x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Why I'm proud to belong to the UAE

Growing up in so many continents, countries and cities, I never had a chance to put down roots. But since returning to the Emirates, I have felt like I have returned home.

Patriotism and nationalism were notions never given an opportunity to mature within me throughout the majority of my life.

Having not only travelled extensively, but also resided on many different continents, in different countries, cities, and neighbourhoods from a few short months after birth until a couple of years ago, I have never had the opportunity to put down roots in one specific place.

Although a great number of immigrants not only preserve but also nourish the love of their home country while living in a host country, mine never had the chance to develop. Learning different languages and cultures during my developing years ensured the continued disconnection from my fatherland.

Adapting to diverse customs and dialects from early on helped me to effortlessly float from one society to another, becoming something of a cultural chameleon.

But the capacity to alter my shades of norms and blend into the sociocultural background of my latest dwelling masked the deep-seated absence of belonging.

I had many homes but never really felt I belonged to one. As the years progressed I was resigned to the idea I would never feel a sense of belonging to one country.

Returning to a land I had spent a minority of my years in and had been away from for more than a decade, I doubted coming back to the UAE would provide this sense of home that had been perpetually absent.

But, right from the get-go, even if unbeknown to me at the time, there was hope.

Despite feeling like a fish out of water upon landing on the Emirati shore due to my lack of awareness of my nation’s customs and culture, I was greeted by family, citizens, and the state alike as one of their own.

Perhaps this was to be expected of kin, but a whole nation unconditionally accepting an Emirati who held no local traits was a welcome surprise.

As I began to understand the fabric of Emirati culture, I realised this hospitable tendency was an inherent part of the society and one I shared wholeheartedly.

Family friends, acquaintances and even the nation’s leaders all kept their doors open – not only to me, but also to the society as a whole.

I was quickly settling in and feeling at ease in a land which, until recently, I had not been associated with.

Furthermore, the state’s support of its Emirati citizens dumbfounded me, as I had never see anything like it.

Opportunities in education, vocational training, careers and business seemed abundant for any Emirati willing to seize the countless chances available.

This plethora of prospects coupled with the promise of free housing and health care illustrated to me a country genuinely concerned about each and every one of its citizens, deepening my appreciation, respect and sense of belonging to the UAE.

As my nation approaches its 41st birthday, I can look back at the short time I have spent here and the great distance my Emirati identity has come during it.

The UAE has continuously made me feel more at home and, after all these years, has given me a nation I feel proud to be part of.

Thamer Al Subaihi is a reporter at The National and a returning Emirati who grew up largely in the US