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.

-Katie Casey

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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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