Some call it the “Manhattan” of the Middle East, but Andrey Polinko, a WSU Tri-Cities business major, took one look at Dubai’s tall buildings, clean sidewalks, luxurious cars, and unique infrastructure and thought “utopia!”
The 21-year-old from Richland, Washington, was one of 23 students from across WSU to participate in the Carson College’s new faculty-led study abroad experience in the United Arab Emirates.
He admits he was skeptical the program would even happen due to a rise in COVID-19 cases, but as the March 12 departure date inched closer, he started to feel excited.
“After getting off the longest flight of my life —14 hours— it seemed like I traveled 20 years into the future. I thought to myself, ‘I belong here,’” he says. “Over the trip, my goals grew exponentially. I realized what our generation is capable of achieving, and my entire plans for my future changed.”
The global business perspective and cultural insights Polinko and other students gained during that week are due to the leadership of Dipra Jha, assistant director of the School of Hospitality Business Management, who planned for 18 months to deliver an immersive study abroad experience like none other. Everything was hand crafted for the best educational experience for the students from the time they got off the plane, Jha explains.
“Very few American students study abroad in the Middle East,” he says. “The destination is culturally very different than our European locations and challenges students to examine stereotypes and misunderstandings about this part of the world.”
Jha collaborated intensely with the Emirates Academy of Hospitality Management to host the students as they spent time in Dubai and nearby Abu Dhabi learning about Emirati traditions, industry, and entrepreneurship. He says students experienced firsthand the city’s phenomenal transformation from a fishing village 40 years ago to the mega metropolis it is today.
Jha regards Dubai as a prime destination to learn about international tourism based on its culture, hospitality and tourism, and business development. Touring some of the most luxurious hotels and tourist spots in the world such as Atlantis, The Palm; the Burj Al Arab; the World’s Fair; and Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building, gave students an understanding of what it takes to operate properties at an exclusive level.
Emirati hospitality and culture open hearts and minds
Witnessing the opulence of “seven-star” hotels and the cosmopolitan lifestyle of the wealthy wasn’t what impressed students the most. When speaking about their experiences, several say it was the hospitality and modern thinking of the Emirati people that touched them in ways they didn’t expect, and in some cases, prompted a change in academic and career plans.
For Kaiya Phillips, a sophomore majoring in international business and marketing, visiting mosques and learning about etiquette and traditions at the Center for Cultural Understanding made her more self-aware and eager to embrace other cultures.
“There’s a certain beauty in experiencing another culture. It forces you to think differently and breaks down stereotypes, for example, that all of the Middle East is unsafe,” says Phillips. “As a woman, I felt safer in Dubai than in the United States.”
While she was already planning to pursue her MBA at the Emirates Academy, Phillips decided to add hospitality training to her WSU program.
“The trip 100 percent influenced my decision to add a hospitality minor,” she says after discovering an opportunity to do a six-month paid internship at a luxury hotel through the academy, after her MBA program. “This plan works perfectly because I want to work with people of international backgrounds and travel. I’ll be more prepared and efficient from the start.”
Dubai’s emphasis on women in tech sparks career exploration
Jaclyn Seifert, a senior studying public relations, and science and technology, says learning about Dubai’s progressive emphasis on women in tech is a huge reason she hopes to return to Dubai to complete an MBA and find a full-time job. From networking sessions with industry leaders and entrepreneurs, she learned about Dubai’s focus on striding toward and reimagining the future of technology and innovation such as robotics and AI aimed at solving urgent challenges and improving lives. “I want to be part of that world,” she says. “Dubai’s strong initiatives for women in tech fuel my passion and give me a sense of purpose for my career.”
Mackenzie Mosca, an accounting and management major, says seeing women in hotel management positions inspired her thinking about career opportunities outside of accounting and management. “It made me consider working in hospitality,” she says. “The international perspective and networking experience I gained in Dubai will benefit me anywhere I work.”
Because the Dubai experience was so successful, the Carson College is planning to offer it again in 2023, benefiting students across WSU campuses and majors.