Saturday, March 21, 2009

International Experiential Corporate Learning in Dubai

Preparing for Departure!

So here I am one day before departure and packing for Dubai! I really have no idea what to expect or what I am going to need so that is making packing a little bit difficult and I think I am going to end up taking one of everything, just in case. It is a Muslim country and the dress is definitely more conservative, so my business outfits will be all pant suits. I looked up the weather and it is supposed to be around 30 degrees Celsius the entire time, or roughly 90 degrees, so it is going to be hot!

I have a few books about the culture and city that I am reading on the plane ride over, which is only 16 hours. I have been collecting articles and information about Dubai for a few months now and have a list of places that I want to see for sure. I had lunch two days ago with a student at USC who is from Dubai and she gave me an even longer list of must-see spots. I don’t think it is possible to be more excited for a trip!

I contacted a friend who graduated from USC two years ago and now works for a real estate company in Dubai so that we can hopefully meet up. One of the many great things about the Trojan family- there is guaranteed to be some USC affiliated person no matter where in the world you go!

There are about 35 students going on the trip and we split up into pairs, with each pair assigned a company to do a report on for the group. My partner, Harb, and I did a report on Nomura, a Japanese financial services company that only recently set up shop in Dubai when it bought the Europe/Asia branches of Lehman Brothers. We’ve been talking a lot about it in our pre-trip meetings, but I am already getting a feeling for how international the population is in Dubai.

English sounds like it is very prevalent, which is good because I know absolutely no Arabic, but I hope I get a chance to pick up a few phrases. I am also looking forward to trying different kinds of Arabic food because I have not had a chance to try much of it yet.

Well, I guess I had better get back to packing and figure out if there is any way at all I can make my suitcase lighter! Next time you hear from me I will be on the Arabian peninsula, almost exactly on the other side of the world!

Sunday- First Day of Company Visits

We made it! We arrived around 8pm last evening and since then we have already squeezed so much in that it feels like we could have been here for a week. I’ll start with the flight over. It was not unbearably long and Air Emirates is really nice. Our group was pretty much all sitting together and so we had a lot of fun calling each other using the individual entertainment consoles and playing games of Battleship against each other. I stood in the back galley speaking with the flight attendants for awhile which was really interesting. One was from Portugal and the other from Greece, but they both live in Dubai with all the other Air Emirates employees. They said 11,000 of them live in a cluster of large apartment buildings together! After seeing the Air Emirates training facility today- I totally believe it!

Not only was the airplane very new and clean, but the airport was sparkling and grandiose, completely putting LAX to shame! The columns were glittering and there was a huge waterfall that we admired from a glass enclosed elevator. My phone picked up free Wi-fi in the airport so I have already sent a quick e-mail to my parents letting them know I made it safely!

Next came check in at the hotel, which is a new establishment a little bit off the main road. Last night we explored around the hotel and the mall that it is connected to. The group all went to the food court, which took only cash so we had to find an ATM to get some durhams, the name of the money in the U.A.E. I was struck by how nice

Although we had to wake up extremely early this morning, the breakfast buffet at the hotel before our first meting was well worth the struggle with jet-lag. Mickinsey, an international consulting firm, was the first company who visited us. It was the perfect first presentation because the representative was so informative and extremely smart, so it helped us get a good first perspective of business in Dubai. After her talk, the company that I did a report on, Nomura, brought a panel of employees who are mostly ex-Lehman

Most of that conversation focused on the economic recession and Lehman’s collapse, and they described their experience transitioning from working at an American company to a Japanese company, and being relocated to Dubai.

After lunch with them we visited the Air Emirates training school and Jones Lang Lasalle, a real estate company, and now I am here writing this! It was a really long day with about 10 hours of meetings, but I have seen and learned so much already. Now it is time to shower and go explore the city on our own a bit!

Monday and Tuesday

I have decided that if I ever start a company in Dubai, I am going to start a model building company. Ever visit we go to has a huge sprawling model of the development they are planning on building. Plus, creating those mini worlds would be very fun and I would love getting into the details. They also seem like the only projects in Dubai that are actually finished, because everything else is under construction or in a planning phase.

Since I’ve written we visited Jumeirah, a hotel management group that runs the Burj al Arab, the world’s only seven star hotel, Nakheel, the company that is developing The World Islands, the Dubai Merchant Exchange, Dubai Healthcare City, Tiger Woods Dubai, and Dubailand. As you can tell, we have been busy!

