Sunday, January 08, 2006

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...


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