by Rachel Giattino
This past spring Ralph Begleiter taught a unique class called Global Agenda: Understanding Political Islam. The class involved guest speakers knowledgeable about political Islam meeting privately with students before giving a public lecture. I took the class as an honors class. We met an additional time per week and video conferenced with a class from Zayed University, a womens university in Dubai.
Getting to know the girls in Dubai through our weekly video conferences, as well as Facebook, Skype, and Twitter on the days we did not have class, was an unforgettable experience. We discussed politics, dating, and everything in between. The class culminated with the girls actually coming to the United States to visit us over their spring break. We took them to New York City, Washington, D.C., Longwood Gardens as well as all over UDs campus. In Washington we toured the White House and the Capital, visited the Lincoln and the WWII memorials, and ate lunch at the Emirati embassy. The most memorable part of the day for me, however, was when I was on the bus with some of the girls while waiting for the rest of the students to return from the Jefferson Memorial. One of the Dubai girls hooked her iPod up to the bus speakers and we all danced together to traditional Middle Eastern music. Seeing and experiencing that little bit of their culture was incredible.
Another Honors student, Andrew Meyer, and I thought it was great that the girls were able to come visit us, but what if we visited them? So we applied for and received Alumni Enrichment Awards. At the start of our spring break we were sitting next to each other on a plane to Dubai. We spent the week with the girls who showed us unbelievable generosity. Every night a different girl hosted us for dinner in her home, including one memorable dinner on a beach on the manmade island, The Palm. They took us to visit their university where we sat in on a few of their classes, to the desert for dune bashing and camel riding, and even to Ski Dubai, an indoor ski slope where I skied for the first time in my life.
We spent our last night in Dubai in the desert where we had a picnic dinner consisting of traditional Emirati foods. Afterwards, we laid down in the soft sand and talked and watched the stars, and I realized how important classes like Honors Global Agenda are in creating a global network of peace. The Dubai girls are no longer strangers on the opposite side of the world, they are my friends. Friends I would never have met without this unique experience in the Honors Program.