Wednesday, May 30
After around three hours on the Eurostar we arrived at London’s St. Pancras train station. Our tour bus took us back to the Royal National Hotel where we had dinner at Blooms and took the Tube to the Apollo Theatre in Victoria to see Wicked, a musical loosely based on the Wizard of Oz. After the show we were exhausted and went back to the hotel to settle in and prepare for the upcoming day.
Thursday, May 31
We started off our busy morning with a quick breakfast and then met our guide in the lobby for a walking tour. We took the Tube to the Tower of London where we walked along the River Thames and had an excellent view of Tower Bridge. From across the river we saw the building that is the tallest in the European Union, the Shard. After touring the grounds and taking pictures with the sentries, we went into the Jewel House where we saw the beautiful Crown Jewels of the United Kingdom. This was especially exciting considering that this weekend London would be celebrating the queen’s Diamond Jubilee, marking her 60th year on the throne.
Next we took the Underground to the South Bank where we rode on the London Eye, the tallest ferris wheel in Europe. This observation wheel is the most popular in the UK; over three million people visit per year. From the top we had a spectacular view of Westminster Palace, Charring Cross, Cleopatra’s needle, and more. After the 30 minute ride we went to lunch at an authentic pub, then made our way to Edelman.
At Edelman, we were briefed on the company’s different practices and their global influence. Then we were shown case studies that demonstrated the importance of developing a strong connection between the brand and the consumer. We were encouraged to always have a broad range of knowledge, and to stay updated on current events.
Our last professional briefing was at APCO Worldwide where we met with Lionel Zetter, a lobbyist and published author of a book on the power of political persuasion. Lionel educated us on the global and ethical issue of public relations firms and taught us that lobbying is a basic function of life. It was nice to have many of the issues that we discussed in different countries come full circle because it allowed us to truly see how much we had learned throughout our travels.
Finally we took the Tube back to the hotel where we quickly changed and met with Aimee Bateas to have dinner and explore Covent Garden. When we parted ways that night, we were all sad that our trip was over but excited to go home and share our amazing experiences with our family and friends.
Monday, May 27
We were greeted at the airport by a driver who was more than happy to show us around Paris before dropping us off for a cruise up and down the Seine River. Throughout the hour-long river cruise we saw Notre Dame, Parliament, the Eiffel Tower and so much more. We were lucky enough to find seats along the side of the boat, all facing the water, which give us the perfect view. An added delight were the radios attached to each seat. The recording told us the history and significance of each building or monument as we passed by. After the river cruise we settled in to our hotel, Le Meridian. It was then time to walk around the nearby streets to familiarize ourselves with the area. We soon realized that our hotel was in the perfect location, only a short walk or cab ride to the Eiffel Tower and many other tourist friendly areas. After a couple hours of shopping and sight seeing we relaxed at a local restaurant and enjoyed a lovely dinner, mostly consisting of pasta. All of the traveling and early morning flights had finally caught up to us, so we called it an early night.
Tuesday, May 28
After much needed rest, we were ready to take on Paris. On our half day tour of Paris we were able to stop at the Arch of Triumph, Eiffel Tower, Napoleon's Tomb, Notre Dame, the Lourve, and Moulin Rouge. In addition we passed by the le Petit Palais, San River, French Parliament, Pont de l'Archevêché, Sorbonne University, Luxembourg Palace and much more. At the end of the tour we were dropped off at Montmartre, an area that overlooks Paris. The view from the top was absolutely breath-taking. While there we saw the Saint Pierre de Montmartre, got charcoal portraits on the street, walked through a festival, and enjoyed a delicious lunch and our first nutella crepes. We then used the metro to find our way back to the hotel. We spent the rest of the evening at an italian style restaurant before heading over to see the Eiffel Tower lit up after sunset.
