Friday, January 13, 2006

Is it really over?

Well, having to go present and facilitate workshops in Dubai is over, but the entire experience is just a beginning for all of us, MHC and DWC students, faculty and staff. The week in Dubai was an amazing learning experience, one that I probably wouldn't have had if I weren't at a school like Mount Holyoke; for that I am extremely grateful. I know that I learned so much about myself, the other people involved, leadership and education on this trip that trying to process everything will happen every time I start thinking about our trip to Dubai.

Even back in Colorado catching up with friends who are starting to believe that I don't exist (I swear I'll come visit more!) I find myself talking about the people I met, the training we put together and the wonderful times we shared with our new friends--this is sort of like the camp songs I kept singing last summer, but much less annoying, I hope!

Just having the experience of interacting with Emiratis' and hearing their feelings about the state of the UAE, the Middle East and the role of women globally is so unique and very different from my other experiences in the Emirates where I was living a semi-expat lifestyle, British schools, no local friends, ect. This gave me an even greater understanding of the region and exposed me to a point of view that isn't often seen in academic writings, media or "normal" Western involvement in the Middle East. I'm already starting to think about how I can use what I learned last week in my classes next semester.

In addition to just interacting with the DWC students, I also got to meet educators from around the world at the WEW conference and hear their stories about working for female empowerment and advancement. Those are also some of the real role models but unfortunately, educators never get the recognition that they deserve. This whole trip and the people I've met along the way have in many ways solidified my future goals of being involved in development work, but now with a focus on the role of education on the development of a country. I guess I just can't get away from the family trade of teaching--I thought I was beating fate by going into economics!

As Beth said, these sorts of programs are incredibly valuable for everyone involved and if there are any future opportunities, count me in!

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Small world

This morning I ran into a friend of mine, a fellow student at MHC. We were chatting about our breaks and she said "I've enjoyed reading the blog, because I grew up in Dubai."

Every day I find more and more coincidences between my life in MHC and my life in Dubai. I knew about three MHC students who were in Dubai for various reasons during our stay there and I'm sure there were more. Seff, Zia, and their children have lasting ties here even though they've settled in Dubai. And now that I am home, I find out that Zainab (with whom I had a class every Tuesday directly before my planning meetings for going to Dubai) is from there.

Growing up in a small town, where everybody has known everybody since they were born, and there was barely any influx, I never would have suspected that the rest of the world was so close.

In summary: I love my life.

Just like Home: January 2, 2005

Professor Smith of Zayed University whispered, "some say this is a an Indian nation ruled by Arabs."

Before traveling to Dubai, many asked me, "What are the people like?" After being there about a week there is no real answer to that question. No its not an attempt to dodge the question but unlike most American cities Dubai is the epitome of a "melting pot." Diversity here is not the "kumbaya", black and white version but the United Nations- every flag represented kind. Despite all of this international diversity many of the same issues still arise: discrimination, oppression, lack of opportunity and political silencing. Despite the beauty of the promise structures like the Global Village (a an amusement and shopping park with pavilions from virtually every country) represent- Dubai is not all gold and glitter but the ugliness of reality rears its ugly head in the most simple situations. My first day at the college I finished eating and went to remove my tray from the table and was politely informed that Arabs didn't have to clean up after themselves but the Indian woman in the far corner was fingered and I was told she would pick my tray up. Professors from Zayed University told tales of students having their maids on campus just to carry their books from class to class or at days end maids meeting their students at the camous gate to have all of their belongings thrown in their arms. What's poignant about Dubai and about melting pots around the world is that international, racial and cultural diversity is not enough- the recipe must also include cultural literacy, opportunity, some threshold of equality and interaction in more than just servitude relationships. Sometimes Dubai is so different and exotic and other times its painful realities are just like home.

A call to action: January 3, 2005

Members of the Baby Boomer generation can often detail where they were when they learned of President Kennedy's assassination. The shock of that moment recreates smells, sights and sounds that the pain can be relived even now. In my lifetime I doubted the possibility of ever experiencing such an event and the death of recent American leaders affirmed that my reaction would not produce the same result many experienced in the wake of Kennedy's death. Dubai has taught me that my doubts and assumptions are all standing to be reworked, molded, changed and deemed false and the death of Sheikh Maktoum is yet another example.

Sheikh Maktoum is to the people of Dubai like the founding fathers are to most patriotic of Americans. The announcement of his death mid-morning of our training today produced a blanket of sadness and despair that quickly descended over the room and enveloped all of us inside. Did we know this man? No, but we knew the tears streaking the faces of our newfound friends and soon they marked ours too. It seems so ironic that we traveled all this way to teach about leadership and attempt to display the profound effect that a great leader can have on her people--but in that instance we didn't have to say anything. . .there was a living example. I say living because great leaders never really die. They take on the immortal wings of legend, example and praise that transcends time and generations. I couldn't help but wish that one day I would see a great leader pass and have the same reaction because they had done so much for me . . .What a call to action

Role Model

The idea of a role model are often those people society, history and popular media place up on a pedestal. They are our heroes, our inspiration our oil when the chain of momentum in life seems rusty. They are prolific, larger then life and so great that they're often just outside of our reach- to keep us motivated. Or are they? Today I presented my first individual presentation on "The Art of Communication," and Fatma and Latifa told me after we finished that they were not, "thinking about how to be great communicators but how to be more like me." Such a sincere compliment affirmed the hard work we all have put into this venture but it also led to me reconsider the concept of role model. To a woman my same age with similar aspirations I could serve as a source of inspiration and that comment alone made reminds me of the incredible need for opportunities like this, so that these women may continue to be role models for me and hopefully for one or two of them- I can be too. Often times we measure success by the product that we deliver or in this instance the quality of training we provide the women of Dubai Women's College- but truly success can also be measured by not just what you deliver but what you've received and that has been so much. To think that there are still so many days ahead with new lessons, ideas and stories to exchange. . .

