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International Business Professor Reflects on Field Study to Dubai
Global Field Study to Greece: A Professional Reflection of Aaren Salido
Global Field Study to Greece: A Personal Reflection of Jennifer Kelly
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Professor Emeritus, Alan Randolph
Professor Emeritus, Alan Randolph
International Business Professor Reflects on Field Study to Dubai
W. Alan Randolph, Professor Emeritus

Each year, the Merrick School of Business offers several Global Field Study courses to exciting locations around the world. Our hope is that more and more students will take advantage of these life-changing experiences.

Since 1995, I have led students on 24 practicums and global field studies in ten countries. Each experience was unique and impactful on the lives of our students. My latest destination took place in March, 2015, to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) — a country founded in 1971.   

It was with a great deal of excitement and anticipation that 21 undergraduate and graduate students took an overnight flight to Dubai, UAE, at the start of Spring Break. None of us, myself included, had ever spent time in an Arab country. While we had read and studied in advance, we still went with a lot of wonderment about what we would experience. We were embarking on an amazing trip to a place far different than Baltimore. 

Our first day on the ground in Dubai was dedicated to orienting us to the culture of the UAE. Our fantastic tour guide, Marshall, took us to the Al Noor Mosque in Sharjah (the Emirate adjacent to Dubai). Here we donned traditional dress for the mosque — an ankle length white shirt for the men (thawb) and for the women long, black robes (abayas) plus head covers (shaylas). Inside the mosque, we walked around snapping photos, and then we sat on the floor for a presentation about the five pillars of Islam. We also learned about the prayers that occur five times daily, and were afforded a demonstration of the call to prayer – truly a song. This great introduction helped us begin to understand the religious culture of the country, which is critical because there is no separation between religion and state.

What followed was a visit to the museum in Sharjah and a traditional Emirate/Bedouin meal. In preparation for the meal, we sat on the floor and had a keen awareness to refrain from using our left hands — it is considered unclean in Arab cultures. We finished that day with a boat ride across the canal that has been used for trade for many centuries; trade has been a part of the economy in Dubai long before oil was discovered in the 1960s. Our visit to the Spice and Gold Souks (markets) helped us understand the importance that trade has had and continues to have for Dubai. Spice, gold, and earlier, pearls, have been key products for the Dubai economy. And as the oil in Dubai depletes, they are turning more and more to trade and a new industry –tourism – more on this later.

We all agreed that this first day had set us up to understand our upcoming business visits in a cultural context, which is critical. 

Starting with the Dubai Chamber of Commerce, we received a wonderful overview of Dubai’s economic history and a vision of the future they are creating. And it is an amazing and ambitious future, for sure, led by their ruling monarch, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rasheed al Maktoum. There are no politics in Dubai -- no political parties, just the ruling family that has a keen interest in the welfare of the people of Dubai. Sheikh Mohammed and the business leaders of Dubai want their country to be the best in everything. They want the biggest, the best, the fastest, the most excellent of everything, and they are well on their way. They already have the busiest airport in the world, the tallest building (Burj Khalifa), one of the fastest elevators in the world, the biggest mall in the world (complete with ice rink and aquarium inside), and the list goes on and on. 

Erica Green, an MBA student, noted she had learned an important lesson from the business visits: “Moving forward, I am taking on the visionary behavior of Dubai. There aren’t any limitations, just opportunities to try something different. This trip was life changing! It has definitely opened my eyes to so many possibilities.” 

Another MBA student, Jennifer Evans, concluded: “The trip to Dubai was a once in a lifetime experience. We got to partake in several informative business meetings, attend some amazing cultural experiences, and got to see Dubai in a different light than most tourists.” 

On our third day of the trip, we visited Nakheel Properites, the country’s leading real estate development company, which is owned by the government (i.e.: the Sheikh’s family). They are the developers of the famous Palm Jumeirah, which is designed to increase waterfront property and promote tourism.  At the outer edge of the Palm is a new Atlantis hotel. Some of the real estate projects for this venture were delayed during the financial crisis, but they have come back very strong, and the sky seems to be the limit on growth – all this in a country with a population of less than 6 million (80 percent of whom are not citizens of the country – truly amazing).

Three other visits helped round out our understanding of the nation’s business practices and strategies for growth. We visited the Jebal Ali Free Zone, which has a large port and a number of free trade zones in which foreign companies can have full control of their businesses –normally no more than 49% outside the free zones. A visit to the Dubai International Finance Center – another free zone for business – in the center of Dubai helped us understand how the country can operate with no taxes, either personal or corporate. Our final visit was to the Knowledge Village, another free zone where universities from around the world have opened operations to drive a goal of better education in Dubai and the whole of the UAE. 

What an experience!  And as I always say on global field study trips, another culture is neither better nor worse than ours – it is just different. We go there to absorb those differences and learn about doing business in the global economy.

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Students standing across from downtown Dubai.
Students standing across from downtown Dubai.
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