Wednesday, May 29
We meet with Lionel Benatlia, consultant senior, and Lorie Lichtlen, director corporate/financial, at Burson-Marsteller in Paris. During the briefing we talked about B-M's evidence-based communication and thought leadership strategies. Lionel spoke with us about public affairs and the three-part method of image, mobilization, and influence. He then spoke with us about his passion, crisis communication. According to Lionel the stages of crisis communication are emotional, rational, and controversy. He believes they need to remain in this order and not mix or skip, because if they do it can cause even bigger problems than those already present. After the briefing we were off to the Paris Nord train station for a two and a half hour train ride to London.
Wednesday, May 23
“When you all have some time, make sure to visit the 7th floor.”
Upon following this advice from Dr. Kalupa, we ventured to the top floor of City Center Hotel. It would have been impossible for our group to prepare for the magnificent view from the roof of the hotel. Several stories high, we were presented with a panoramic view of the city, admiring the beauty of the Bosporus in the distance surrounded by historically famous buildings such as the Suleymaniye Mosque and Hagia Sophia. This was a moment that redefined “breathtaking.” This was unlike any beauty we had experienced before. This was Istanbul.
Our journey in Istanbul started in Istanbul Atatürk Airport after another early morning flight. After our arrival, we were fortunate to have our Harrisonburg travel agent, Brandi Simmons join us for the remainder of the trip. The location of City Center Hotel was conveniently minutes away from the well known strip of shops and restaurants named Istiklal Street. Before we explored the area, a couple members of the group ate lunch at a small café called Cook Time. It only took a few minutes to realize that our lacking skills in the Turkish language might create a little confusion and require a lot of patience.
Afterwards, we strolled down Istiklal Street where we browsed clothing stores and tourist shops in the midst of the chaos of the lively street. Istiklal Street radiated with high energy and magnificent culture which provided an enjoyable few hours of exploration. Additionally, we could not help but notice that Istanbul also served as a dessert haven. After being tempted by several Turkish dessert shops, two members of the group bought dondurma (ice cream) from a street vendor who transformed the simple act of scooping ice cream into an elaborate and highly entertaining performance.
In the evening, the group chose to eat at a nearby restaurant that provided a menu that was translated in English. The ability to read the menu was a breath of fresh air, even if ordering our food was not as effortless. In the end, we enjoyed our meals and headed off to rest and prepare for an early morning.
Thursday, May 24
By 8:00 a.m. the next morning, our group was ready to attend the 10th International Symposium: Communication in the Millennium (CIM) hosted by Istanbul University. Organized by the Association of Turkish and American Communication Scholars (ATACS), the itinerary for the symposium included keynote speeches and presentations on a variety of topics by impressive participants from all over the world. Upon arrival, we were welcomed by Dr. Serra Gorpe and Dr. Adem Ayten who were actively involved in the planning and coordination of the event. After a ten-minute documentary on Istanbul University followed by opening remarks and speeches by ATACS Board Members, Dr. Kalupa delivered a keynote speech about the professional expectations and the preparation of future public relations practitioners for strategically managing social media. He focused on how social media was not about the tools; instead, it was about the people and the content and therefore suggested the term “social media” be renamed “social communication.” He also focused on the importance of meaningful public relations education in order to properly prepare students for the field. After Dr. Kalupa spoke, we heard Dr. Judith K. Litterst speak about evaluative listening and questioning and Dr. Werner Severin present about social media in the political process. During the coffee break, Dr. Adem Ayten arranged for Ghengis, a friendly student who attended Istanbul University, to give us a quick tour around the area. Our group took pictures at the Square of Beyazit and Ghengis led us to the Grand Bazaar. In the Grand Bazaar we were instantly surrounded by an overwhelming selection of items. Each vendor made their best attempt to entice individuals into their store to negotiate prices. After spending an hour in the Grand Bazaar, we made it back to Istanbul University just in time for lunch. The main dish was a mouth-watering Turkish classic, doner kebab.
After lunch, most members of the group decided to take a Bosporus Cruise to one of the Princes' Islands where we once again were astounded by the beauty of our surroundings.
Friday, May 25
On our third day in Istanbul, we were scheduled to visit Istanbul Municipality, APCO Worldwide, and then attend the gala dinner for the CIM at the Social Club of Istanbul University at Baltalimani.