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Gratuitous photo post

I'm slowly settling back into being at MHC and getting over jetlag... yesterday I woke up at 6:30 am, but today I somehow slept until 11 am. I start work on Monday, and then I'll really be back here, not just pretending. (of course, I also have to unpack and do a lot of laundry before I get to that point!) Looking over the photos from the last week, I'm amazed to see how much we did in such a short time. Was I really in Dubai just two three days ago?

Look at us on the first day. We've just met up in Amsterdam, and we're exhausted, and we have no idea what's in store for us. But we're excited and eager to go ahead. Now if we can only get some sleep, we'll function again...

Then, of course, there was the phase where we were so excited to be there that we were doing things like taking pictures of the grocery store. Carrefours was a really cool grocery store, though! I promise! It was almost like an outdoor market, only indoors. This is the spice section, full of bags of spices that you could buy by the shovel-full. There was also a huge section of produce from all over the world, and the fish section was tables full of fish, still in their scales, that you could order and have butchered any way you like. And that's just the food... the rest of the store was almost like Walmart or Target but on a smaller scale... you can buy *everything* there!

On New Years day, we went to the beach. Beth and I did a little bit of yoga there. Would you believe, looking at this picture, that this was the worst weather we got while we were there? Also, look at how beautiful the Persian Gulf is!

Now, you might not suspect this from the photos we've been posting, but we secretly did a whole lot of teaching while we were in Dubai... shh! I know, we had you tricked there for a moment, thinking all we did was go to the beach and hang out with cool people. But there was some teaching, on the sly. Just so you know.

The last few days

Well, the last couple of days in Dubai were such a blur, none of us have posted for a while. We're actually home in the States, though my thoughts are still back in Dubai...

Our last day of training on Wednesday went very well. The DWC students worked in three groups and presented 3 plans for goals that they hope to accomplish in their new Student Parliament. I think they are well on their way to creating positive contributions to their peers, their institution, and their country. Their goals are basically to 1) Educate DWC students, staff and faculty about their new Parliament, 2) Advocate for students with DWC administration, and 3) Create more student clubs to enhance their college experience. These are very similar values to those of Mount Holyoke students.

Then, the most intense part of the trip occured. Late in the morning we heard the news that Shaikh Maktoum, ruler of Dubai, passed away. All I could think of were photos and stories I've heard about when John F. Kennedy passed away. The Dubai students were shocked, and didn't believe the student who told them. After searching on the internet and hearing from a mother of a student who saw it on the television, the news became real to them. Susan, our staff coordinator at DWC, was with us, and led us through about 5 minutes of respectful silence, as we all held hands. The crying was audible, and I watched the tears slide down their cheeks. All of us then shared what we were feeling, and it was clear that our MHC group was as affected by the news as they were, simply by feeling their pain or identifying with our own losses in life. This all occured about 2 minutes before my "Reflections on the Week" session, so fortunately I could ease us into some quiet reflections on our training right after this shocking experience. I think we all needed some calm time to keep to ourselves and just write some thoughts. In sharing these written reflections the women thanked the Mount Holyoke group over and over, making it clear that the MHC students had certainly made it a difference in their lives. And our tears with them indicated that they have made a difference in ours.

Dubai basically shut down that day, as government offices and most businesses closed for the mourning period of 3-7 days depending on who you talk to. We spent that night and the next day at the Women's Education Worldwide conference, so we didn't feel the full affects of the closing, but it was interesting to be there during this time.

That night the conference group did a desert safari, complete with riding over sand dunes in a Land Rover (not recommended for a weak stomach!), as well as hanging out with some camels, and getting some henna tatoos done. Once again we were fortunate to experience more traditions of middle eastern culture.

Our presentation to the WEW conference the next day went well, as DWC and MHC students shared their observations and learnings from the training. It is clear that the Dubai students feel more confident about themselves and motivated to lead their families, communities, and country in creating positive change. It is also clear that our MHC contingent has been as positively affected by this exchange as DWC. We've learned that we share more similarities than differences, and that by taking time to learn from a new culture we change previously held perceptions into beliefs based on experience.

Dare we dream that many more interactions such as this experience might shape global relations in the future? If nothing else this type of exchange positively affects individuals, and the emphasis on leadership lends itself toward impacting a community. I highly recommended to administrators and other attendees of the WEW conference that they pursue cross cultural exchanges such as this, either with Mount Holyoke or with any other school, for the benefits are priceless. I'm grateful that the Director and staff at DWC, as well as the President and staff at MHC, had the insight to value international exchange and initiate this program.

Now that we're back we'll move into the final phase of wrapping up the experience and sharing our findings with MHC. Molly and I will be doing an interview on ABC Channel 40 soon too. We'll certainly do a slide show and presentation in the spring semester. It will be weeks before I've fully processed all that I saw and learned. For now I'm just grateful for the experience, am thankful to not have to get on a plane for a while, and want to get some photos printed (those camels were pretty cute!). I'm glad we all made it home safely, and I hope do this work again sometime.

