The long history of tension between the Western world and the Middle East makes constructive dialogue between the next generations of the two regions essential if progress can be made.
Dialogue is exactly what the organizers of “Insight: Dubai” hoped to promote by hosting young women from across the world to unite with female students from the United Arab Emirates to share their diverse views on current global issues, particularly related to women’s issues.
Three Temple students, including international business and marketing majors Priya Patel, a junior, and senior Erin Crist, attended the five-day conference, which was held Feb. 11-15. Corrie Buff, a junior economics and political science major, who is also the business manager for The Temple News, also attended.
The three were escorted to Dubai by Melynda Benlemlih, the former director of the Institute of Global Management Studies and Center for International Business Education and Research program at Temple.
“IGMS administered the $1.3 million CIBER grant from the U.S. Department of Education allowing the female students from Temple to attend the conference at no cost,” Benlemlih said.
The conference was held at Dubai Women’s College, which is located in the northern part of the United Arab Emirates. UAE borders the Persian Gulf and Gulf of Oman between Saudi Arabia and Oman.
There were 50 female students from 24 countries around the world, including England, Kyrgyzstan, Morocco, South Africa, Palestine and China. Four other Americans joined the ambassadors from Temple.
These international women were paired up with 50 Arab women from Dubai Women’s College to give the non-Muslim students a better understanding of the customs and beliefs of the Islamic faith.
“Each of us had a ‘buddy’ to help us feel more comfortable and welcomed,” Patel said.
“It’s completely different to learn about a culture from the people who live that life and in the region itself than from textbooks,” Buff said. “We learned so much from the lectures and sessions but probably the most from the girls themselves.”
The women’s agenda during the conference consisted of mainly conferences during the day and cultural sightseeing excursions.
The vast majority of the UAE citizens are Muslims, though none of the Temple students attending the conference practice Islam.
“Every day at 5:30 a.m. we were awoken by the calls to prayer over loud speakers,” Buff said. “That took some getting used to, to say the least.”
Although the United Arab Emirates’ population and landmass is small, petroleum profits and a booming port industry gives the country a per capita gross domestic product comparable to the richest Western European nations.
“Seventy percent of all the sensitive materials we send to our troops in Iraq pass through Dubai’s ports,” Dr. Arvind V. Phatak, executive director of IGMS and CIBER, said. “Our current administration has a very good rapport with the nation and hopes to forge a free-trade agreement with Dubai. The UAE hopes to become the business capital of the entire Middle East, and they aren’t far off.”
“The city of Dubai had skyscrapers and was cleaner than Philadelphia,” Buff said. “I was not expecting to see such a modern city.”
Construction began in February last year on what will become the world’s tallest skyscraper, which will be called Burj Dubai.
The attendees said that before they visited the UAE, they had very different opinions of what Muslim women would be like.
“After meeting the women there, it was easy to see that they had wonderful personalities and that they were very intelligent,” Patel said. “The women studied fields ranging from pharmacy and paramedics to software engineering. Also, they spoke excellent English, which allowed us to communicate very easily.”
“Within the Emirate women there were noticeably different levels of devotion,” Crist said. “One girl was extremely devout. [She] didn’t listen to music at all, had no contact with men and was perfectly content. Another of my partners from Dubai was very outgoing, wore Western clothes, listened to Egyptian music, danced and even had guys calling her. It’s all based on personal choice and how liberal their parents are.”
This emersion into a different culture is a part of the reason CIBER sponsored the women, according to Benlemlih.
“The national CIBER program’s overall goal is to increase the competitiveness of U.S. businesses in the international market place,” Benlemlih said. “This is done by increasing the awareness and understanding of future business leaders about regions of the world where U.S. students are less familiar but where business interests are increasing.”
Phatak said that while all of the young women who represented Temple are business majors in some capacity, this conference wasn’t just about comparing business resources.
“This forum was about exchanging ideas across borders and exposing our students to different cultures,” Phatak said. “Unfortunately, too many business schools these days are only concerned with the bottom-line profits, ignoring the very culture they hope to do business with.”
Associate Director of CIBER, Kim Cahill, who also coordinated the trip, agreed.
“Business doesn’t operate inside a vacuum. You must appreciate diversity,” Cahill stressed. “You can’t be successful in international business without first appreciating the religion and customs of the region.”
“Insight: Dubai” is only the first in a series of events as part of the Middle East and North African awareness program coordinated by CIBER to spread international awareness across campus.
On May 2, Temple will host nine to 11 business students from Dubai as part of a coordinated case-study of Ben and Jerry’s in the region. The project is being completed between seniors from Temple and from Dubai Women’s college.
Cody Glenn can be reached at email@example.com.