Growing up in an Arab family in a western country can be very confusing.
Having been brought up in a traditional Arab household engulfed by a western society, I was being raised in two separate realities. As these different worlds frequently were at loggerheads, I was always unsure of how a society and its members should function.
This first world I grew accustomed to was that of my holistic Arab household. Sheltered from the social elements outside, I grew up in a close-knit family, which valued cohesion of the group over individualism.
Once old enough to venture outside, I discovered a whole new set of social parameters where self-sufficiency was encouraged, and relying on others was reserved for the most urgent of cases.
Undoubtedly, some of these western traits rubbed off on me and I would walk them back into the collective bubble, which created disturbances in the holistic harmony of our family.
Initially, I was untaught these norms so I could be better aligned with the family ideals. But as time passed, outside influences proved to be too big of a tide and I was asked to save the western norms for the outside western world.
As with most adolescents, my teenage years were shaped more by friends than family, and I began to rebel against what became the foreign world of my family. My desire for individualistic freedom was only satisfied when I left what had become the uncomfortable nest of my home. And leaving for university in the most individualistic country in the world, the United States, was all the freedom I could have wished for.
In my new setting, there was greater harmony between my life at home and the world outside it. I could focus on personal achievements and individualistic freedom without having to worry what consequences my actions would have on the image of my family.
But as the years passed, I could not shake the feeling a big part of myself was missing.
The reality was, I was a part of a greater whole and could not find true freedom and happiness disconnected from it.
Upon my return to the Emirates and family, I took my place in the bigger picture and fitted in quite nicely. That is not to say there have not been struggles in adapting to a collectivist society. Gone are the days when my time was my own. Even with work and school, I must set aside time to spend with the family and be at their beck and call when they need assistance. My conduct no longer represents just myself, but my tribe, my Emirate and the country as a whole, something that I always must be aware of.
My individualistic reflexes still exist and I am glad the Emirates gives me the freedom to act on them.
But I feel much more satisfied being a part of a greater whole, knowing I am supported by my family and country and, in turn, that I can support them and it.