Thanks for reading the Dubai Diaries...

Thursday, January 05, 2006


1:00am: Once again, I rely on Molly to save the day and help me with all things related to of Alia's mom playing dress up with us. We were probably more cooperative than her daughters...

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

"I think I've said this before..."

Those seem to be the words that I find myself using so often during my presentations recently because I truly feel that the DWC women have all the skills and concepts that we've been presenting about these last four days.

The last two days of our training program really brought things together for me with the goal setting sessions and our discussion of how they will use these leadership skills once they graduate from DWC.

Working with my small group on refining our goal of "creating more clubs at DWC" into a clearly thought out plan of action proved what I had thought all along-that the DWC women really knew everything we were supposed to be teaching them, they just needed to hear someone say that they believed in them. I'm pretty sure that the women got tired of hearing me say that they had all these skills before we came, but every day I find even more proof that my supposition was correct!

When we were talking about using these re-discovered skills outside of DWC I was again truly impressed at what everyone was saying. Nawal said that she'd be teaching her son that women can be leaders and making him do chores when he is old enough (I guess 7 months is a little early to start helping set the table...). Fatma and Amal talked about being role models in the classroom when they being jobs as english teachers (or when they enter the Ministry of Education and redesign curriculum which I think is a possibility). Khadija started planing a huge awareness campaign about the dangers of smoking and was critically assessing current campaigns to stop smoking.

But the one that stood out was when Hamda talked about how much privilege they have as Emaratis and as educated young women; especially the importance of giving back to the community and engaging in jobs, such as pumping petrol, that are normally taken by workers from India, Pakistan and other nations. This is where I really saw a lot of hope because it meant that they were thinking critically about their own society and finding ways to better understand all the different roles that people have to take to make it function.

All in all, (and I know I've said this before!) I was so impressed by the wonderful women we got to know and become friends with over the course of our training program. And I know that in the next 5, 10, 20 years, we'll be reading about how they are redefining women's roles in the UAE and in the world by being the great leaders that I know they are!

"...come to our home..."

"You are ladies, so you must come to our home...because most of our life is in our home." - Amal

And so we did. Tonight's adventure was to a student's home for tea, and another home for dinner. WOW! I don't want to ruin the surprise for the photos we'll post, but I will say that our trip would not have been complete without this adventure in the Emirates!

"Tea" at Hamda's house consisted of a full meal of delicious traditional foods of the region, several of which are eaten during times of celebration or during religious occasions such as Ramadan. We ate seated on the floor, and got some friendly coaching on the customs. The family was SO welcoming, giving, friendly, talkative, and appreciative of our visit. Her sisters were very kind and friendly, her mother very sweet and giving (though she did teasingly communicate through Hamda that if eating were a competition I'd lose for my slow pace and lack of consumption!). Hamda's Uncle tells us he'll greet us or our families at the airport next time we come to Dubai, will take us around the area, and we can stay in his home. Sounds like a plan! When it was time for us to leave they gave us the traditional gift of perfume on our skin...a custom that leaves you smelling nice and conveniently gives you the message that it's time to go (though in our case they actually wanted us to stay longer, whew.)

Dinner at Alia's was just as amazing in different ways. New foods to try, prepared by her father (very unusual for this culture) were all delicious. Alia's 4 brothers were very cute...with 2 of the younger ones paying more attention to us and entertained us the whole night. Her sister and mother joined us, as well as Hamda and Amal. I learned a lot about the customs of the family from her mother, a native of Boston, MA. I'm sure my fellow bloggers will tell the tales or post the photos of us getting dressed up in abayas and shailas (black dresses and head scarves), or the more colorful traditional costumes - whoa! Never have I been so jeweled or so bright! I'm feeling pretty plain these days, Petite Sophisticate just doesn't compete with this traditional garb. Her mother would have kept us there all night to keeping feeding us and dancing 'Egyptian Dance' as new scarves and belly dancing costumes appeared every few minutes!

The most fascinating part of the evening was seeing our students without their abayas and shailas. Off came the covering when we got to their homes, since they don't cover for family, only male in-laws or men they don't know. And they look great! Fashion is very important, hair is beautifully done, and while clothing isn't revealing, it's more flash than I imagined! It's a choice to cover, fully their choice to embrace this custom and to what degree (scarf &/or dress, etc). As with any "choice" family has influence, certainly, and it's likely not a "choice" for all. But these women wear the coverings as way of carrying on tradition, and because for them it's what they prefer. We've seen varieties here, and have learned a lot about the custom.

Tonight was a true gift to our group. We have definitely received as much or more than we have given to Dubai.

Oh Democracy...

To begin with, I just realized that I haven't posted for a few days what with all the training sessions, spending time with the MHC and DWC students, eating (something we do quite often) and, if we're lucky, sleeping just to do it all again the next day! Here's hoping that this post won't be too long, but not actually expecting that to happen...

The second day of training went extremely well, partly because we had a break on New Year's Day to evaluate what had happened on the first day and restructure some parts of our program to respond to what the women from DWC said they needed. It also helped because we were able to sleep and have a calm, relaxing day with the Saunders and at the Global Village. During this session, I presented on "Democracy in the U.S.," and "Elected Representation," both of which seem to be hot topics in the international community.

