February 6, 2020

Tisch Center Study Away: Abu Dhabi and Dubai

Sarah Weisbuch is a student in the MS in Tourism Management. In this post, she tells us more about her experience in the most recent Tisch Center study away intensive course, which took place in Abu Dhabi and Dubai over the winter break.

What was the highlight of your trip?

There were two big highlights for me. One was the chance to visit the tourism offices both in Abu Dhabi and in Dubai. This is the first time that I’ve had the chance to go behind the scenes of a DMO (Destination Marketing Organization) - and both offices really went above and beyond to make us feel welcome and to educate us about what they do. We also had the chance to ask plenty of questions and engage in dialogue with professionals who are doing really exciting work in tourism.

The other highlight was a desert safari near Dubai. Listening to our professor discuss brand strategy while we all rode camels across the desert was definitely a one-in-a-lifetime experience that I will never forget! The experience also included a lot of cultural elements - it included demonstrations of falconry, Bedouin culinary traditions, crafts, music, etc. It was great to see how this really modern society is using tourism as a way to preserve cultural heritage. We all had an amazing dinner, and the night ended with an astronomy lesson under the stars, which was a wonderful way to end the night. 

What is one thing you will take away from your experience traveling in Abu Dhabi and Dubai? 

My biggest takeaway is how powerful travel can be in changing our perceptions. Before the trip, my understanding of the UAE was based on a lot of generalizations and misconceptions about the Middle East. The trip to Abu Dhabi and Dubai changed the way I saw not only the UAE but also changed the whole region. I was blown away by the warmth and sense of humor of the people I met, and I also found that the UAE was a lot more progressive in terms of women’s rights and environmental sustainability than I had expected. The experience made me realize how strong our misconceptions can be and how they can prevent us from traveling to places that are actually amazing. 

Is there one thing that surprised you about the culture of Abu Dhabi and Dubai? 

I was surprised by the diversity. We learned that Emiratis only make up 12% of the population, while immigrants make up 88%. We really saw this everywhere that we went. There are so many communities (from India, Pakistan, Iran, the Philippines, etc.) coexisting with local Emiratis. The government speaks a lot about the concept of tolerance, and I really did feel that there was an openness to cultural differences there that I hadn’t expected.

Are there any tips or recommendations you would give to those people looking to travel to the Middle East? 

Yes! First, I would suggest looking at countries individually, rather relying on generalizations about the Middle East. Find blog posts from people who have actually traveled (or lived) in specific countries that interest you. I would also suggest talking to anyone you know who has a personal connection to the Middle East, since they’ll offer you a more realistic perspective on it than what we see and read in the media.

Also, it’s always important to research appropriate clothing for whatever country you’re considering visiting. I was really intimidated by the concept of appropriate dress in the Middle East, but I found that there were plenty of helpful blog posts that made packing easy. 

Is there anything else you’d like to share? 

I felt that what made the trip so special was the positive energy of our group. Professor Karaburun brought tons of enthusiasm to the class, and our advisor, Stephanie Bravo, was wonderful as well. All of the students really bonded - we had an incredible time together, and it was a great way to build community among graduate and undergraduate students. I honestly couldn’t have asked for a better travel experience or a better group of classmates.

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