I still can’t believe that our trip has come to an end. As my circadian rhythm slowly but surely reverts back to eastern daylight savings time, I am recalling my experiences fondly and appreciatively. When I signed up for this Chazen trip to the United Arab Emirates, I certainly felt that I was operating “outside my comfort zone,” and acting on the advice that alumni have given me about “taking a step into the unknown.” I thought that it would broaden my horizons to travel to the Middle East, a region of the world that I had never before visited.
Certainly I learned a lot during my trip and saw how the other half of the earth lives, but I was surprised to realize how similar the UAE is to the USA, despite its differences in geography, founding stories an demographic makeup. Both the emirates in which we stayed (Abu Dhabi and Dubai) had a diverse population – nationally, ethnically, and in perspectives. But nonetheless, in a region of the world that has seen its share of conflict, the UAE remains a beacon of civility and tolerance. Below are some of the lessons and highlights from the trip. Needless to say, I will definitely be returning to visit again in the future.
Experiencing Arab hospitality across the spectrum
The UAE is an easy place to visit, because one cannot help but feel welcome. Our entrance to any hotel or business meeting was greeted with the traditional welcome offering of dates and coffee (especially needed on those first few days). Our flight and hotel experiences were out of the world. The flight attendants were well trained to accommodate flyers from all parts of the world and spoke multiple languages. The Sofitel had breakfast spreads that offered a mix of traditional American breakfast meats, curries and middle eastern dishes, as well as fresh fruit, all kinds of coffees and teas. There was even a Nutella station, which was a game change, personally.
The UAE, particularly Dubai, aims to be a hub of international logistics as well as a tourist destination. It is ideally located for that, uniquely at the hinge of east meets west. However, I think it extends father than that. Hospitality is inherent in how the people of the Emirates treat one another and their foreign visitors. On our 9-day trip, we were hosted by two CBS alum – Haig ’17 and Kush ‘16. They invited us into their businesses and homes, provided such a lovely dining and networking experience, and made sure that we got the best seat in the house at Music Hall, a truly unique variety show experience on the Palm Jumeirah.
It is good to know friends in the UAE!
Learning about Financial Priorities
The UAE was a great place to learn and discuss macroeconomics, because it is a country which has grown up so quickly and in such a measured and intentional way. They knew from the beginning that they must develop an economy that was not just reliant on oil, which is something which will deplete over time and has historically shown great volatility. As a result, they invested the wealth to be had from the petrochemicals business back into the infrastructure of the UAE and into other tangible and financial assets that would provide a more diversified and stable source of sustained returns. It is through this deliberateness that cities of glass towers emerged from desert sands and palm huts.
Dubai didn’t stop there, however. It went a step further to develop its tourism and logistics industries to provide entertainment to the world and a meeting hub between the east and west. This is evidenced by the development of its airline (Emirates), its luxury real estate and manmade islands, and even the surreal shopping experience that is the Dubai Mall – which has its own aquarium. Nothing accentuates a trip to Chanel like a shark in the wall.
Building around a harsh environment
Visiting in March, we experienced the Emirates in the balmy range of 65F – 80F, a welcome change from the blizzard-stricken Manhattan winter. But we heard enough from the locals to know that it is … well, a real scorcher. In order to develop into modernity, the scorching heat and arid climate of the Middle Eastern desert needed to be overcome. The UAE has done exactly that. Sky bridges and underground walkways afforded air conditioned commutes. Water, of course, is a scarcity with the UAE’s lack of rivers. So it developed desalination plants to convert the ample ocean water into something that is potable and even delicious for its populace and visitors. Building such prodigious cities out of the thirsty stand is truly a testament of human ingenuity in construction.
UAE would not be where it is had it not had such visionary leaders who 1) acknowledged the finite nature of their natural resource assets (which are coveted globally), 2) accepted the need to move into more enduring businesses utilizing existing wealth, and 3) developed ways to do so through funding of specialized vehicles to build tourism and other services. The UAE is still a young nation, with just a generation of succession since its own founding fathers laid down the foundation for building this federation of distinct yet united emirates. It will be interesting to see the future work that the next generation of leaders will do in economic development.
I can’t wait to see where the UAE is next time I visit!
– Shelley Han ’18