While there were many reasons why I was excited to discuss democracy and then more concrete issues like representation, the main one was to challenge the students to move beyond the common conception that democracy in one form will work in exactly the same manner when applied to another culture or group of people. To me, a "one-size fits all" framing of democracy leaves out the essential idea of democracy, rule of the people for the people. Although I didn't have very much time to talk about the theory of democracy (my favorite part) and details of the federal U.S. system with checks and balances (the necessary part for the training) in addition to the fact that there wasn't time left to have a real discussion, I have seen many of the ideas and concepts that I put forth being implemented in the ways in which the DWC students are interacting in training and as future methods of running their Student Council.

Elected Representation was where I was really able to engage the smaller groups in a dialogue about what it is, how it works and ways to implement in on their campus. One of the groups I had was extremely informative in discussing all the challenges that they have faced with representing DWC students to the administration. Many of these challenges revolved around students not wanting to be involved in the Student Council or the Student Representative Groups (SRGs), a lack of communication with the students and not really having the power to create some of the changes that they feel are necessary for the SC/SRGs to run properly. This truly opened my eyes to the enormity of the challenge they face in getting their new, revamped Student Council running next term, but towards the end of our 45 minutes, they were beginning to brainstorm ideas to meet these challenges. Of course, finding out the real story about the Student Council and SRGs meant that we needed to totally change the morning of our third day of training...which I'll cover in the next post since I think this one might be a bit long!

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

"What an amazing and exhausting day. . . "

As we got off the Dubai Women's College bus to return to our "home" at Al Bustan Residence, through my chilly and sleepy haze I smiled and proclaimed, "What an amazing and exhausting day. . ." Beth replied saying, "That sounds like the first words of your blog tonight." At the time I couldn't imagine sitting down to type up my thoughts and went up to bed after our day's debrief with the group. So here I am, at 6:30 a.m., after a good night's rest, ready for another mind-opening, and exciting day in Dubai and with my new-found friends at DWC.

I'm lucky that Molly found the energy to blog last night and so thoughtfully describe the day's activities so I can share my thoughts about our experiences without retelling the story.

I am touched by the openness of the DWC students' thoughts they shared with me and each other yesterday when we spoke about motivation. I asked each of them to reflect upon and then share answers to questions like, "Why are you here?" and "What do you personally do to keep yourself from giving up when you come to a challenging obstacle?" Their responses were sincere, brilliant and inspiring. These women give me goosebumps in almost every session every day. They have quickly become individuals who inspire me. I could not feel more rewarded for the work we have put into planning our leadership training.

The best part of our time out and about with the women at the college yesterday had nothing to do with the overwhelming plethora of shops selling amazing gold jewelry or riding along the creek seeing the sights of Dubai. Rather, it was the cross-cultural experience of spending candid time with the DWC students. I will never be able to forget the things we shared over my Iranian Chicken Tika with Yogurt.

I spoke very candidly with two students--Hamda and Amal--about what their shayla (head covering) and abaya (body covering) mean to them. I started out simply asking at what age they begin wearing their religious/cultural dress. Their response was interesting. Their first instinct was to reassure me that it was nothing that someone had coerced them to do, but that it was a choice their parents encouraged them to make at their own time. Hamda, who has visited Mount Holyoke, mentioned that her older sisters fully covered themselves sometime after she, the youngest member of the family had been covered for some time. They talked about how they would let the traditional dress be a choice for their own daughters, and would only insist upon loose clothing and a head scarf of some kind--which evoked images of many American Women who practice Islam. They shared their thoughts about the abaya and modesty from boys and men.

It is easy, especially considering the type of political propaganda that surround Islamic government in the United states, to assume that the shayla and abaya are things which are repressive to these women. On the contrary, they speak of their covering as a type of freedom from the guise of judgment about their bodies before their minds. I do not intend to make sweeping comments about Islam or Islamic states, as such comments about my own Christian faith have left me frustrated at times. However, in the case of these women it is clearly not their beliefs, their particular interpretation of their faith, that keep them from accomplishing their ambitious goals as leaders. Rather, it is the society and the government's interpretation of their faith and women's roles which may challenge and inhibit them. I hope that I will keep in touch with many of these women for years to come, and that I will someday see them in empowered positions in their respective fields. I envision them retaining their balance of proclaiming their strong faith and progressive feminist ideas by wearing their abaya to important meetings and presentations.

Monday, January 02, 2006

I am thankful

I am thankful for each day here in Dubai. Whether we spend the day in training at DWC or touring around the city, I learn, I laugh, I relish the new sights and experiences.

Today was our major day of teaching leadership skills. Each MHC student faciliator taught a 45 minute workshop on communication, elected representation, structure of student government, or motivation. And then they taught them a second time, since the group was split in half to change up the format and create a smaller, more intimate learning environment. It was a long day of being "on" followed by five hours of fun with our Dubai friends.

Witnessing these MHC women in action is amazing....they are articulate, poised, confident, thought provoking, and caring. Clearly their experiences in 3 & 4 years at Mount Holyoke and in work opportunities have shaped them to be confident women, women who will set their goals and be fully capable of achieving them. I am truly honored to be the one who gets to witness Emily teach the fundamentals of democracy in an engaging manner; and watch Molly teach the students to vote using parliamentary procedure; and hear Nicole enhance their communication skills with relevant content and her remarkable public speaking skills; and see Katie create a safe space for typically private students to reveal challenges in their life then realize the personal strenths that help them succeed.

