Senior finds new perspectives on the world in Dubai

Allison Colburn with a camel
Allison Colburn and a camel on the farm of her Emrati hosts. She and the hosts were partners for the week of classes and she stayed the night on the farm after the program was over. Colburn said the camel was giving her love nudges with its nose (like dogs do when they want someone to pet them).

An internship with the international Women’s Leadership Institute at KU led Allison Colburn to a new major, a new passion and a trip to Dubai. Colburn, a senior from Manhattan, switched from nursing to sociology and is working on an honors project in which she is studying women’s NGOs in the Middle East and South Asia and how they empower women. Her connections with institute participants will help inform her research, as will a women’s leadership conference in Dubai on human trafficking that she attended over spring break.

After graduating in May, Colburn hopes to work for the State Department, embassies or NGOs focused on women’s rights. She traces her new passion to her involvement with the institute.

Read on to learn more about her incredible trip in her own words and see a few of her photos. Thank you for sharing, Allison!

Dubai, March 24 – April 3, 2013

I came to Dubai, United Arab Emirates to attend the women’s leadership conference, Insight Dubai. It was a week of learning about women in Islam as well as other women around the world. There were 43 countries represented and in groups we were able to learn what it is like for all of us living in our respective countries.

We discussed issues related to human trafficking, Sharia law (the governing system in the Gulf countries and other parts of the Middle East) and how it relates to women’s rights. We had a meeting with the Sheikh of Dubai – Mohammed Al Maktoum (second in command in the UAE after the President Sheikh Khalifa Al Nahyan) about the importance of global awareness and acceptance, and ended the conference with speakers working in the UAE to end violence against women.

Traditional dinner in Dubai
A traditional dinner prepared for guests on the first day of their visit. The hosts served rice, chicken, rabbit, lamb and several kinds of salads and veggies.

The conference was only five days long so we could only scratch the surface of these subjects, however I think all of us felt it was a tremendous success due to the effect it had on our worldviews and how we see others who differ from ourselves. Because I have studied a lot of what we discussed in the conference beforehand, I most enjoyed spending my time discussing women’s issues with other international members. I learned about a broad range of issues in the world; ranging from migrant African workers in Italy, sex trade in Cambodia, to the controversial use of the gamboo’a in the UAE (a puffy clip women wear under their veil to give it volume).

The possibilities to learn and the opportunities for inter-cultrual dialogue were never ending. I thought I would be learning about the Middle East and Islamic culture, but instead I learned about the world and how we really aren’t all that different from one another.

Allison Colburn wearing an abaya
Colburn took this photo of herself wearing an abaya at the Grand Zayeed Mosque in Abu Dabi, the capitol city of the United Arab Emirates. It is traditional for Emrati women to wear all black abayas with black shelas. Colburn describes the abayas as super light weight, which helps for keeping cool in the desert sun.

I have also enjoyed listening the call to prayer here. I don’t understand what the Imam is saying, but it sound beautiful, the song like words echo through the city and everything becomes peaceful, even with the sun beating down on my head I feel happy. The experience is unlike anything in the U.S. I am so grateful for an opportunity to visit a country so different from my own. I had heard that it was dangerous to visit the Middle East, and that I would not be accepted because I am not Muslim – but that is a gross lie. I have had no problems and everyone I have met has been courteous, aside from a few grumpy taxi drivers – but hey, that happens everywhere!

Dubai is a city where you find people from all walks of life. There are ex-pats from every country and the population is mainly foreign. I was surprised to hear that Emrati’s make up only about 5 to 7% of the population of Dubai. The biggest effect I saw from this was in the streets, there were shops everywhere and the people running them were from a different country every time. Shopping here is unlike anything in the US. One block is primarily Indian goods and the next is Indonesian or Moroccan. I wanted to take home Emrati souvenirs, but I ended up with Indian shoes, an Egyptian belly dancing outfit

View from the world's tallest building
Colburn took this photo from 124th floor of the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building. It shows the building’s shadow.

and a pot to make Turkish coffee. The most Emrati thing I have is the postcards and maybe my new abaya (which is really just what many muslim women wear, not just Emrati women).