By Julia Cottrell, Graduate Student in the Professional Writing Program
The United Arab Emirates—what is that? Other than identifying the small country in Geography 100, I honestly hadn’t ever thought much about it.
This past January, I traveled to the United Arab Emirates on a short-term study away program led by the English Department. I think if you speak to anyone who has studied away, that person will probably tell you it was a life-changing experience, but honestly, I think the UAE trip was special. Not only was this the first study away from the Professional Writing program, but it was the first study away to the Middle East that Missouri State has ever had. When I got the opportunity to see for myself, I knew I had to take it.
The best part of travel is learning the culture of other people. The focus of this study away was Intercultural Communication. As such, I tried my hardest to strike up a conversation with people I encountered and almost no two were from the same country—cab drivers from Pakistan, Ethiopia, and Egypt, a tour guide from India, and a university student from Kuwait. Every one of them had their own story to tell and every one of them just wanted to make a living and support their families.
“Middle East” seems scary. We think of war-torn nations and desperate poverty, but the United Arab Emirates is not like that at all. It’s safe. Yes, there are strict laws, and no, it’s not just like America. As we were speaking with our tour guide, Jaya, she told us that her hometown in India wasn’t safe and she felt uncomfortable being out after dark. Her family dynamics meant she wasn’t allowed to work in India, but she is free to work and have financial independence in the UAE.
Since you feel safe, you’re free to let your guard down and truly experience all that the country has to offer. In Abu Dhabi, we went to the Falcon Hospital. Yes, a hospital for birds of prey. Local Emirati’s guided us through a full educational tour about the birds, their importance in the nation, and their care. I even held the national bird of the UAE—the Saker Falcon!
I never imagined the love I would find for the United Arab Emirates, but that is just what happened. I fell in love. I like to think I’m an ambitious and positive person—the UAE embodies those traits. The Emir of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum writes,
“A positive person is confident that no challenge will stand in the way of achieving his or her goal.”
I looked out from At The Top, the highest observation deck in the world soaring 125 stories over Dubai. At The Top is housed in the Burj Khalifa—the tallest building in the world where you ride in the fastest elevator in the world. It’s weird to be moving so fast that you can’t feel it and the only indication is the popping of your ears with the altitude change. The Burj is attached to the largest shopping mall in the world, Dubai Mall, which holds the largest acrylic wall in the world and is part a huge aquarium facing shoppers. The list goes on and on, and as I took in all in, I couldn’t help but remember Sheikh Mohammed’s words. The Emir proves his beliefs through the achievements of his emirate. Dubai is the Superlative City; as of 2014, Dubai alone held over 100 Guinness World Records. Jaya, our tour guide, said to the group,
“You know the saying ‘all that glitters is not gold?’ Here, all that glitters actually is.”
Visiting this region prompted me to make a life-changing decision. I’ve set the goal that I will find a university job in the UAE when I graduate with my M.A. With the help of my professors, I made contacts with people working in the region. I like to believe that since I’m a positive person, nothing will stand in my way.
I could go on and on about this experience, but what I truly want to leave you with is this: sometimes, an opportunity presents itself and you have to jump. Was it easy to come up with the money to study away? No. Did I find a way? Yes. Step out of your comfort zone, you might just find that the grass is just as green on the other side.