The partipants of this program are engaged and activily participate in EVERY minute of the training. You should see them...bright eyes, leaning in to soak it all up, challenging questions, honest answers, laughing, teasing, appreciating our presence here. I am thankful for this positive experience that is turning out to be better than I ever could have imagined for us. I am thankful for their attentiveness and dedication to this experience.

As for me, I am enjoying my role in giving structure to the program, and 'training the trainers,' not that they need much. Each day is so full they we are always exhausted by the end, yet the students persevere and give their best effort to debrief and prepare for the next day. Chinese yo-yo's and a stuffed animal friend named Marty seem to keep their spirits up in my meetings with them. I am thankful for the chance to use my favorite skills in a fascinating new culture.

I never imagined that the leadership skills I learned throughout my life from camp counseling, student government, residence life, event planning, and in student affairs would have prepared me to lead a group of women across the globe and guide them through a process of empowering women in the middle east. I just never saw it coming...barely realized I was ready for it. I am thankful for the unexpected twists and turns life has in store for us, if we just ride the waves that feel right.

Yes, tonight I am thankful. For my upbringing, my mentors, the challenges, the lessons learned, the long and winding path that we co-create with fate. Tonight I am thankful to be an educator.

Fantastic night

... before I crash and burn for the night. Which is going to happen all too soon... being on your feet all day teaching is such a great way to put yourself to sleep at night!

Tonight after we ended for the day we went with some of the girls from Dubai and two of their advisors to see more of the city. We went to Dubai museum, which is in an old fort and shows a lot of the history of the city, via statues of people in traditional outfits (I ♥ wax museums!) I took a picture of Beth being kidnapped to become a camel jockey (the jockeys in camel races are frequently kidnapped or sold into slavery from nearby countries) and bought a camel pen in the gift shop. Even though it had a lot of things that were *much* classier.

Then we rode a boat across the Creek, the major river that runs through the city and that made Dubai a center of commerce even before the oil days. The UAE is fairly unique in that all of the money that the country makes selling oil is divided up evenly among the citizens--even the small children have bank accounts in their names. (Or so I heard from someone on the plane with me) (Of course, only the Emirati, less than 20% of the population, are citizens) Talking to the girls on the bus, I learned that a lot of them come from familys that once were in the more traditional professions, like farming and pearling, up into their parents' generations. But now their fathers have given up those jobs to be bankers or work in the government.

Dubai is so amazing, with the old and the new frequently side by side. We rode across the Creek on what looked like traditional boats, except they had advertisements for products on the roof. Looking out, I could see the minarets that broadcast the call to prayer five times a day right next to skyscrapers.

We got off the boat and went to the gold suq, or marketplace. The suq is primarily filled with jewelry stores that sell fabulous jewelry by weight, but there are also other, smaller shops mixed in. Beth bought some belly dancing regalia for an event that student programs is holding next semester, and I haggled for postcards (I spent 3.5 dirhams on three. I probably could have gotten them for less if I tried harder, but the shopkeeper was laughing at me)

Then we went to heritage village, a more traditional suq, and had dinner at a lebanese restaurant. I had a fantastic meal, full of really interesting conversation with some of the girls and Katrina, one of their advisors, who is from Australia. We talked about going abroad for education, and why different people move to Dubai, and some of the differences between being educated here, where the government provides free education, and in other places.

and then FINALLY we came home for the night! Now it is time for me to run to my bed and sleep soundly until I get up, bright and early tomorrow morning!

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Motivated about motivation. . .

New Year's in Dubai was different than any I've ever had before, and I must say there is part of me which misses football more than expected. But, Iowa State lost so perhaps I've only missed some frustration :-P

After a fantastic New Year's Eve in Dubai's Irish Village, a relaxing day at the beach and time at the Global Village, it's time to return our focus to our mission and goals fo our trip.

Each of us has certain sections of training which we lead, and I didn't have any of my major presentations/activities during our fist day of introductions and sharing. Tomorrow, however, I will lead sections about leadership styles and motivation which are the two that I'm looking forward to most.

Coming into our training I had some perceptions of what the women at Dubai would be like and what many of their leadership styles to be. However, our first day of training quickly illustrated that these perceptions were misconceptions on my part.

Each of these women are so dynamic and unique; they will have their own struggles, strengths and weaknesses in finding and utilizing their respective leadership skills. Whether they be an outspoken and inspirational model for their peers or if they are a more softspoken woman who has an amazing ability to help enable others to realize their own potential; whether their largest obstacles to becoming a better leader are their own self-confidence or the restraints of their role in the family and society, I believe this diversity is a strength of this passionate and bold group of women.

I believe this because I've come to learn that this is what has made SGA, particularily our executive board, very successful in the past two years. In understanding our differences in styles and skills we can accomplish many tasks so efficiently and learn from one another enormously. Listening to Molly share her story of leadership and sharing my own story of growth allowed for me to reflect upon how both of our experiences at Mount Holyoke have helped us grow as leaders together but in completely different ways and along different paths, and in doing so we have come to compliment one another well, make an amazing team and have a unique friendship. I hope that the Women in Dubai can begin to learn and grow together as leaders like Molly and I have over the past 3 and a half years.

