As I begin my journey home to Seattle, I find myself reflecting over the past two weeks in this beautiful and fascinating country. For so many reasons, this trip has been unlike any other international trip that I have taken previously – traveling with classmates, working with a knowledgeable guide, and having access to local businesses that were willing to share their time and transparently share information to a group of MBA students from the USA.
Depending on who you talk to, the UAE has a population of between 8-9 million people, of that only about 1 million are Emirati. What is so compelling about those figures is that the Emirati are the minority in their home country. While protective and proud of their own culture, they also recognize that in order to keep the country running with so many expats that there must be some concessions made. And so, despite the fact that this is an Islamic country, it is possible to drink alcohol, consume pork, and wear what one likes. In return, the expectation is that expats behave respectfully and follow the law (deportation is one very likely outcome for those expats that break the law).
The cities we visited clearly depicted contrasts: haves and have-nots, tradition and modernization, Emerati and expat, religion and commerce, and many more. And yet, somehow, it works here. The national leadership recognizes that to become a global player, the country must maintain both a stable economy and political environment. So while there is turmoil in the region, the UAE has maintained stability and as a result continues to attract expat workers and foreign investment to continue its economic advancement. Dubai and Abu Dhabi are cities under construction – neither of which is standing still. I am certain that in just 6 months the skyline will again look different and that there will be new marvels to behold.
At the close of this trip, I realize that as well-traveled as I had previously considered myself, there is still so much more about the world for me to learn. This trip has expanded my perspective in so many ways – about the world that I live in, my own perspectives and stereotypes, and the critical importance of truly listening and learning from each other. I leave the UAE humbled by how much I have learned in such a short time and hopeful that I will have the opportunity to return again soon.