We started the morning at the Public Relations Division at Istanbul Municipality, where Fatma Durak assisted in translation and helped educate our group on the functions of the government in Istanbul. As Fatma explained the process of residents reporting their problems, our group was shocked to learn the types of issues the government was held responsible for assisting. These issues varied from a woman unsatisfied with her hair color to a family suffering after a death in the family. Istanbul Municipality is dedicated to achieve their goal of handling all complaints in order to benefit the city as a whole.
They also explained an ongoing project of creating Communication Corners, which serve as information stations where assistance is available for anyone with questions. These Communication Corners were strategically placed in the busier areas of the city in order to reach a large population of individuals. When we were shown the picture of what these Communication Corners looked like, we realized that we had just visited one the day before in order to receive directions on how to get to the Bosporus cruise. From this experience, we knew first-hand how helpful and efficient these information stations were. One of the most admirable aspects of the Communication Corner was how its function preserved the value of face-to-face communication. As students studying communication in the United States, we understand the worth of face-to-face communication but in a society that relies heavily on technology, face-to-face can sometimes be avoided between individuals due to its inconvenience. Creating Communication Corners is a hard working attempt to keep that aspect of communication alive, and we were extremely impressed by the efforts of the Istanbul Municipality.
Next, Managing Director Zeynep Dereli hosted an excellent visit for us at APCO Worldwide. Although we had visited an APCO Worldwide office earlier in the trip, our visit to the Istanbul office allowed us to understand how the economy of a country could lead to different functions of specific offices. In the Istanbul office, we learned that the APCO Worldwide focuses a lot of time in the area of business diplomacy. Zeynep and her team spent a great deal of time with us discussing the government and the different economy drivers (IT, biomedical, real estate) in Turkey. We also discussed ways that Turkey could improve their brand value as a country and their current weaknesses in doing so. The APCO Worldwide team in the Istanbul office helped our group understand how these factors played a vital role in different businesses. Zeynep’s knowledge of the issues around the world was fascinating and we were privileged to have met with her and the others in the APCO office.
After our visit, our group took a trip to a nearby Starbucks and enjoyed a coffee outside alongside the Bosophorus before we left for the gala dinner. At the gala dinner, there was delicious food, great entertainment, and a lot of dancing. The excitement of the traditional Turkish music and dancing during the reception delighted our group as we talked to the professors and other students in attendance.
Saturday, May 26
On our last day in Istanbul, Tarik Dagdir guided us through parts of Istanbul where we were given the opportunity to learn about the amazing history of the city. Through the rise and fall of many empires, Istanbul is rich with history. On our tour we visited unforgettable sites including the Hipprodrome, the Blue Mosque, the German fountain, and the Topkapi Palace.
After eating lunch with our guide, we headed to the office of the Cumhuriyet Daily, an independent newspaper in Turkey. During our with Hakan Kara, news editor, and graciously translated by Burcu Akkaya, Cumhuriyet travel writer, we learned about the different newspaper publications in Turkey and the history of Cumhuriyet Daily and its progression throughout the years. In addition, we discussed how new technology has played a vital role in the newspaper’s development. One of the most interesting aspects of the discussion was about the issue with freedom of ideas in Turkey. Journalists are directly affected by this issue and many of them have spent time in jail because of this problem. After an informative discussion, we were given a tour around the office. After the visit, we enjoyed the next few hours in Istanbul by taking one last walk down Istiklal Street.
Monday, May 21
The visit to Mumbai began by being treated to a lavish dinner at the Grand Hyatt Mumbai by Sukanti Ghosh. Not only did we eat great food, but we also learned a great deal about India’s history, political and economic climate. The managing director of APCO India, he was extremely knowledgeable and accommodating.
Tuesday, May 22nd
After our late arrival and dinner the night before, our day in Mumbai was warmly welcomed. Half of the day was spent on a tour while we had the rest of it to ourselves. Mumbai is a hustling and bustling city. While New Delhi is India’s political center, Mumbai is the economic and cultural capital. Home to the world famous Bollywood, it was energetic and non-stop.