Finally, I'm looking forward to the motivation part of tomorrow. When we asked the women what obstacles they felt stood in their way to becoming leaders they first said, "Men. Society. Religion." Wow. Obviously, these are not topics which we will be able to help them overcome in four days, but what spoke to me most during this conversation were the women's desires to make progress--their enthusiasm, brave statements, strength and passion. They have such desire, and when we discussed how to overcome these obstacles, perservence came up. Since English is a second language to many of these women, many didn't know this word. I anticipate that it will be a challenge for these women to face so many struggles again and again when they exercise their leadership skills. As I am reflecting upon speaking about motivation tomorrow, I hope I can help them to find a way to always remember what that special thing is for each of them that will keep them going in the face of adversity, stress and challenges. And how to keep their peers motivated and be catalyst for the initiatives and changes they decide to tackle. After only our first day, I am already confident that they are capable.

The little things

Preparing to come here, we spent a lot of time focusing on the different things we might encounter, and getting ready to spend time in a culture so unlike our own. Being here, though, I've found that it's the small things, both similar and different, that really make the experience. It's those little differences, often in things that I take for granted, that really mark that I'm in a different culture.

For example, the weekend here is Thursday and Friday. Which, of course, makes a lot of sense because Friday is the sabbath here. But the idea of Saturday and Sunday is so firmly embedded in my mind that it's, at the very least, odd to adjust. It's funny, as a non-Christian, to learn the ways that living in a Christian-based culture has shaped me.

Another thing I noticed at the training yesterday was that a lot of the ways that we talk about Mount Holyoke involves comparing it to co-ed schools. In the US, we are always on the defense about why we chose a women's college, and so the way we speak about it constantly emphasizes why an all-women's education is a good and useful thing. But here that's the standard thing, and even so we're on the defensive, as though we're at home. In fact, one of the girls mentioned that she was interested that there were women's colleges in the US, and that we'd chosen that option even though we had other choices.

That said, when speaking to the students at DWC, I was struck more than anything else by how similar we all are. In a lot of ways, it's the liberal arts college vs. technical school concept that creates most of the differences in the attitudes we talked about, rather than the fact that we come from opposite sides of the earth. In so many ways my experience yesterday was just like talking to a group of students at home.

I *heart* Dubai!

Right...enough with the cliches, but in many ways that sums up most of my feelings about being back in Dubai after 5 years. Everything was familiar until we left the airport and then I got confused by all the new construction, it is incredible how much the city has grown since I left. Thankfully we landed late at night and the next day was Friday (Thursday and Friday are the weekend here) so there wasn't much traffic on the streets!

Other than the training, which I promise to get to in this post, it is wonderful showing the rest of the group the Dubai that I know. Although we've only made it a few places, it has been extremely heartwarming to see how much everyone is enjoying the experience of being in another culture. Who knows, maybe we can take another trip together so I can show them other parts of the Middle East (Egypt, Syria...) that are very different that Dubai and the Emirates.

Spending time with the Saunders family the other night brought home just how connected MHC students, faculty and staff are. How many times would a group of people fly halfway around the world and know people in the same city? The meal was amazing, home-cooked Persian food equals scrumptious in my book! And the children were adorable; Beth had to drag me and Katie away and even then we attempted to take them with us!

Now on to the training today (well, yesterday since it's now New Year's Day). I will admit that going into today's training I was a bit nervous since I realized the day before that I was leading a session that I hadn't had any time to prepare for-that was what I spent lunch doing. The women at Dubai Women's College are just as intelligent and engaged with their society and their roles within society as I expected and truly seemed to be absorbing what we were trying to convey about leadership. I especially appreciated how open and honest they were when we were talking about being a strong leader, particularly a female leader. They also wanted to be pushed to further examine their preconceptions and assumptions about leadership which as a Critical Social Thought major is a way of critically thinking that comes naturally to me but isn't always valued in other societies.

I feel very confident that the next three days of training will go by just as quickly as today did, that we will form even closer bonds with the women from DWC and that this entire experience will be a process of self-discovery that will challenge all of our notions about different cultures, leadership and people.

Happy New Year everyone! Be safe and we'll be back before you know it, probably much too soon for us...

"Warm my heart. . . "

Beth Gibney asked me to debreif on the first day's training by thinking, "What warmed my heart." I want to share my reflections on this question with all who may find it interesting. I have been in dubai but a short time- but there are so many things that "warm my heart."

1) women have common ground even across oceans: our first activity was to reflect on categories such as "having children. shopping or powerful woman," and despite our perceived differences many of our hopes, dreams and fears are the same. We are different and our environments, religions, nationalities, families and histories have shaped us all- but there is a a currency of womanhood that seems to transfer regardless. . .

2) When closing our first day of training Amal- a DWC student stated that, "she was finding herself", through this Leadership training and any jet lag, fears of influence or discomfort melted away as her preliminary conclusion was worth it All.

3) I am learning as much about Emirati culture as my fellow student leaders: listening to Katie, Emily and Molly's inspiring stories of leadership push me to examine my own models of influence and be a better leader.

4) Despite restraint women in Dubai think critically, want change and most importantly ask for concrete ways to usher that in: My presumption was that it would be difficult to open discussion about a society that was not as receptive to female leadership and advancement-but the DWC students are BOLDLY stating what works, doesn't and asking what WE think could contribute to positive change. . .

