Hello everyone! My name is Ben Levelius and I'm a 1st year SPIA student. I'll be helping to update the world on how we're doing as we attend a conference hosted by the Emirates Center for Strategic Studies focused on the Global Financial Crisis.
Yesterday was a long day. I got a ride to the Bangor International Airport at around 4:45am by a friend of mine, checked in, and took flight no. 1. We flew to New York-La Guardia, switched to New York-John F. Kennedy, jumped on flight no. 2, and proceeded to sit for 14 hours while our plane flew through New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maine, New Brunswick, Quebec, Labrador, south of Greenland and Iceland, north of Scotland, Denmark, Sweden, Poland, Ukraine, Moldova, the Black Sea, Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Kuwait and finally the United Arab Emirates. We landed in Dubai.
The Dubai International Airport was a new, beautiful building with an impressive design. We were all excited to see it and the city and desert surrounding it. Members from a travel agency met us immediately after we disembarked from the plane and whisked us to baggage claim in a 8-seat gator. We passed through rooms with huge pillars holding up (what looked like) a 30 foot ceiling, indoor palm tree lined walkways, and a waterfall running the length of a wall. The travel agency sped up our customs process and we were done in less than an hour.
The temperature at 10am was in the 70s (a lot nicer than the 40s we left behind in Bangor) and breezy. We all climbed into a bus that drove us 2 hours through Dubai and later the desert toward our hotel in Abu Dhabi. Everything is under construction. Dubai starts with a constantly growing number of sparkling skyscrapers followed by flag draped suburban condos and housing developments (their independence day is soon) and finally the desert. Unlike in Europe or East Asia, it seemed like the vast majority of the people drove big, American vehicles which, I suppose, is one of the benefits of sitting on an incredible wealth of oil. It was so different from what I'm used to and yet had elements of familiarity.
When we arrived in Dubai we checked ourselves into the Beach Rotana before having the afternoon to ourselves. Teddy, Brett, and I explored the streets and went shopping in two malls for souvenirs. Everything is gleamingly new. When exploring Europe, Asia, or even North America, you get a sense of history, but there just hasn't been enough time between the first sky-scrapers and now for you to get that feeling, yet. I'm sure when we have our cultural excursions later this week, I'll develop a different opinion, though. The United Arab Emirates is also a very multiethnic area. While we were shopping we passed people from East Asia, South Asia, the Middle East, Europe, Africa, and North America speaking nearly any and every language you can think of. The differing degrees of adherence to Islam was also interesting. It's, so far, been a really fantastic experience.
When we arrived back at the hotel I took a nap followed by drinks and dinner with the other SPIA students downstairs at one of the hotel restaurants. Later we were joined by several members of the SPIA Board and conference attendees. I made it to bed at around 10pm, UAE time. Tomorrow our conference begins!