Our first stop on the tour was at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya. Known as the Prince of Wales Museum, it houses many of India’s national treasures and historical artifacts. These ranged from modern art to rare pieces such as Emperor Akbar’s personal armor. We also saw the Gateway of India, Victoria Terminus, walked in the Mumbai Gardens and visited where Ghandi stayed during his time in the city.
In the evening we all went our separate ways. The the girls had an exciting night on the town as well. After first shopping for scarves and other accessories, someone bought a drum, later traded it for other merchandise and finally concluded the night by learning on the "elephant god," Ganesha.
We left Fariyas Hotel at 2 a.m. for our 6 a.m. flight to Istanbul sleepy but excited about the next part of our journey.
Sunday, May 20
Today we were off to the Taj Mahal. After an early wakeup call, we boarded the bus and made our way to the train station. For such early hours, the station was extremely busy as everyone was either coming into or out of the city. After a comfortable two-hour ride to Agra, we met our contact for a bus ride to the Taj Mahal. Our tour guide immediately began a history lesson of India’s earliest days, culminating with India’s colonization by Britain and recent independence.
On the way to the Taj Mahal, we learned that the Indian government was proactive in limiting pollution around the monument. All factories were removed from the area and vehicles in the immediate proximity are required to be electric powered. In fact, once we stopped at the entry point, we took an electric van to the entrance.
The Taj was magnificent. To learn about an ancient marvel is one thing, but to actually see it is quite another. Our first impulse was to take as many pictures as possible. Much like “supporting” the Leaning Tower of Pisa, a popular photo trick was to “hold” the Taj Mahal from above.
We made our way to the entrance and took off our shoes to enter the marble dome. Walking inside was an unbelievable experience. There laid the tomb of Mumtaz Mahal, Shah Jahan’s wife who had died during the birth of their 14th child.
As we exited Indian family after family asked to have their photos taken with the girls.
After the Taj Mahal, we visited the Red Fort. Built by Shah Jahan in the 17th century, it served to serve as the seat of power of Mughal Emperors. A formidable fortress, it was only ever captured with the help of internal turncoats. Famously, it was also where Shah Jahan was imprisoned by his son due to the elaborate spending on the Taj Mahal.
For lunch and we had our next round of classic Indian food. After some debate over what we should order, we settled on the Chicken Tikka, a choice we returned later in the trip.
The train trip back to New Delhi was turned out to be the biggest culturel shock of the tour. Fully expecting seats like we had earlier in the day, we were extremely surprised when our tickets were for a sleeper train. Three hours later, we all agreed that we had just been subject to experiential learning.
By this time, it was already evening and we traveled back to the hotel. After a long day, we all enjoyed a relaxing evening to ready us for the next day.
Saturday, May 19
Our journey to India started with a 4:30 am flight from Dubai to New Delhi. The Dubai airport’s extravagance contrasted greatly with the small and highly guarded Delhi airport. As we walked to our bus we encountered many stray dogs and unfamiliar smells, just two of the many differences we would notice in India. Our guides gave us lays as we boarded the bus, which was taking us to the Hans Hotel in New Delhi. At the hotel we were given mango juice while we waited to be checked in. Exhausted from our 2 a.m. wake up we rested for a few hours in preparation for our guided tour in the afternoon.
The guide, Jvsir, picked us up from the hotel for the bus/walking tour. First, he took us to the old part of Delhi which was extremely chaotic and full of poverty. Cars, buses, taxis, and bikes didn’t take notice of the lanes whatsoever, and drove on both sides of the road coming from both directions. As a result, there is the constant sound of beeping, used more as a way to tell people you are there as opposed to expressing that someone did something wrong. It was interesting to see how many people were just hanging out on the side of the road. Many looked like they were homeless, but only a handful were begging for money. We were sad to hear that 25 percent of the people in Delhi are living below the poverty line. The biggest surprise by far was the fact that many Indian people are fascinated with white skinned foreigners. Everywhere we went we were a spectacle. Everyone we passed would stop what they were doing, stare and often times take a picture. The more bold would come up to us and ask if they could take a picture with us.
