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Grad Students Broaden Perspectives in Dubai

April 21, 2010

Education broadens a person's perspective of the world, and under the guidance of their professor, Gene King, four Oklahoma Baptist University graduate students recently traveled to the United Arab Emirates for 10 days of experiential learning about the business and cultural environments of the rapidly changing country. For some, it was a life-changing experience.

Students Christina Balmer, Patty Eneff, Grace Kong and David Sisco - all working to earn their MBA degrees at the OBU Graduate School - visited business sites, educational sites and cultural sites in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Al Ain and Sharjah Jan. 10-22. Having lived in Dubai for a year with his wife and children, King, who serves as associate professor of business at OBU, guided the students to maximize their on-site learning opportunity.

During a recent international learning experience to the United Arab Emirates, OBU Graduate School students (from left) Patty Eneff, Tina Balmer, Grace Kong and David Sisco, accompanied by their professor, Gene King (right), had the opportunity to visit with two Emirati men, Hamed and Rashid, over coffee at Mercato Mall in Dubai.

The group's objectives were to increase their appreciation and understanding of the Emirates in terms of the economy and culture; to increase their knowledge of the regional and international business environment; and to observe the multi-cultural nature of business organizations operating in the Emirates. They also had the opportunity to observe the distinctive business architecture which has grown in the region since the turn of the century, as well as the cultural diversity which has endured for generations.

"The international business emphasis is important because we live in a global economy," King said. "You can't escape aspects of international business. The people who will be the best prepared for business are those who have international experience. This course takes them into an international environment and allows them to practice the intercultural skills they learned in class.

"It's also important for them to see how sophisticated these businesses are, and how well-run they are. It opens their eyes to the competition on the global market and gives them a vision for their own business practices."

The City of Dubai boasts modern architecture - such as this view close to the World Trade Center looking in the direction of Sheik Zayed Road - indicative of the rapidly changing business environment of the area. OBU graduate students recently visited business sites, educational sites and cultural sites in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Al Ain and Sharjah.

King said companies looking to set up regional or hemispherical offices have moved to Dubai, currently one of the hot spots for business. The group visited several businesses and sites in the Emirates including Halliburton's Global Headquarters for the Eastern Hemisphere, Schlumberger's geo-market headquarters for the Middle East, Baker Hughes' Middle East headquarters, the American University of Sharjah, the Commercial Service of the U.S. Consulate in Dubai and the important Jebel Ali Free Zone. The group met with numerous leaders at each location with the opportunity to interact with them and discuss various topics important to the group's objectives.

"We got to visit with some top-quality global businesses," King said. "They went beyond my expectations of how they hosted us. Several top managers spoke to us on topics including human resources, increasing oil businesses and increasing business in the Middle East."

King said the group also had several beneficial cultural experiences within a very short amount of time, such as visiting a desert oasis town, riding camels on a desert safari, eating a traditional desert meal and sharing coffee and conversation with Emirati men at Starbucks. Because 80 percent of the people in Dubai are foreigners, he said the opportunity to have a direct connection with local people was an unusually good experience.

Grace Kong, who is a Chinese national studying on-site at OBU, said the trip offered several "firsts" for her: It was her first time to travel with Americans, her first opportunity to engage with foreign companies and her first time to "bargain" in purchases.

"Although I lived and studied with American students on campus, I can admit that I felt pretty nervous because we would go to a different country where I would be out of place," Kong said. "But later, what I felt was that I had good times and a family. They tried their best not to make me feel alone such as talking with me, explaining the words I did not understand and caring about my health. People around me were so nice. I will not forget these nice people in America who helped me."

Even in China, Kong said the opportunity to engage foreign companies is rare for college students, which made the experience more valuable for her.

"What impressed me most was the environment and culture of their companies," she said. "The working experience I have is just several months of internship in China. In my mind I could not imagine how American companies work together. The other thing that moved me a lot was the leaders who gave us speeches. They are smart, visional, enthusiastic and kind. Choosing a totally different lifestyle in a totally different country is a hard decision for everyone."

OBU Graduate School students (from left) Patty Eneff, Grace Kong, David Sisco and Tina Balmer, visit the Al Ain Oasis in Abu Dhabi Emirate during a recent trip related to their work toward MBA degrees. OBU's MBA program includes an element providing students the opportunity to experience international venues.

Kong said the speeches of the business executives impressed her to the point she made an important personal decision for her life: to foster a relationship with God. She said during the trip, she realized the kind of person she wants to be. One night when she could not sleep, she asked herself the same questions again and again: "Why did I come here? Why did I choose OBU? Why have I met so many nice people? Why is my English name 'Grace'?"

"The answer I found is God blesses me and always directs me," she said. "I made an important decision and told to Dr. King, 'I want to be a person like these CEOs and managers that can give fluent speech in their second language and work in a foreign country.'"

Kong said she also understood the culture shock some people experience when they make the difficult decision to live and work in a different culture.

"After the trip, I changed a lot," she said. "I started to receive American culture, to make more friends, to study the Bible, to appreciate everything I own, to help other new Chinese students to overcome the culture shock and to find the truth. I am heading for my goal. I believe that I can do that."

King said the collective group gained an understanding and appreciation of the Emirati culture and international business and travel. Some of the students have expressed an interest in exploring living and working in Dubai. Based on the success of the trip, King is planning the next trip to the Emirates for OBU's MBA students.

King has been teaching in higher education for 11 years, primarily in the fields of international business and marketing. Before teaching, he marketed industrial products in the Middle East for a leading multinational corporation of industrial flow control products. Over the years, he has led numerous student teams conducting international market research, including projects targeting Argentina, Brazil, China, France, Germany, Italy, Mexico and South Korea. He has led student groups on international academic trips to Brazil, Europe, Mexico and UAE. He has lived in numerous countries including Brazil, China, Dubai, Egypt, Malaysia, Nigeria and Saudi Arabia.