Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Can I Get Some Sleep?

What an amazing experience. I am still receiving friend requests and emails from women that I met at the conference. I am still editing the almost 1200 pictures I took while in the UAE. And I am still suffering from sleep deprivation.
It is a curious thing, jet lag. You are told ways to avoid it, and people tell you what it is like, but you never really know until you experience it. On the way to Dubai, I switched my watch to UAE time and stayed awake during that time. I stayed awake on the flights there, so that by the time we arrived, I was ready to sleep according to the UAE time. It worked rather well. On the way home, I decided to set my watch to Minnesota time and sleep according to that. It seemed to work pretty well. When we returned on Friday night, I seemed to have plenty of rest. But the week back in classes after the trip was rough. Not only was I still catching up on laundry, and homework and class notes that I missed, but my body was also struggling to catch up. For the first few nights, I would fall asleep fast and early, and wake up at various increments through out the night. 3 am. 4 am. 6 am. Alarm clock goes off at 8 am. It is a tough cycle to break... especially when the birds outside your window don't allow you to go back to sleep. In talking to other women from the trip, I have heard similar stories.
With that being said, I do not regret it in any way. It was an amazing experience that I will cherish forever. I am so thankful to all of the hard work behind the scenes that went into helping us on the journey. I want to go back as soon as possible and continue learning about their unique culture and world perspective.

Lindsey Gideon
Class of 2013

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Time to Adjust!

Wow!!! We have been back for a week now and many of us are adjusting back. Some are adjusting easily, while it is taking time for others. I remember when I got back I was so excited to tell my family about my experience. I told many of them my stories and how great it was and the many wonderful things we had done.

Going to United Arab Emirates has changed me in so many ways. I learned a lot about their culture and way of life there. They are very friendly and kind people. When we would go and do things they always called us madam. When they called us that I feel they treat us very highly and well. It made me think of how their hospitality and treatment of guest and visitors is different and well. We also visited so many places that I do not even know where to begin. Since there is so many things to talk about I will focus on some of my highlights along the conference.

Some of the highlights during the trip was being able to see their way of life by touring the place. I think that from this we saw how wealthy and hardworking their people and place was. There were tall skyscrapers, very unique built buildings, and more. In Dubai were we were at felt very westernize. It in a way reminded me of California with all the palm trees and the dry areas. That was interesting how it made me think that way. I also really enjoyed going to the Women's Heritage Village in Abu Dhabi. I enjoyed seeing the handcrafted work that many of the women there made. It was unique and it seem very complicated to make, but they made it look easy and natural. We were also able to see camels and see the wonderful beach in that area. We did so much that I loved everything. It was my first time ever going outside of the US and I enjoyed the choice that I made in going to Abu Dhabi.

Attending the Conference has motivated me and inspired me to become a better leader. There were many wonderful Keynote Speaker such as Sigourney Weaver, and other wonderful women. From their speeches, it has made me want to make a difference in the world. They had done so much and I feel I want to do the same. The sessions were interesting and very educational. The conference was not only covering topics on the environment. That is because when people hear the word sustainable they often think about things relating to the environment. It was more than that. It covered other topics about women leadership and how to sustain them as well. It is hard to put the experience into words. From this conference we were able to meet wonderful women from the area as well as from all over the global. I met some people that I would not probably meet at all. Many of the women were from Kuwait, India, Pakistan, Japan, Singapore, Africa, Germany, areas in Europe,and more. It was amazing to see women from all over the world coming together to this conference. Many had wonderful goals and they had motivated me to do my best.

I learned a lot from this trip and I really recommend for many CSB students to take advantage and apply to go in the Year 2014.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Where does one begin to explain?

I have been back for a week now and am still not fully adjusted. I continue to have vivid dreams reliving my camel ride. I felt pangs of envy when I saw a women wearing an abaya in Cashwise. And most of all I struggle to put such a surreal, impactful experience into words. Once-in-a-lifetime, life changing, eye opening, exhilarating and powerful fail to capture the experience but they are the best I have come up with.

I went to give a presentation but looking back that was only a sliver of the experience. Experiences such as getting to meet and mingle with women from over 100 countries in the same space are ones that stick with you. Many of the women I had the opportunity to meet were from countries such as Pakistan, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan and other countries my peers rarely get the opportunity to talk with face to face, let alone hear from. Many of them spoke freely on sensitive subjects such as women’s rights and I quickly found that my perceptions of the world, specifically on the lifestyle of people in the Middle East and the treatment of women in many of these counties were grossly misinformed. Specifically my understanding of the abaya has shifted. I used to see the traditional black dress and head coverings of the women as restrictive. Now I see them as elegant and a source of pride.