Our first stop on the tour was at the largest mosque in India, the Jama Masjid. Upon entering the women of the group were asked to put on make-shift saris, similar to the traditional clothing that Indian women would wear. The guide explained that about 15-18 percent of the India is Muslim, while about 65 percent is Hindu. Next, we passed the place where Mahatma Gandhi was cremated, a gated park known by the Indian people as Rajghat. Unfortunately the gates were locked, so the guide took a few minutes to explain how Gandhi was integral in the democratic transition for India. Gandhi was assassinated at the age of 79, however he was alive to see India gain their freedom. We then passed the home of the President, Vice-President, and Parliament. We were interested to hear that following the September 11th attacks no planes were allowed to fly over this area for fear of Pakistani action. To experience some of the local food we stopped at a restaurant named Suribachi. The favorite meal of the group was the Chicken Tikka Masala, a traditional Indian dish consisting of chicken in a tomato and yogurt based sauce with a variety of spices mixed in. After lunch we went to see the tallest minaret in India called the Qutub Minar, which was made of sandstone and marble at about 73 meters high. To conclude our tour we ended at a government subsidized shop that sells rugs, scarves, saris, and jewelry of top quality. Our guide then escorted us back to the hotel, where we wrapped up the day with dinner at the in-house restaurant.
Monday, May 21
We made our last day count in New Delhi by visiting two different agencies, Genesis Burson-Marsteller and Penn Shoen Berland.
At Genesis Burson-Marsteller we listened to a presentation by the President Nikhel
Tuesday, May 15
I jolted awake mid bus ride to “ooohs” and “aahhs” as we made our way from Abu Dhabi to Dubai. There were massive skyscrapers in the distance that the eye could just barely make out. As we neared the city, I was glued to the buss window looking up at the impressive one-of-a-kind buildings. We continued our journey on Sheikh Zayed Road, one of the main roads in Dubai, toward our home for the next few nights. We would soon arrive at the Mayfair hotel located in Dieira, an older section of the city that was bursting with local charm. Although the area was fairly distant from the main tourist attractions, staying there allowed for us to experience a different side of Dubai. The quaint section is located along the Dubai Creek and home to both the spice and gold souks.
We took some time to settle into the third of eight cities we would experience in just three short weeks. Making sure not to waste too much valuable time, a few of us headed to Jumeirah Beach, sun lotion in hand. The warm sandy beach and clear ocean water was merely a 20 minute taxi ride from the Mayfair and overlooked the Burj Al Arab, the world’s largest luxury hotel. After spending several hours soaking in the hot Arabian sun and swimming in the cool gulf waters we headed back and awaited the arrival of our desert safari tour guide.
My favorite extracurricular adventure thus far is the desert safari I was about to experience. We pilled into a large SUV and traveled out of the city and toward the Red Desert. The SUV we were in was well equipped for flying through the desert sand and navigating up, down and around the vast sand dunes. After about 30 minutes of dune bashing we arrived at the safari campsite just as the sun was setting. We rode a camel and tried out one of Dubai’s extreme sports, sand boarding. We were then pointed toward a woman who was decorating ladies hands with henna, which apparently is a required part of “Dubai 101.” After the sun had fully set, we were served a delicious Middle Eastern BBQ buffet accompanied by cultural entertainment, including a belly dancer and whirling dervish performer. The night soon came to an end and we found ourselves in bed dreaming of what the next day would have in store for us.
Wednesday, May 16
The agenda for our second day in Dubai consisted of agency visits to both ASDA’A Burson- Marsteller and Hill + Knowlton Strategies. At ASDA’A B-M we met with Sunil John, CEO, as well as Bashar Al Kadhi, Kelly Home, Lois Cole, and Nicholas Nesson. This agency is devoted to evidence-based communication and explained that it’s success as the largest communication consultancy was due to being client focused. We started out with a tour of the office and then attended a briefing on Dubai’s culture, the company’s history, the Arab world and time management. Lois, reminded us that the second you walk into an office you are being interviewed and emphasized that your actions while waiting in the lobby can effect the outcome of an interview. A strong point made by Sunil John was how important trust is when doing any business, and especially so in the field of public relations in the Middle East. Trust as well as driving development, monitoring, and measuring client progress through research and data is key at ASDA’A B-M. After our first briefing we visited the Dubai Marina and had a tasty lunch at Chandelier Fusion Lebanese Cuisine.
