Bridge to Dubai: A Truly Unique ExperienceWritten by Dan Johnson | | firstname.lastname@example.org
As American ex pats living in Dubai, we have front-row seats to one of the amazing nation-building stories of our time. As a young nation, the United Arab Emirates, which will celebrate its 40th year this December, has emerged as a Middle East leader on many fronts. Bolstered by the prosperous, oil-based economy, this one-time impoverished coastal desert region now bustles with post-modern metropolitan cityscapes with architectural masterpieces that are virtually unrivaled for their creativity and beauty.
Notwithstanding the challenges and problems of this young nation that have come with rapid social and economic development, the UAE is undaunted in its quest to become one of the leading nations in the world. Its major metropolitan centers, Dubai and Abu Dhabi, have weathered the global economic recession and are preparing and positioning themselves for a decade of continued fast-paced development on a global scale.
Like every other nation, the United Arab Emirates has its strengths and weaknesses. For those so inclined, it is not difficult to go beyond the beautiful first impressions of Emirati society to find that there are huge issues facing the nation’s leaders in numerous areas including education, health, labor, national security, environment and more. The increasing freedom of the press is enabling citizens, public officials, and ex pat communities to gain a better understanding of these issues as well as the inner-workings of government, its ministries and the broader society.
Our time in Dubai and the U.A.E. has evolved into a very rich and meaningful experience. And, while we would be the last to deny the real problems of this young nation, we find our lives and the lives of untold numbers are enhanced and enriched by many powerful positive forces at work in the Emirates. These forces are not the simple products of serendipity or even the sole result of the great wealth that has come through petroleum revenues. Rather, they are the result of enlightened, bold, and visionary leadership as well as strong concerted efforts, particularly the Emirates of Abu Dhabi and Dubai, to put in place strategies to realize bold visions for the future.
The qualities of this place we most appreciate and enjoy include the confluence of many cultures and nationalities. The population of the UAE consists largely of people from other nations. Approximately 85 percent of the people living and working here come from elsewhere. Part of the richness of life here is due to the contributions of the many cultures represented in the nation’s labor force and population. The U.A.E. is an excellent example of the enriching power of diversity.
The news coverage by local newspapers is a daily education in world affairs. In addition to several Arabic newspapers that are widely read by Emiratis, there are three major English newspapers read mainly by the ex pat communities. As a small nation with many economic and diplomatic ties to nations on every continent, the interest in global affairs is strong. Each day brings the news not only from the UAE and the Gulf Region, but detailed accounts of events in all of the Middle East countries, the nations of Africa, Asia, and Europe. The United States, Canada, Mexico, Central and South America are also well covered. The United States is of special interest and several pages are devoted daily to the actions of the White House, Congress, and major events.
A quality that seems to permeate life here, particularly among Nationals, is a strong optimistic outlook on life and the future. This optimism stems, in part, from the dramatic progress of the past three decades. The younger generation has grown up with the rise of the nation and has seen what is possible. With advances in education and growing knowledge of world affairs, the new generation of leaders coming on the scene believe they can build on what has been accomplished and achieve even higher levels of sustainable growth and development. I admire this quality and the optimistic spirit of young people. I see it and hear it from our students at Zayed University. Their ideas are bold and creative and they are not reluctant to share them.
I’ve witnessed a genuine desire on the part of many Emiratis in positions of national and local leadership to reach out to non-Muslims to establish dialogue, increase understanding and to expand tolerance among major world religions. The government of Dubai provides land for Christian churches. Scores of Christian denominations hold weekly services and carry out their activities with the knowledge and support of local governments. The terrorist bombing of a Coptic Christian Church in Alexandria, Egypt last month ago brought sincere expressions of condolences from National leaders to the local Coptic church in Abu Dhabi. I was privileged to be present for this very moving event.
There is among UAE Nationals a fascination—even fixation—on being “world-class.” Recognizing excellence in all its forms through awards ceremonies has become an industry in itself in the larger Emirates. These award ceremonies are part of a national effort to set high standards and expectations not only for the young generation coming forward but for the international companies and ex pats working here or doing business. This drive to be “world-class” is contagious and one is easily drawn into the spirit that propels businesses, organizations, professions, and institutions to strive for excellence. There are times, of course, when rhetoric outpaces reality but it is difficult not to appreciate the desire to be the best.
There are many other qualities we have come to enjoy and appreciate here in Dubai and the U.A.E.. We enjoy the many festivals that seem to come monthly. We enjoy the architecture and the building frenzy that continues even now. We especially enjoy the winter weather where a “cold” day may dip to the high-sixties or low-seventies. Of course, summers are a different story.
Living halfway around the world also has its downside. We miss family and friends which is only partially alleviated by email and the internet. We miss birthdays and holidays and even funerals of friends and loved ones. And, notwithstanding the wonderful “winter” weather here, we do miss the seasons and even the snow.
On balance, the opportunity to live and work in Dubai and Abu Dhabi is one that, while not planned, has added to the quality of our lives, our perspective on the world, and our sense of the growing interdependence of nations, religions, and cultures. Our time here has evolved into a very rich learning experience. With each passing week we see, taste, hear or touch something new to us. Over the past few years we have learned a great deal about the people and this special place in the heart of the Middle East. It is truly a unique experience.
Dan Johnson is provost and COO of Zayed University, United Arab Emirates and president emeritus of UT.