Each of these visits was different but they all had one thing in common- a focus on being the world’s first, biggest, or best. This is a common theme in Dubai and in fact, the Emirati people are not as concerned about the monetary compensation for their work or careers, but the prestige associated. Even if the Burj al Arab is not a huge money-maker, they are just proud to be home to a hotel with service that is unparalleled anywhere else in the world.

The scale of the Dubai Heathcare City and Dubailand developments was hard to wrap my mind around. If I started my model building company, I would definitely want to have a close relationship with those two companies! I will be interested to follow the continued construction of the two projects and see if they reach completion. When they do reach completion I wonder if there will be enough business to keep them open. These projects are amazing, but they are so massive it is hard to imagine that there is enough world-wide demand or tourism for attractions of this scale.

Tonight we are going to the house of a local Dubai family for dinner. Their daughter has been helping plan this trip and giving us all the background information on the culture and places to go. I am really interested to see what the actual houses are like here and if they are in a neighborhood. We are also celebrating St. Patrick’s Day tonight so I better go see if I brought any green in my suitcase…I don’t want to get pinched!

One night in Abu Dhabi

We just returned from an overnight stay in Abu Dhabi. I wish we could have spent more time exploring that city! Abu Dhabi is another Emirate and is the center of the oil money in the region. It is like the Washington D.C. of the U.A. E. while Dubai is like New York City. From the short time we were there I really liked Abu Dhabi because it had more of a community feeling and it felt like I could live there, while living in Dubai would feel like living in Las Vegas. Dubai and Abu Dhabi also seem to have a mini rivalry and it was funny to see those sentiments emerge in these visits.

Surprise, surprise, we visited a few more development companies in Abu Dhabi, but the most interesting visit was to one of the major newspapers - The National. One of the biggest things I have learned since being in Dubai is how involved the government is in everything, from business to the newspaper. The newspapers don’t publish any criticisms of the leadership in the U.A.E. and would also refrain from saying anything negative about the economic conditions or developments in Dubai. I think they are strongly encouraged to present a very positive scenario through the media. The newspaper stressed that they were not censored in any way, but I still get a feeling that they aren’t telling us the whole truth.

After we finished our business visits on Wednesday we went to see Emirates Palace. I thought that it was finally going to be a historical site, but lo and behold it was a gorgeous hotel that was built in the last 5 years. The place definitely had the Midas touch and every surface shone and sparkled with gold. It was a truly expansive property and we explored as much as we could before security stopped us. It was also very expensive and one of my friends on the trip somehow ended up buying $40 cookies! We also stopped to see the Grand Mosque but it was closed to visitors for prayer time. The architecture was very impressive and, fitting with everything else, it was huge!

On the way back to our hotel we stopped at Atlantis The Palm to see the new luxurious establishment. It was amazing! It looks pretty similar to the pictures of the one in the Bahamas.

Now we are back at our excellent 5 star residence, the Crowne Plaza in Festival City. We have finished with the business portion of the trip so it is time to visit all the tourist attractions! This afternoon some of us are going to Wild Wadi Waterpark outside of the Burj al Arab and I can’t wait!

Back in Los Angeles

Well I guess the trip had to end at some point, but I definitely was not ready to come back to school! The jet lag that I never experienced on the way there has definitely hit me now, and I have been pretty sleepy but I think I will recover in no time.

The last few days in Dubai were spent relaxing, exploring, and now it is time to digest the whole experience. I have learned so much about the Arabian Peninsula especially the culture, business (obviously!), government, and geography. I will definitely be watching this area very closely in the future to see how the construction and development progresses and to see if it is sustainable. I am quite concerned about the environmental effects of all the artificial islands in The World and the three Palms so I will be following that news.

I hope that I am able to come back and visit the region again soon, and explore even more of the countries around. I think it is a beautiful culture, especially the Arabic hospitality aspect, which is so warm and inviting.


  1. Sounds like a really cool trip. Had no idea this post was so long but once I started reading I was hooked! haha. No but seriously. I love to travel and Dubai sounds so interesting. I hope to make it there one day. Glad it was such a worthwhile experience. Should be interesting to see what happens to the area as the economy continues to suffer and the projects continue to grow and progress.

  2. To be honest with you, I am very jealous. I wish the university would better advertise opportunities such as this one. It is clear that you've gained invaluable insight into a country in which the world is keeping a close eye. As a result, us CosmopolitAnne followers have the luxury of being let in on!