May 11, 2005
By Breana Krotz
Six Ohio University women involved in the Global Learning Community (GLC) had the unique opportunity to experience the Middle Eastern culture hands on during a three-day women's leadership conference in the United Arab Emirates.
The conference, "Women as Global Leaders: Educating the Next Generation" drew positive attention worldwide from students, educators and professionals. Approximately 750 students from 41 countries around the globe participated in the first ever women's conference, bringing a unique perspective to each conversation.
The conference, held at Zayed University, focused on the role of women in a progressive Middle Eastern country, which is often misrepresented and misunderstood from a global perspective.
Students agreed the trip was an "eye-opening experience and were surprised at how real the Arab women and culture became."
"It was an amazing experience, indescribable really," said Lindsay Booth, a junior International Studies major. "Talking to all the women from around the world was the best part of the trip. There was so much to learn from each of them, particularly the Middle Eastern women. They were all so open-minded and very curious about Americans."
Many government leaders and officials spoke, including Gro Harlem Brundtland, the former prime minister of Norway and former director of the World Health Organization; Tipper Gore, former mental health policy adviser to President Bill Clinton and Kim Campbell, former prime minister of Canada, were a few of the featured speakers.
"It was a great opportunity for women to meet women," said Greg Emery, GLC director. "There were such amazing women from around the world all coming together for the same purpose. They really set the tone for the conference."
In addition to attending various speakers, students participated in multiple mini conferences and workshops, where they discussed issues such as women and peace, conflict resolution, dispelling myths of Islamic women and social/cultural topics of the Middle East.
"The women spoke about how Islam was progressive, yet there were two paths they could choose to follow," said Chelsea Stallkamp, a sophomore communications major. "Some women do not wear the traditional robes because they find it to be oppressive, whereas others had a completely different perception and found them to be a form of expression."
Students were given the opportunity to experience the Middle Eastern culture and landscape first-hand on a desert safari outside Dubai.
"We were bussed about an hour and a half from the conference to an Arabian fort in the middle of the desert. It was incredible," Emery said. "There were beautiful rugs on the floor, Arabian food, music and camels that you could ride around the fort."
According to Booth, speakers from the United Arab Emirates shared their mission and hopes of changing the perception of the Middle East to a more positive, realistic perception of the area.
"Dubai was absolutely beautiful, unlike anything I had ever seen. It was not at all what you would expect a city in the Middle East to look like," Booth said. "We stayed in this beautiful five star resort and were treated exceptionally well."
"The experience really made a tremendous impact on the Global Learning Community as a program," Emery said. "We've realized the strong interest students have in the Middle East and are working to incorporate more learning projects about the culture. And we're planning to attend next year's conference at Zayed University."
For more information about the Global Learning Community, visit www.ohiou.edu/glc/.
Breana Krotz is a student writer with University Communications and Marketing.