The UAE brings together people from around the world, but what's it like starting a family with someone who grew up in a completely different country, culture and language? We asked two expat families...
Camille Markey, A French language teacher, met her husband Rayan, Lebanese, through mutual friends in Dubai in 2003. They have an 18-month-old daughter called Lily.
"There are lots of contrasts between Rayan and me. Rayan is Muslim, I am Christian. His mother tongue is Arabic, mine is French. He and his family are a typically Lebanese, extroverted family, while my family and I are more of an introverted, French style. But I believe it all comes back to education and values. And on this matter, we do share quite a lot of common points. We have been brought up to be very open to and respectful of differences and not confined in our own beliefs and customs.
"Rayan and I come from two countries with different languages and alphabets, varied historical and cultural backgrounds, and different ethnicities and customs that we both want to pass on to our children. We believe it will make them more aware and respectful and more adaptable to different situations.
"The biggest challenge is for me to find a common ground between both sides and not to fall into competition or promoting one side more than the other, whether it is related to religion, language, customs or even connection with the family members outside the country. I believe multicultural parents must have discussed these sorts of things before having children to be sure they both agree.
"For us, developing a sense of national identity is the same as developing a sense of belonging to a community. You get this naturally when you are brought up in your home country. It requires more work when you're an expat. On our side, we maintain close ties with our family back in our home countries, through Skype or birthday cards we send to them. We visit them once a year, and we keep up traditional French and Lebanese customs with our friends here.
"Living in Dubai exposes us to many different communities. We learn about the culture of the emirates, but we also celebrate Diwali with Indian friends, Halloween with American ones, Laternelaufen with German ones and many others that we would have probably never known about if we were in one of our home countries. On the down side, it requires us to work more on the sense of belonging to our national identity without the support of our family. But it is far from being incompatible!"
Diana McNally is Romanian, and she met her pilot husband, Colm, from Ireland, four years ago when she was working as cabin crew. they have a 20-month-old son named Matthew Alexandru.
"My husband comes from a Catholic family, whereas I was born and raised under the Orthodox church. Our religions are very similar. We chose to baptise Matthew Catholic, because we are planning to move to Ireland at some stage and the majority of schools are Catholic over there. His religion helps him maintain his Irish identity. At the same time, I also pray with him every day, but they're all Orthodox prayers.
"We teach Matthew all about Christmas, but at the same time he is well used to the call to prayer he hears every day at the mosque near our house. He was fascinated by the lights in our neighbourhood during Diwali - there aren't many countries that could present him with such a variety of cultures.
"I guess we are lucky as my husband and I have very similar parenting views. The only thing I remember we had different views on was whether to pierce our child's ears or not, in the event it was a girl. It is a common practice in Romania to pierce girls' ears soon after birth. My husband was very firm on that and said 'no' to the idea. He said it's best to let our daughter (if we were to have one) decide if and when she wants to do it. Just as well, he ended up being a boy!
"We'd like Matthew to speak both English and Romanian. Colm sometimes speaks to him in Gaelic too. We travel back to Romania fairly often and he is exclusively spoken to in Romanian over there. We read him all sorts of books, in Romanian and English.
"One of the great things about raising a child here is the exposure to different religions and nationalities. Our son's friends come from the UAE, Singapore, Malaysia, Greece, Brazil, India, Romania, Ireland. I'm pretty sure he doesn't see colour, religion or race in them, they are just his friends and it all starts at this young age. They all have that advantage over their peers back home. Their minds and hearts are more open to accept the identity of others, no matter how different they may seem."
Culture clash or perfect match?
Family psychologist and positive parenting expert Dr Sarah Rasmi shares her advice for the UAE's multicultural families...
"Children from multicultural families are necessarily exposed to lots of different cultures, people, and ideas, and as a result they often become more open, adaptable, and creative. These are highly valued traits, particularly in a hub like the UAE.
"In addition, such children often speak more than one language. Research shows that people who speak two or more languages have more cognitive flexibility and better executive functioning (ie, more focus and better impulse control). The downside of this is that many children who speak multiple languages don't always develop the same level of fluency as a monolingual child. This is something I have seen through my clients and university students.
"Multicultural families face some additional challenges. The biggest issue for many people is that they fit in everywhere, but don't really belong anywhere. Essentially, they are exposed to a breadth of cultures, people, and ideas, but not always at the same depth as monocultural families. This is something I have personally experienced as a Swiss-born, Canadian-educated, Egyptian-Greek-Turkish hybrid!
"That being said, you don't have to be part of a multicultural family to relate to this. Many people in Dubai feel some distance when they return home for the holidays. They enjoy being with their loved ones, but it doesn't quite feel like 'home' any more. This is even more complicated for multicultural families who need to figure out which 'home' to go to!"
Photos by Aiza Castillo-Domingo/William Stitt/Aziz Acharki/Supplied