A Christmas letter from DubaiWritten by Dan Johnson | | email@example.com
Walking through the malls of Dubai, you could easily find yourself getting into the holiday spirit. Christmas trees, beautifully wrapped gifts, (artificial) snow, images of Santa Claus and Christmas carols surround you. At the Mall of the Emirates, you can watch as young people, bundled up in their warmest coats, ride the ski lift to the top of an indoor mountain and from there ski or snowboard to the bottom, much like the skiers in Vermont or New Hampshire.
At home, we have a Christmas tree that my wife Elaine has decorated with small ornamental camels, giving it a true Middle Eastern look. In a few days, we will stock up on groceries needed for a somewhat nontraditional Christmas dinner with a few friends and colleagues.
At this time of year we tend to look back at the past 12 months and take stock of our experiences and relationships. This year has been very special in several respects. We continue to make new friends here in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. My job as Provost of Zayed University puts me in a position to meet many of the leaders in government and business. A steady stream of international dignitaries and delegations find their way to the U.A.E. and the university, where I introduce them to our students and faculty. Some of these visits result in meaningful international partnerships that enrich the experience of our Emirati students.
During the past year, we have had several Toledo friends and colleagues visit us in the United Arab Emirates and we have thoroughly enjoyed showing them the sights of Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Taking them to the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world, and the Dubai Fountains at its base is always a thrill. Our children and grandchildren have also made the trip to the U.A.E. It is truly a place worth visiting.
I find my work at Zayed University challenging and rewarding. We are building a new “billion dollar” campus in Abu Dhabi that may well be one of the most beautiful university campuses in the world. We are on schedule to move to this iconic new campus in July and August. This has been a unique learning experience for me.
More than 90 percent of our students are young women. They are bright, motivated and ambitious. It is wonderful to think how these students will soon leave college as graduates and make their mark in a world that is now opening up to them and where they can use their knowledge and talents to improve their communities and their country. Every single one is an advocate for peace.
Being here in the Middle East brings a wholly new perspective on world events. I often find myself somewhat disappointed with the Western press because of its slanted coverage of this region of the world. I regret that the United States is not more visible here in the U.A.E. and I sometimes think we, as Americans, are not projecting a positive image here through the media, movies, and our foreign policy.
One of our biggest challenges as Americans, I believe, is to gain a better understanding of the Arab and Muslim world. As an educator, I would give this a very high priority. We need to find ways to broaden our relationships and friendships in this strategically important region of the world. A hand extended in friendship here is almost always warmly reciprocated.
I’ve never liked long Christmas letters so I will end with Christmas greetings to our friends and colleagues in Toledo and Northwest Ohio. Elaine and I are happy and healthy and we wish you the same for the holiday season and the New Year.
Dan Johnson is provost and COO of Zayed University, United Arab Emirates and president emeritus of UT.