At Hill + Knowlton Strategies we met with Katy Ludditt Brandon, the head of technology, who planned and hosted the briefing. Hala Saqqa, senior account executive, and Maddy Ravi, an intern, also met and spoke with our group. One point that was brought up at H + K Strategies, that we had also heard at other agencies, was how business in MENA, the Middle East and Northern Africa, is based more on face-to-face interaction than emailing and phone conversation. We found this to be interesting because this differs greatly from the way business is typically done in the United States. One similarity we noticed across both cultures was how key credibility is in public relations and how every company should be open, honest, and transparent. Some advice that we were given at H+K Strategies was not to limit ourselves to one specific area within an agency and to volunteer as much as possible in order to learn more about different areas of public relations.
After the professional briefing we enjoyed walking around the Emirates mall where the indoor ski resort is located. Tourist and locals flock to the malls in the summer months to escape from the hot sun and enjoy an afternoon on the slopes, shopping, or at the movie theater.
Thursday, May 17
On Thursday we were privileged to meet with both APCO Worldwide and Bates Pan Gulf. At the meeting with APCO we met with several employees including Sonia Bahauddin, Rania Al Khadra, Omar Alziri, Craig D’ Silva, Suzanna Samaan, and Ashraf Abdullah. At APCO we were briefed on the company, media relations in the region, politics in the UAE, and living in Dubai. It was very interesting to hear more about media censorship and the differences involved with the Middle Eastern media and the public relations field as a whole. The Arab Spring was also a topic of discussion during the presentation. We spoke about different perspectives on how the Arab Spring has already and will continue to effect the media and how business is done in the Middle East. After the briefing we enjoyed great conversation over a typical Middle Mastern lunch with many APCO employees.
After our first briefing of the day we were off to the Emirates Dubai National Bank where we received a private tour of the pearl museum. We watched a short video on the history and significance of the pearl before walking through the jaw-dropping exhibit. The first pearl was found over 7,000 years ago in Kuwait. Pearls were very expensive at the time and are still relatively expensive today. Each pearl’s worth is determined by color, shape, weight, and size. The museum is home to the world’s largest and perfectly round pearl which is considered a priceless treasure. Once finished with a tour of the museum we were off to our second briefing of the day at Bates Pan Gulf.
At Bates Pan Gulf (BPG) with met with Avishesha Bhojani, group CEO, and Clark Williams, COO BPG public advocacy. We began our briefing by watching a video that explained the company’s history and success. BPG’s 4i’s are inquiry, insight, invention, and implementation which were mentioned several time throughout the presentation. We enjoyed the numerous case studies and campaigns presented to us, which gave us a better understanding of the company’s success. Clark Williams left us with helpful tips about formatting documents and other ways to prepare yourself for an interview. After the presentations we had the opportunity to meet with some of their newest employees whom had recently graduated. One of Dr. Kalupa’s former students, Lara Al Nagi, met us at BPG and accompanied us to City Center mall for a light meal. After a long and educational day, we returned to the hotel to rest for the night.
Friday, May 18
We arrived bright and early for our tour of the tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa. This impressive landmark stands at 2,716.5 feet and has 160 stories. The building was originally named the Burj Dubai and later changed to the Burj Khalifa, named after the Sheikh. Despite minor ear popping, the smooth ride from the ground to the 214-floor observation deck was a shockingly-short 90 seconds. We were amazed by the smoothness of the elevator ride as well as the breath-taking views from the indoor and outdoor observation areas. Luckily for us, the Burj Khalifa is adjoined to the Dubai Mall, the largest mall in the world, which has an astounding 1,200 retail outlets. The Dubai mall is also home to an indoor waterfall and aquarium, two of its main attractions.
