Smith Students Explore Dubai and Arab Culture

By: Nikita Jeswani, Smith School MBA Candidate

We started the day with a Dubai city tour and enjoyed their exploration of the largest city in the UAE, representing over 200 nationalities across a population of nearly 3 million. A major business hub of the middle east, Dubai’s original claim to trade was in pearls, and more recently, oil revenues have dramatically accelerated development of the city. Dubai is divided into Old Dubai and New Dubai, a noticeable contrast between the more traditional Arabic architecture in one and a very modern, metropolitan side on the other, characterized by tall skyscrapers serving as hotels, residences, and office buildings. Construction is underway throughout the city, occuring at a rapid pace. Workers operate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

One of the most prominent buildings on the Dubai skyline is the Burj Khalifa, our first stop of the day. The impressive Burj Khalifa breaks a number of world records, including:

  • Tallest building in the world
  • Tallest free-standing structure in the world
  • Highest number of stories in the world
  • Highest occupied floor in the world
  • Highest outdoor observation deck in the world
  • Elevator with the longest travel distance in the world
  • Tallest service elevator in the world

Smith students also visited the gold, spice, and textile souks, enjoying a short boat ride across the Dubai creek in between. We strolled through the colorfall stalls that lined the bazaars, and were amused at the shopkeepers numerous attempts to bring shoppers in. Likening passerbys to famous Western and Bollywood celebrities was a common ploy.

We wrapped up the day with a traditional dinner at Bastakiah Nights restaurant in Old Dubai, right along the beautiful Dubai Creek.

Cultural Insight

Lunch at the Arab Culturalist with Nasif Kayed, an established businessman and active bridge between people of all cultures and faiths, revealed a number of clarifying insights to address common misconceptions regarding the Muslim and Arab worlds. One such misconceptions is about Emirati dress code.

“Modesty is why we dress, not fashion,” said Kayed. Men wear a long white loose fitted garment, called a kandora or dishdasha, that modestly hides ones’ body type and status and serves as an equalizing force. Over the head is a ghutra – and depending on how it is placed, can be considered casual or professional business attire. The agal – or the black band worn around the head, was historically used to tie up camels in the desert, and evolved into a convenient and fashionable accessory that holds the ghutra in place. For women, attire is a black abaya, in a color known to enable better body temperature regulation, important during hot days and chilly nights. Jaclyn Walkins, part-time DC evening student, volunteered to try one on, and confirmed its comfortable and practical nature. Jaclyn shared her perspective: “it was enlightening to see how normal it felt. I found that my socialization was still taking effect. As my classmates took pictures, I was still smiling even though my face was covered.”

Both the agal (men) and the shalya (women), cloth worn over the head, historically protected the Emirati people from the desert elements of wind and sand.

 

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