Who would have thought that tattoos could lead to more than ink?

I never looked forward to my birthday growing up. In my opinion, birthdays should’ve been a time for celebration, well-wishes, and piñatas filled with mouth-watering candy. Unfortunately for me, it seemed like my birthday was an afterthought.

Every year my birthday falls around Thanksgiving. As a kid, this was a tough pill to swallow. I still remember when I would sulk because I didn’t receive any presents from my relatives. For a while, I believed my birthday was taken away from me. It wasn’t until my 19th birthday that I came to appreciate my “Birth-giving”

On November 22th, 2016, I flew down to Miami, FL to celebrate my “Birth-giving” with my father and his girlfriend. I had the impression that it was going to be the three of us, but that was before Patrick came to dinner. Patrick was an interesting character, to say the least. He had orange hair, was an Army veteran, and took his bike everywhere he went (literally everywhere). Patrick had a lot of interesting stories. He shared stories about his time overseas, his up-and-down relationship, and the origins behind each of his six tattoos.

At the time, I didn't get the hype surrounding tattoos. I often thought to myself, “Why would someone pay to have something permanently inked to their skin?” I’m not sure how he did it, but Patrick alleviated my skepticism. It should serve as no surprise that I left Miami days later with my first tattoo.

Living in Dubai has shown me how different life is outside of the United States. In the United Arab Emirates (UAE) some things are forbidden or looked down upon (like in most countries). This includes the use of alcohol, drugs, crime, theft, and most notably-tattoos. Tattoos are not forbidden in the UAE, however, there is a bad stigma associated with it. Many students I have talked to during my study abroad experience have taken a liking to my tattoos and often ask why I have them. Nine times out of ten, I usually respond by saying, "I wanted to be spontaneous." Most of the time, I'm either greeted with looks of astonishment and/or fascination.

In the United States, people rarely ever question my intention to get tattoos. Everyone you knew had one. But here, it feels like I’m committing an act of defiance or something along those lines. It was only until I studied abroad that I’ve had to take a second look at my tattoos. I often find myself staring at them and asking the question I don’t know the answer to, “What do they mean?”

I believe that tattoos express individualism and freedom. In my opinion, tattoos do not alter your character, your personality, or the way you see yourself as an individual. Dubai has shown me that everyone's opinions are valuable. Just because I do not share the same opinion as someone else does not mean that their opinion is not just as important or valid.

Prior to coming to Dubai, I wanted to challenge myself by becoming open to new ideas, learning about different cultures, and ultimately changing the way I think about life. Who would have thought that tattoos could lead to more than ink?

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