The voices of the powerful women who spoke at the conference have lingered with me; voices of Sigourney Weaver, H.E. Baroness Helena Ann Kennedy, female business leaders from the United Arab Emirates, a Saudi Arabian princess. The experience of personally meeting both the Sheik and Sheikha of the UAE and dining at their palace remains unforgettable.

Finally, the inspirational messages of the numerous presentations I was able to sit in on, from a woman who has effectively changed the living situation for women, men and children in rural Afghanistan to an archeologist who is saving the Mirador Basin in Guatemala by emphasizing the importance of the Mayan ruins that exist in the area, have made perhaps the most permanent impact on my life. By being able to meet with them after their speeches, ask questions and introduce myself I have received invitations to work in Afghanistan, opportunities to help in Guatemala and invitations to visit in Saudi Arabia and Singapore. But more importantly I have become all the more certain that whatever I do in my life it must have meaning.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Bennies are Back

How will I ever be able to describe this experience? This was the question I asked myself as I was packing up my suitcase on the last night we were in the UAE. As we traveled to the airport in the most silly of bus rides ever (so many jokes, well…maybe not even jokes-we just thought everything was funny! Probably due to lack of sleep!) I continued to wonder what I will say to those back home. It was not until I was sitting in the airplane getting ready to go to Frankfurt that it hit me, this experience cannot be explained accurately-it must be experienced. I have seen, learned, discovered, tasted, smelled, and grown so much in this extraordinarily short amount of time.

As I now sit here on the CSB campus, I realized that I miss the UAE greatly. I feel as if I made a true friend. A friend I was not only just gaining insights and learning all about, but also discovering things about me as the relationship grew. The diversity and culture infused atmosphere has me addicted, I want to learn even more. See more. And experience more.

It was interesting when I was watching CNN and Hala Gorani, an anchor and one of the keynote speakers at the conference (so cool!) comes on the screen. She was reporting from Abu Dhabi about the crisis in Syria. This small event solidified my understanding for one of the greatest lessons I learned from the conference; the connectedness of the world and the greater global human connection. I was able to reflect on how even though we may be of different cultures, different backgrounds, or different lives completely-we are still linked on many levels: the idea of humanity, shared or familiar experiences, happiness, and hardworking leadership.

The conference itself was amazing and I found the opportunity to not only listen to distinguished leaders from all around the globe, but to meet students like myself and establish relationships with them as invaluable. I think my jaw was constantly dropped at the sights and amazements that our hosts put on for us. Fireworks, live performances, all of the incredible food, the palace, distinguished speakers, camels, henna, and even the flowers were out of this world beautiful. Perhaps I should have invested in some duct tape to keep my mouth shut :)

This trip was the best experience of my college career, and I feel so blessed to be able to attend a college like St. Ben’s that has the IWL and provides opportunities like this. I know that I will be able to take my leadership capabilities to the next level, and this trip has also stirred something up inside of me: the travel bug. I realized how vast the world is, and I want to explore it. I want to see more, even though I know this travel bug’s thirst for adventure will never be satiated. The entirety of the trip was amazing, and more than I ever hoped or imagined it to be. So many memories were created, and so many laughs shared with our group that I will take with me for the rest of my life.
Thanks CSB, the IWL, AUS, and Zayed University, and even Faraz who was kind enough to hold my shoes :),

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Back to the real world

After spending a week in paradise it is back to the real world of St. Joe. Being in the U.A.E. was like a fairytale come true! It was filled with galas at the palace, run-ins with royalty, and even some beasts (AKA camels). It was a land where everything was over the top and flashy. It was the perfect break from reality.

Now that I am back in St. Joe and the magical fog has lifted I have been able to truly assess and reflect on my time in the U.A.E. The number one take away I have from this trip is an extremely altered opinion and view of the middle east especially Saudi Arabia. After meeting such wonderful women from these countries and hearing their stories and plans for the future I realized that these countries that we, with the help of the media, have determined to be bad and oppress women, where the citizens are miserable and want to break free is just not true. Many women from these countries are empowered and have great plans for their lives. Many also plan to live in their home countries, so obviously they are not looking to escape or break free. They love their countries and so maybe it is time that we do too!

My second take away from this trip is the realization that while you may be content with what you have that does not mean that you should stop striving for more and continuing to be innovative. This lesson really came from the Government and people of the U.A.E. The U.A.E. was established off of oil and they have enough of it to last another 100 years at our current consumption rate and yet they are one of the top countries working on alternative energy sources. They could be content with what they have and milk the oil for all that it is worth and yet they realize the importance of alternative energy as well the many benefits and therefore they are continuing to be innovative and strive for more. For me this made me realize that there is always opportunities to expand yourself and be innovative throughout life and that I should never become stagnant.

