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 :)