Sunday, May 13

After waiting a few hours in the airport of the Kingdom of Bahrain we were bused to the small Gulf Air plane that would bring us to Abu Dhabi. After a short flight, we arrived at the luxurious airport that was very different compared to most airports in the United States due to its beautiful décor. We did not have much time before our next appointment, so we immediately changed into professional outfits in preparation for our visit to Zayed University. Stepping out of the airport we felt the sweltering heat that was over 100 degrees. We were shocked to hear that it the weather would only get hotter in the coming months. With the help of our tour guide and a chartered bus, we made our way to the girl’s campus.  

Zayed University, which was named after the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, is one of the three main universities in the UAE. We had graciously been invited to attend and participate in Dr. Jack Hillwig’s media criticism class, which had about 35 female students, the majority of who were studying integrated strategic communication. It was interesting to observe the style of the students, as they were all wearing abayas, which are robe-like dresses worn by Islamic women in some parts of the world, complimented by designer shoes, jewelry, and expensive handbags.

The class discussion was centered on defining the key characteristics of criticism.  Dr. Jack argued that critics must be journalists, writers, critical thinkers, or people who have their own voices and strive for the truth when writing.  There were differing views of the role of journalists being identified as critics.  It was clear the students were more confident in the objectivity of the media.  We became aware that as Americans, we are prone to question the validity of the news and how it is reported, but in the Middle East it is somewhat different.

After class, Dr. Jack encouraged the students to introduce themselves, which gave us the opportunity to interact with them on a more personal and engaging manner.  We were able to ask and answers questions about cultural differences, mostly centered on university life.  The faculty then provided us with lunch, and a tour of the rest of the facility.  During our discussion at lunch the professors told us that most of the students are interested in pursuing a career in business or engineering, or what may be considered to be a more “noble” profession. We were also surprised to find out that only about 10 percent of the population in the United Arab Emirates was made up of Emirati nationals, the rest consisting of expats. Sitting in on our lunch was a graphic design major named Miriam Fahed, who provided us with her own perspective of being a student at Zayed, and told us about some of her interests and her culture. We then toured the campus a bit longer, thanked our hosts, and headed to the Crowne Plaza, where we would be staying for the next two nights.

~Meg Durcan and Faizah Butt

Monday, May 14

The morning started with an impressive breakfast buffet, and a sweltering hot introduction to one of Abu Dhabi’s greatest gems, the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. This beautiful place of worship is the largest in the UAE, as it can hold more than 40 thousand people. Before entering the mosque, Mary, Faizah, Katie and Meg were required to put abayas over their clothes, while Andrew and Dr. Kalupa were able to enter the mosque as long as their legs were covered. As we stood on the largest carpet in the world, a female tour guide talked to us about the history and tradition behind the architecture and use of the mosque. One of the most interesting things we learned was the reason behind the different cultural styles of dress of men and women in the Islamic culture.

Next we made our way to the Higher Colleges of Technology, where Mohamed Blaik, the marketing, media, and alumni coordinator warmly greeted us.  He gave us an extensive tour of the grounds, which consisted of several presentations by faculty members. We were grateful for the College’s generous hospitality and extremely impressed by their beautiful campus. We also had tea with Sultan Karmostaji, the associate provost and Dr. Kahmali, the CEO.  Sultan told us about the Sheik’s Education Without Borders program, which many of us are interested in applying to.

Directly after our tour of the college, a driver who was graciously offered to us by Sultan, brought us to Jones’s restaurant for a light lunch. Then we were brought to the Masdar Institute, which is in the process of building a self-sustaining city that will be highly efficient. Masdar City will use 51 percent less energy and 41 percent less water as well as divert an astounding 96 percent of carbon waste by recycling. The city will have all organic stores, utilize natural sunlight, and have a natural cooling process created by wind towers. The only cars allowed into the city are electric hybrid cars. We were lucky enough to be transported into the Institute by pod cars that are run on magnetic strips. The city will also serve as a live lab, as they will be able to conduct different geothermal projects within its limits. Six of the buildings have already been constructed with an expected completion date is in­­­­ 2025.  Students from around the world can come to study at the institute in the UAE on scholarships granted by the Masdar Company. We found it fascinating that a city that built their office spaces out of used cargo containers could be so aesthetically pleasing, but Masdar was truly a beautiful yet efficient site. Being able to sign our names on the electronic guestbook, which makes customized artwork out of your signature and sends it to each visitor, also impressed us.

Our last stop for the day was at the Emirates Palace Hotel. This hotel was built and is owned by the Abu Dhabi government. It is one of the most expensive hotels ever built. We were amazed by the beautiful architecture of the building and even more enthralled by the beautiful interior decoration of gold and marble. We were fortunate to receive a tour guide who brought us into one of the palace suites, which are typically reserved for heads of state. Besides being fabulously decorated, this luxury suite had beautiful views of the Abu Dhabi skyline. The top floor of the hotel holds suites that are only given to Emirati dignitaries and royalty. After snapping a picture by the hotel’s main fountain, we went back to the hotel and went to sleep fairly early in order to prepare for our drive to Dubai the next morning.

 -Mary Cerasa
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    All of the participants in the study abroad tour will be blogging about the tour before, throughout and after they return.


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