending university as a token distraction from what will become a life spent attending to domestic duties, and Jillian struggles with the limitations to their futures that they seem to so readily accept.

Facing the contradicting culture of extreme wealth and luxury, but little real opportunity, Jillian finds herself deeply intrigued by the women of the UAE. As she negotiates her way around classrooms of unlikely students, they start to come alive as Jillian introduces them to writers such as Virginia Woolf, and poses questions about feminism. But she is not only opening up a new world to them. She also finds her own cultural assumptions being challenged, and begins to realise how much her time in these desert cities have shaped the woman she will become.

Reminiscent of Nine Parts of Desire and Reading Lolita in Tehran, this compelling memoir announces the arrival of an exciting new writer.

Abu Dhabi Days, Dubai Nights
Pan Macmillan
Author: Jillian Schedneck
Price: $32.99

Interview with Jillian Schedneck

Question: What inspired you to write a travel memoir?

Jillian Schedneck: In my early twenties I read several travel memoirs by female authors and was inspired by the way those women wrote about their personal perceptions and relationships, while also conveying information about another culture, all within a compelling story. I wanted to write a memoir that similarly struck readers with its personal honesty and revelations about another culture.

Question: Why did you decide to take the position teaching English to a classroom of UAE students in Abu Dhabi?

Jillian Schedneck: After graduate school, I knew that I wanted to leave the United States (my home country) and teach in another country. I felt a strong desire not just to travel, but also to settle, at least for a few years, in a place very different from what I had known. Fortunately, Abu Dhabi University offered me a teaching position and access to this very different culture. After a year in Abu Dhabi, the American University in Dubai hired me as an English lecturer. There I was able to experience Dubai lifestyle as well.

Question: Can you talk about one of the main difficulties of working in Abu Dhabi?

Jillian Schedneck: When I learned that I would be teaching all female students at Abu Dhabi University, and that all women were taught on one side of the university building, and men were taught on the other, I realised just how strong the cultural differences were between this culture and my own. I worried that those differences would be too challenging, and the female students who have trouble learning from me. However, I soon grew to love the time I spent on the female side of the building. For me, the sex-segregated classes turned into a great way to become closer to the female students I taught.

Question: Why was it important for you to teach the students about feminism through authors such as Virginia Woolf?

Jillian Schedneck: When I moved to Dubai, I was able to teach literature to co-ed classes at the American University in Dubai. I chose to teach students about gender issues and feminism because I was very curious to see what the students thought about changing gender roles within the Middle East and the Gulf, and how the more liberal atmosphere of Dubai affected the young population. I really enjoyed the way in which this kind of literature allowed the students and myself to be more open about our personal experiences and beliefs.

Question: What did you learn most about yourself whilst abroad?

Jillian Schedneck: I learned that I really enjoy being outside of my comfort zone. I also learned that I am able to adapt and feel like I belong to a place that is very different from where I grew up. Through the various relationships I write about in the book, I begin to understand what I want out of a long-term relationship, and my openness to travel and meeting people allowed me to learn this about myself. Finally, I learned that the best way for me to reflect upon these experiences abroad was to write my story about all those moments that impacted me and have stayed with me, even though I no longer live in the UAE.

Question: Are you currently working on another book?

Jillian Schedneck: I am currently working on my PhD dissertation, which is about Emirati women artists and their expressions of national identity. Hopefully I can turn this research into a nonfiction book. I also have a novel in mind, which is about three very different women, and how different models of feminism, and different experiences of travel, have shaped their lives.




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