Once we had spent our remaining Dirham we returned from the mall and a few members of the group, including myself, decided to walk along the Dubai Creek from the hotel to the spice and gold souk. We were amazed by the amount of bargain shops and beautiful clothing, accessories, and jewelry. The bright colors caught our eye and the distinct smells of ethnic spices filled the air. After spending a few hours wandering through, and getting a little lost, it was time to pack and prepare for our 2 a.m. bus transportation for a 5 a.m. flight to New Delhi, India.
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.
Thursday, May 10
The 2012 Europe, the Middle East and India tour sponsored by James Madison University began when our group landed at London Heathrow Airport on Thursday. The group met at our hotel, The Royal National located on Bedford Way in Russell Square. We started our day by trying out a local pizza place, Blooms Pizza, where we discussed our upcoming itinerary. Despite feeling a bit jetlagged, we were excited to begin what we knew would prove to be the experience of a lifetime. After a short nap we felt refueled enough to explore the city. To get a feel for the city, we made our way towards the Soho district, a bustling downtown area full of local culture. When we returned to the hotel, we were able to catch up on some much needed sleep in preparation for our professional briefings the next day.
Friday, May 11
We began our morning with a European style breakfast of toast, granola, and fruit. The plan for the day included briefings at Echo Research and Ketchum Pleon as well as lunch with Dr. John White, an independent communications consultant. We hopped on the “Tube” a term for the London underground subway system, and took it to Echo Research that was located near Tower Hill. Echo Research, recently acquired by Ebiquity, has a main focus on reputational research that monitors, measures, benchmarks, and advises for their clients in order to better that client.
We met with Sam Knowles, the integrated services director, and discussed his personal definition of public relations and different aspects of the evolving field. According to Mr. Knowles, “public relations takes a group or audience on a journey, through a variety of tactics to move them along a spectrum of engagement.” Mr. Knowles advised us to remain both task oriented as well as objectively focused throughout our careers. Reflecting on this visit, we all plan to take this advice, which we feel will be very useful in the real world. Upon leaving the office, we took a stroll to nearby St. Katherine’s Pier, which was hosting an international foods festival. After enjoying a few samples, we took pictures with London’s Tower Bridge as our backdrop.
Zizzis, a restaurant overlooking the pier, was where we met Dr. John White for lunch. While enjoying our meal, he gave us a synopsis of his life, starting with his early career, as well as his opinions on the current state of the public relations field. We appreciated his knowledgeable insight on the versatility of public relations. He feels that despite its quickly evolving nature, the fundamentals remain grounded. It was stimulating to receive advice from someone who became independently successful within the communications field. After enjoying our Italian cuisine in good company, we hopped in a cab and made our way to Ketchum Pleon.
In the lobby we met with Aimee Bateas, a JMU grad who is now an account coordinator. She brought us to the conference room where we also met Kate Matlock, a digital strategist. Together they outlined the merger of Ketchum and Pleon as well as the company’s objectives and success. They recommended that we remain both flexible, hardworking, and generous with our time and ideas throughout our future careers. We also took a fun public relations quiz that highlighted social media. A tool Kate introduced us to, which we hope to utilize in the future, is Listorious. It is a site where one can acquire information about other professional’s media contacts. Upon returning to the hotel, we rested up a bit, then enjoyed dinner and another exploration of the city.
Saturday, May 12
The next morning we met Aimee in Soho at the Breakfast Club. There we enjoyed a delicious brunch that was a mix of both English and American cuisine. In the afternoon we took a private tour of London, which included stops at Covent Garden, The Palace of Sir James, Grosvenor Square, the Piccadilly Circus, The Clock Tower (Big Ben), Westminster Abbey, the queen’s birthplace, and Buckingham Palace. The tour guide dropped us off at Heathrow Airport to catch our flight to Abu Dhabi by way of Bahrain. We had many wonderful experiences in London to kick off our tour, and look forward to returning at the end of the month. We are eager to continue our adventures in the Middle East and to further our knowledge of the communication and public relations fields.
_Mary Cerasa and Katie Casey