On a wet, windy and dark night in September, having just returned to year two of the EMBA after having had the summer off, signing up for the 2016 MBA International Study Tour was a no-brainer. The trip came highly recommended from alumni, promoted as a once in a life time experience – eight days away from regular course work and assignments and the office for the EMBAs – four days in Dubai followed by another four in Mumbai.
We departed from Terminal 1 Saturday evening, March 12th and arrived in Dubai in the early hours of Sunday morning. There was no time for jet lag and once we had checked into our hotel, we were straight onto the coach to go to the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding. The centre strives to remove barriers between people of different nationalities and to raise awareness of the UAEs local culture, customs and religion. Our host Nasif attempted to break down the barriers to allow us to ask the questions we would otherwise have been too apprehensive to ask. For example, “why are Emirati men allowed to have multiple wives but women are only allowed one husband”. His response was, let’s just say, eye opening.
After some traditional Emirati food for lunch, we were given a tour of the mosque where we were informed about prayer times and the traditional clothing worn by Emirati men and women. Emirati men wear the traditional ankle length pristine white shirt, the Kandura and Emirati women wear the black Abaya which pretty much covers every inch of their bodies. As an example Nasif asked for a volunteer to dress up in the traditional Abaya to which I gladly stepped forward – I was fairly confident this would never happen again. Nasif attempted to convince us that the black material reflected the sun light and was cooler for the women. Well, it must have been thirty degrees or more, sleep deprivation was setting in, and my conservative dress under the black Abaya, lead me to strongly disagree with this theory. I was covered head to toe, even my eyes. Nobody could see me, but I could see everything – ideal for people watching, funnily enough, was not one of Nasif’s selling points for the traditional dress. I should have put that in the suggestion box.
Day one was almost over but it set the tone for the remainder of the week ahead. Day two consisted of trips to the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building, the Dubai International Financial Centre, and the University of Dubai. Day three brought us back to the airport for a meeting with Dubai Airports, followed by a trip to the Jumeirah hospitality group, the company responsible for Burj Al Arab, the world’s only seven-star hotel. We were so impressed with the Jumeirah group that we felt it was necessary to inspect one of their properties. Eight dedicated students took a trip to the Burj Al Arab at 11:30 that evening to see if it was worth all the notoriety. Unfortunately, a condition of the booking required us to sample a number of cocktails, to which we dutifully obliged. Getting up at 5am the next morning for our flight to Mumbai was not easy but just shows the true dedication to academia required of an MBA student.
Before moving on to our adventures in Mumbai, it is important not to forget our meeting at the real estate developers, Nakheel. Nakheel are responsible for The Palm, a trilogy of man-made islands that take the shape of a cultural icon, The World, a collection of private islands that form a map of the continents of the world off the coast of Dubai, the Waterfront, the world’s largest waterfront development, which has received widespread international acclaim. We went to this meeting not expecting much. We figured we would be in a dark meeting room and presented with pictures of these famous landmarks, something we could have done on our own time. What happened next, none of us was prepared for. They took the group out on two speed boats, and gave us a scenic view of The Palm and The World – how many people can say that they travelled the world in 30 minutes? It was a little windy to say the least, but the absolutely surreal experience topped off what was truly, a once in a life time experience.
On to Mumbai, sore heads included. No sooner had we left the airport terminal building, we drove straight past the slums. I immediately questioned why I signed up for the trip – Dubai seemed an awful long way away. Our first stop was at the world’s largest open air laundrette. You will notice a reoccurring theme on this trip – the world’s largest open air laundrette, the world’s tallest building, the world’s only seven-star hotel….
Our next stop, (this was all before we even made it to our hotel – remember, sore heads and a lot to experience in Mumbai), was at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus railway station, one of the several locations targeted in the 2008 terrorist attacks. Our guide gave us a quick tour and a brief outline of the 2008 attacks before we were back on the bus and onto the next location – the Taj Mahal Palace hotel, not where we were staying unfortunately, apparently it was fully booked! After all, it was the first stop of The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s recent trip to Mumbai. While we unfortunately didn’t gain entrance at this stage, we were able to properly visit it on our last day in Mumbai where we were able to learn of the events that took place in the hotel on November 26th, 2008. If you don’t know what happened in Mumbai that day, I would highly recommend you check it out. It is such a remarkable story of truly inspirational people with extreme courage and integrity that Harvard have even written a case study about it.
Too much happened in Mumbai to outline everything but as a summary we visited some of the biggest companies in India. The speakers were exceptional and answered all of the many questions of 20 odd extremely inquisitive MBA students. The companies welcomed us in the traditional Indian way by feeding us at any available opportunity. In India, a guest is to be treated like God, which was clear from all interactions observed throughout the trip. One of the meetings that deserves to be highlighted was the trip to the OSCAR foundation (the Organisation for Social Change, Awareness and Responsibility) which is a not-for-profit organisation which provides high quality football coaching to underprivileged boys and girls in Mumbai and across different areas of India. OSCAR runs a unique programme that not only teaches sport to children and youths but also helps them to understand the value of education. A condition of all youths and children joining OSCAR is that they remain in school. To learn all about what the foundation was achieved since inception and the challenges it has overcome along the route is another inspiration story that all of us were genuinely privileged to experience.
It is difficult to outline any one particular meeting or incidence during the eight days that truly sums up the experience gained from going on the trip. Personally, the trip to Nahkeel and the Burj Al Arab made Dubai special, but once we stepped onto Indian soil, Mumbai stole the show. We were shown such exceptional warmth everywhere we turned. As part of our trip to the OSCAR foundation we were given a tour of the slums – this was extremely intrusive for the inhabitants, having complete strangers wandering around their homes. But the Mumbaikars welcomed us with the biggest smiles I have ever seen. Some of the group even played football with them on our last day – I could be wrong, but I think we decided it was a draw!
The trip to Dubai and Mumbai wasn’t just about academia, it was a life experience none of us will ever forget. It has also taught us to realise the many differences in cultures that are all too often misunderstood. I have a new found respect for both the Emirati and Indians – something you couldn’t possibly even begin to experience from a book.
Dorothy Chestnutt ~ Executive MBA, Year 2