5) New Years: All I have to say is "Viva La France," and I love the Al Bustan :)

Saturday, December 31, 2005

So far from home. . . but not

With about 1 hour left of our flight from Amsterdam to Dubai, I sleepily looked up at the TV screen on the plane which was tracking the progress of our trip on a map. The little red line indicated where we'd flown over alread--including parts Europe and the Middle East, but what struck me was where the little white plane hovered at that very moment. Names of far-away places which we've all read about or heard about on the news became drastically more realistic as the little icon hovered over Baghdad and then Kuwait. Obviously, we did not actually pass over these chaos-ridden places, but they were the landmarks closest along the plane's path.

I also sat next to many soldiers both in the Minneapolis airport and then on the plane to Amsterdam who were on their way back to restart their service after spending holiday time at home. Two men sitting next to me on the plane discussed how their breaks had been too long--how they'd gotten bored and were ready to get back to a place that I could not imagine wanting to return to after seeing so many images of destruction and hearing so many stories of death. I still don't think I've completely digested some of these thoughts and experiences since there's so much to take in during our short time here, but the reality of what's going on in our country's activities around the world and their proximity so to where I sit this evening continue to resonate with me.

Conversely, I'm so much farther from home than I've ever been before, and I'm struck by how many American products and customs I've seen. We were at the grocery store yesterday and there in English and Arabic was a box of popcorn. JollyTime popcorn to be precise. Before moving to Clear Lake, IA I lived in Sioux City, IA and I still remember visiting the JollyTime popcorn "factory" to get popcorn in bulk for our May Day baskets, and there in Dubai was the logo and the packaging information for my former home. This is just one example of many.

Both of these "phenomena" are things that I've always known existed or happened, but it's different actually experiencing and seeing them, and I remain so thankful to have this opportunity to soak this all in, learn and grow from every aspect of this experience.

Taking it in...

The last few days have flown many new sights and experiences to take little sleep!

First, I must admit that despite the 7 hour layover in Amsterdam Molly and I never made it to the city. We moved in slow motion (my body thought it was 2am instead of the morning), and took the best advice I received about the trip: find the "comfortable chairs" in the Amsterdam airport and take a nap (courtesy of John L. and Rich C.). That was sort of the only sleep I had for a day. I'm telling time you're there, find the chair!

We made it to the hotel in Dubai by 3am on the 30th. I have a whole new respect for what international students go through to get to college after a 31 hour journey! Somehow we are all adjusting to the time change, and staying busy has helped a lot. The energy of our group has buoyed us as well...we're having an amazing, eye opening experience.

The highlight of yesterday for me was visiting friends - Seff, Zia, Samira, and Senai Sauders - our friends who moved from MHC to Dubai in 2001. Seff and I worked together in Student Programs, and hugging her in her own home in this land that has always seemed so far away brought tears to my eyes. Dinner was delicious...local fruits that look nothing like anything I've ever seen before, yummy Persian dishes of rice with lentils, lamb with carrots and celery, salmon and spices, and a big cake of rice (that I first thought was dessert), and a fantastic 'Lady Gray' tea later on. Several friends were at their home, a traveler passing through, another friend staying for a while, and two collegues of Zia's from the University. The MHC students had a great time with the kids (ages 10 and 7) and the night ended with me pulling them away from the kareoke machine so that we could get some sleep before our first big day. Zia said that this connection with students was what he missed most (among many things) about Mount Holyoke....when he worked in Res Life and lived on campus the kids had "unlimited Aunties." Zia was full of questions about MHC, and being at their home on the first day bridged the two worlds of MHC and Dubai. We'll see them again before we leave, hopefully at the beach tomorrow.

Today's first training day at Dubai Women's College was fantastic! The MHC students were articulate, calm, caring, and skilled. The DWC students were incredibly friendly, warm, conversational, and welcoming. Every person I passed by on the campus smiled and said hello, and I think this comforting welcome helped us to feel at ease. Today we learned about each other, the two Colleges, and the many differences and similarities between us. We laughed a lot, and shared personal stories and goals. By the end of the day the DWC students seemed pleased with the experience, and the MHC facilitators were very happy with how their first day of training flowed through. I can see that all of their hard work in preparing to come here has paid off, as they feel confident with the program they are presenting and have time to learn about themselves in this process as well.

I think everyone is taking a nap right now, hoping to experience some Dubai night life on New Year's Eve. I can't see how the sleepyheads who just left my room will make it out tonight (one is didn't even make it off my couch and is snoozing right next to me), but then again New Year's in Dubai doesn't happen often for us! Yes, we are VERY safe here and will have a happy and healthy holiday.

We're looking forward to sleeping late tomorrow morning, going to the beach or maybe the Global Village, and preparing for the rest of the training ahead. So far I have most enjoyed the warm welcome everywhere we go, and the new sights...the desert sand, different architecture, familiar product logos in arabic script (Dunkin Donuts, Subway) and many more. I'm struck by how quickly I am looking past unfamiliar styles of dress and seeing individual faces and life stories. I'm very glad to be here.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Are we there yet?

Arriving to Dubai's international airport in the haze of December 29th early morning heat- I was barely awake enough to share some of experiences via blog. There are so many incredible insights that have already shaped a new vision of the world for me and they begin far before I reached the Emirates: the airport. I bring to Dubai the legacies fo an African-American and multi-racial background and different constructs of each of those aspects of identity profoundly effect my life. What was so different even in the airport was an array of people of color who transcend the narrow spectrum of extremes presented in my segregated Detroit community. The "people of color" who occupied Amsterdam's airport were from EVERYWHERE and it showed in language and style of dress. Being "unclassified" by color is profound for me as people inquired where I was from in terms of nationally- as opposed to racial affliation. It is difficult to conceive the states outside of the shadow of its daunting legacy of racial inequality or oppression- but my feelings of liberation and being regarded as an "American" as opposed to an "African-American," I think to myself- ". . .is this what it would be like?"