The IWL trip to the U.A.E. was an amazing experience filled with awe-inspiring moments, lessons learned, and the making of new friends all wrapped in a fairytale setting. It was one of the best experiences of my life and so I want to thank all who invested time and other resources making the trip possible. To all of you I say thank you!

Monday, March 19, 2012

The land of paradoxes

First of all, I would like to thank the IWL for sponsoring this trip! It was truly an incredible experience that I will cherish forever. I learned a lot on the trip - from women's leadership and sustainability to different cultures and religions. I even attended some WAGL sessions that focused on bringing sustainability into school classrooms, which was reflective of my education major. I could talk about the U.A.E. and my experiences for hours, but for now I want to focus on a common theme that I noticed during the trip: paradoxes.

I first started to notice the paradoxes of the U.A.E. by the excessive amount of money that was spent on the conference. The buffet tables were never ending, there were huge bouquets of flowers, a fireworks display that definitely trumps any 4th of July celebration I have ever seen, and the goody bags we received were filled with gifts. I appreciated the fact that I felt like royalty at the conference, but I also recognized how unnecessary most of it was. I thought it was very ironic that at a sustainability conference they served plastic waterbottles (without recycling) and had endless amounts of fancy food (clearly more than any of us could have consumed). The Sheikh wanted to impress us by spending lots of money on making the conference over the top, but I was actually unimpressed with the unnecessary spending.

Another paradox that I noticed was how everyone seemed to love their government and no one said anything bad about it. Either the U.A.E. has something figured out to please everyone that every other national government does not, or there is still some level of censorship. As an American it was eerie to see the Sheikh's face plastered on billboards and at almost every venue we went to. I don't doubt that Sheikh Zayed made tremendous gains for the country (he founded Zayed University, which was originally an all girls college), but I find it peculiar that not one Emirati I talked to had anything bad to say about the government. I am indebted the U.A.E. government for hosting the amazing WAGL Conference that I was so fortunate to attend, but I wonder about their censorship...(also, all the media is still run by the government and there are rumors we heard about the Emiratis being allotted a financial allowance as long as they comply with the government)

Lastly, as a history major I find the irony between the Emirati's "history" and lack of it very interesting. Obviously the Emiratis have a history, but other than the poverty and desolation that plagued their society before the discovery of oil in the 1960s, there is not much recorded about their lives. Today, as tourists continue to flock to the U.A.E. as a vacation destination they expect museums and historical artifacts, so the country has created a "history" for themselves. A popular tourist attraction is a desert safari ride with camels, belly dancers, food, and dune buggy rides. Although some aspects of this tourist scheme are reflective of the Bedouin life, others (such as belly dancing) have no historical meaning and are only chosen because they are fun tourist attractions. Therefore, there is a paradox between the U.A.E.'s lack of history before the oil boom and what they have created as a "history" for tourist marketing purposes.

Regardless, I LOVED the trip, met lots of very friendly people, and often find myself trying to relive the experience by looking through pictures.


Global Networking

We are back in the USA now but I'm wishing we were still in the UAE! This was the most educational, fun, and uplifting experience and I can't thank the IWL and the College of St. Benedict enough for making this happen. Not only did I get to travel to a place that not many other Minnesotans have, but my favorite part of this whole experience was meeting people from all over the world and getting to experience and learn about a culture so different from my own. The funny thing is that the more I learned about this different culture, the more I was able to see the similarities.

The conference and the women I met there were so inspiring. It made me proud to be a women and proud to be a leader. I was a leader before I came to the conference but I feel so much more empowered and I realize the importance of that leadership and the importance of promoting leadership, especially among women.

As I said, the best part of this experience for me was networking with women from all around the world. I made friends with motivated and determined women from Abu Dhabi, Sweden, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the USA, London, and the list goes on and on. I am so grateful to have learned about all of their cultures, ideas, and views on various topics including women in leadership, politics, pop culture, and again this list could go on indefinitely. We all traded email, facebook, and twitter accounts and it still amazes me that now I am in contact with all these amazing women. I think it is just about the coolest thing ever that if I am ever traveling to their region or want to discuss something with them that I will be able to use these connections I have made.

I have to tell you that on this journey I fell in love with the culture, the people, and TRAVELING! I can't wait to explore the world and continue networking with amazing women and promoting women's leadership.