Remember when you went back to elementary school each fall and one of your first assignments was to write about what you did on summer vacation? I’m so excited about mine, I can’t wait until fall!
So, over the next couple of weeks, I am blogging about my study tour to the Arabian Gulf. We’re visiting Qatar and United Arab Emirates (UAE) and touring multiple colleges and universities in the region. What was my motivation for taking this trip? Is there any other better way to experience a region of the world I probably wouldn’t get to on my own AND combine it with my passion for higher education administration? I didn’t think so and jumped at the chance to be a part of this excursion. Probably the most frequently asked question when I tell people about the trip regards safety. Most people make some comment/inquiry about it. (Interestingly this wasn’t a concern I heard from my dad when I told him about the opportunity.) As with all international travel, I’m anxious about my personal safety, but this trip adds a perceived extra element of uncertainty due to the proximity to other countries in turmoil. A couple people even said I’m “brave” for doing it; I don’t consider myself brave. I am, however, inquisitive and feel this experience will be unlike anything else I’ve undertaken. My personal preparation for this trip started with a more in-depth study of the cultural norms in the Arabian Gulf. Having had the opportunity to travel internationally quite a bit previously, I want to represent myself well and not inadvertently upset anyone. I dress fairly conservatively normally, so I’ve only had to make slight modifications so as not to offend our hosts or the general population. (And, no, female tourists don’t have to cover head to toe – only in mosques. Another question I get asked.) I’ve read articles and blogs enough to know some of the do’s and don’ts such as: don’t touch someone or point with your feet, don’t automatically reach out to shake hands with in country colleagues if you are female, do bring gifts to show appreciation and be prepared to haggle over prices in souks (markets). These only scratch the surface and I’m sure there will be more I learn along the way. I’m confident there will be situations where I’m just “winging it” and hopefully I’ll have enough information to react appropriately! Our tour leaders are making sure we learn about higher education, employment and political climate of the region before we go. We’ve reviewed various topics including employment challenges, the state of higher education, the impact of this generation on education and the influx of US based branch campuses in the region. The perspectives of the authors are from both internal and external sources, so it has been very interesting reading. I’m looking forward to learning more about the culture and higher education system in this important region and will update the travleblog once we are underway next week.