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Checking in from Colorado

I'm all packed and ready to head off to Dubai! I am extremely excited to be going back to Dubai since I haven't been there in 4 years. I spent a semester of my sophomore year of high school there and my father stayed for two years. This trip is an incredible opportunity for all of us to travel to the Middle East and meet with Emiratis.

My hope for this leadership training and conference is that we will all be able to have amazing dialogues about what it means to be a leader, how to lead and how to integrate this into our different cultures. Like Katie said in her post, Mount Holyoke has given me many opportunities to be a leader and to experience new things while learning more about myself. I hope that we will be able to convey this to the women at Dubai Women's College and work with them to create an atmosphere where they feel they can create opportunities to lead.

And I'm going to head off to the airport to meet up with the rest of the delegation in Amsterdam. See you in Dubai!

time to go

The bags are packed, I'm ready to go, and rather than second or third guessing every item in my suitcase I thought I would post some thoughts...

The planning and preparations for this trip have moved quickly - we had a lot to do in 8 weeks. Selecting the MHC students seemed like the hardest thing we would have to do, but then preparing a training program to represent Mount Holyoke's empowered view of women in leadership didn't come easy either! The 4 MHC student facilitators are amazing - bright, energetic, and so eager to meet students from a new culture and exchange ideas. The enthusiam of MHC co-workers and the Center for Global Initiatives helped me to stay focused on the positive mission of this program, rather than get caught up in the details of planning a conference in another country. I'm very excited to see what unfolds when we arrive in Dubai.

We planned a leadership program that would convey what we feel are key building blocks for successful student leadership. What the Dubai Women's College students do with these building blocks is the exciting part! We have not entered into this cross-cultural training experience with the idea that DWC students should run their student government the same way that MHC does...we only hope to share our ideas with them, and support them through their process of creating change. We'll learn about them, and ourselves, through this exchange of cultural beliefs on leadership.

I'm really looking forward to a few things...
- Seeing the Saunders family who worked at MHC and now live in Dubai
- Witnessing the exchange of 2 different cultures
- Supporting MHC students through the challenges and high points of leadership training
- Warm weather! It's winter in Dubai, so winter temps only get up to 80 degrees, but I'll take it!

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Home in Iowa

I've just returned home to North-Central Iowa after finishing up my second-to-last semester at Mount Holyoke. It's less than a week before we'll be in Dubai, and it's only now that the business of finals is done that this reality is really sinking in!!

I'm incredibly excited for this opportunity on many levels. I expect to learn as much about myself and my leadership styles as much as I expect to be able to teach the women in Dubai. I've said it before, and I'll say it again that my leadership experiences at Mount Holyoke have helped me to become an empowered and self-confident woman. I am very outspoken and driven; however, one of my reservations (that I know Nicole has voiced as well) is how my leadership style, that has worked so positively in the environment at MHC, will be received in Dubai.

Going into our leadership mentoring, I hope to leave the women in Dubai with not only a sense of what leadership is, and broad ideas about how they can utilize their strengths as women, but with a tangible plan to implement towards some sort of goal they can set with us over the brief time we're there. I'm also anxious to see what issues their goals will address.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Background: Why We're Going to Dubai

Students from Dubai Women's CollegeIn the fall of 2004, Mount Holyoke College hosted six students from Dubai Women’s College during a series of college tours they were taking. The visit was an outgrowth of the Women’s Education Worldwide 2004: The Unfinished Agenda conference held at MHC in June. The visitors attended classes at MHC, met with leaders of the Student Government Association, and shared a presentation about their country and college with our campus.

A year later, after receiving a grant from the Middle East Partnership Initiative to fund a Leadership Training Workshop for its Student Council, DWC invited four MHC students to develop and present a four-day workshop on leadership over the 2006 New Year’s weekend in Dubai.

Mount Holyoke studentsThe four students—Molly Aplet ’06, Emily Freeman ’07, Katie Kraschel ’06 and Nicole Tuma ’07—have been working with Associate Director of Student Programs Beth Gibney Boulden since September to plan the workshop. The group, including Beth, will travel to the United Arab Emirates on December 28th to deliver their presentations, get to know the city of Dubai, and participate in the Women’s Education Worldwide 2006: Women's Hopes and Dreams conference hosted this year by DWC.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Training Overview

In this four-day program, participants will learn the essential components of leadership. Through discussions and workshops, students will develop skills for setting goals, collaborating effectively, making decisions, and achieving desired outcomes.

Day 1: On Common Ground
  • Introductions expectations
  • Values
  • Personal stories of leadership
  • Beliefs about leadership
  • Women in leadership around the world
  • Leadership on the Mount Holyoke campus
Day 2: Leadership Traits
  • Democracy and student leadership
  • Leadership styles
  • Leadership skills
Day 3: Leadership in Action
  • Working effectively in groups
  • Confidence and assertiveness
  • Dealing with conflict
  • Issue assessment
  • Goal setting
Day 4: Reflection and Moving Forward
  • Goals for DWC issues of concern
  • Challenges to leadership
  • Personal goal setting
  • Leadership after college
  • Student Council meeting