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Studying abroad in the city of gold

Students

One Professional MBA student’s perspective of experiential learning international business and entrepreneurship in Dubai

As the sun rises on my first day on a study abroad trip in Dubai, I’m able to get a view of my surroundings for the first time. I immediately take notice of two large cranes just a stone’s throw away from my window. For a short time, I watched the construction workers toil about in an amazingly efficient fashion.

I decided to pay a quick visit to the local market shop to purchase some essentials for the days to come. As I paid the shopkeeper he keenly looked me over. He held a great interest in my tattoos and asked me in his best English where I was from. “America.” I said, my response eliciting a sizable smile from him.

Increasing globalization of business and the settling of all nationalities have transformed the city into a melting pot of values and have given rise to a cosmopolitan culture that is in sync with other global cities.

As I leave the shop, I notice the buildings and people of the old city section of Dubai around me; bustling, authentic, with a great air of harmony to it. All walks of life can be seen going about their day. I see a large Merry Christmas banner on the balcony of an apartment adjacent to a Chinese restaurant.

It was these three observations about Dubai that set the tone for the rest of my CU Denver Business School study abroad trip. The culture of Dubai, one of seven city-states of the United Arab Emirates, is fascinating. Simultaneously, increasing globalization of business and the settling of all nationalities have transformed the city into a melting pot of values and have given rise to a cosmopolitan culture that is in sync with other global cities.

Safari study abroad

Safari trip in the desert

Building universities for the future

Our student group interacted with three universities throughout our study abroad trip. These included the University of Sharja, MODUL University, and American University at Dubai. I was able to interact with students and faculty of these universities to discuss the trends surrounding international business. One thing became apparent: the university system in the United Arab Emirates in regards to business is aligning its curriculum to closely match the United State’s curriculum.

Sharjah study abroad

University of Sharjah

Business students across the universities emphasized the importance of business education and interaction with the international business community. Faculty shared how their work focuses on specializing business degrees beyond the traditional MBA. More and more, it seems the United Arab Emirates will begin to offer some of the specializations that business schools like CU Denver offers.

Business students across the universities emphasized the importance of business education and interaction with the international business community.

What was impressive about universities in the Emirates is their ability to attract students from all over the world, which mirrors their business community. Students and faculty were proud in showing off their facilities and the futures of their business programs.

A progressive business environment

One of the main focal points of the study abroad trip involved understanding how business is conducted in the United Arab Emirates. We discussed this topic at length in relation to our studies in international business and by engaging with other business leaders. The United Arab Emirates is unique in that the leadership provides huge investments, subsidies, and resources to businesses. It is a prime example of how business can be done in other countries without protectionism or nationalistic tendencies.

“The United Arab Emirates is unique in that the leadership provides huge investments, subsidies, and resources to businesses.”

Thirty-seven Free Trade Zones (FTZ) exist throughout the United Arab Emirates, something no other nation can claim. Each FTZ is designed around one or more business industry categories and only offers licenses to companies within those categories. An independent Free Zone Authority governs each free zone, and is the agency responsible for issuing FTZ operating licenses and assisting companies with establishing their business in the FTZ.

Emirates Towers study abroad

Emirates Towers where top level business leaders guide Dubai

Investors can either register a new company in the form of a Free Zone Establishment (FZE) or simply establish a branch or representative office of their existing or parent company based within the UAE or abroad. An FZE is a limited liability company governed by the rules and regulations of the Free Zone in which it is established. Except for acquiring nationality in the UAE, the provisions of the Commercial Companies Law (CCL) do not apply to FZEs, provided that the Free Zones have special provisions regulating such companies.

They also allow for 100% repatriation of capital and profits of any firms working in the country.

Next door to Dubai, the Emirate of Sharjah is well known for their culture and industrial sectors in business. Here the local Chamber of Commerce matches entrepreneurs with investors, a common theme we saw visiting the other Emirates. The chamber also foresees travel, transportation, healthcare, and the diversification of energy as being the most important areas of business into the future. Sharjah has even gone to the length of creating a Minister of Artificial Intelligence position.

The chamber also foresees travel, transportation, healthcare, and the diversification of energy as being the most important areas of business into the future.

The business leaders in Dubai are keen to diversify their economy as much as possible. In doing so, they have become less reliant on oil and gas. Over 53% of the gross domestic product of Dubai has come from trade, logistics, and tourism. 15.6% of their gross domestic product comes from real estate and business services, make for a dynamic economy.

Downtown Dubai study abroad

Downtown Dubai

Over 53% of the gross domestic product of Dubai has come from trade, logistics, and tourism.

Our group was lucky enough to meet with Abdulfattah Sharaf, CEO of HSBC’s Middle Eastern region. His piece of advice for any business leader is to remain true to yourself and pursue what makes you passionate. It was beyond refreshing to hear some of this advice from someone that most likely is thought of as a pure finance leader.

Remain true to yourself and pursue what makes you passionate. – Abdulfattah Sharaf

The Internet City: Entrepreneurship in Dubai

Another aspect of experiential learning in the United Arab Emirates was how entrepreneurship is facilitated by governments and other businesses. Dubai wants as many startups and entrepreneurs to move their operations there as possible. The Internet City, a sub-region of Dubai, aims to foster an environment that is conducive to growing small businesses.

These business incubators and accelerators are part of Dubai Internet City with missions to help early-stage startups get on their feet. A wide range of services are provided including networking, knowledge centers, and resources to grow startups. These include comfortable, equipped and affordable offices combined with near-70 percent discounts on registration, licensing, and visa fees. Emirates Tower for Incubation Centers and Accelerators allows for a large melting pot of companies and nationalities.

Burj Khalifa study abroad

The world’s tallest building, Burj Khalifa, stands amid an amazing skyline

The World Trade Center of Dubai is also very active and always preparing to bring in new business. Perhaps the biggest effort they are making is for Expo 2020, a Universal Exposition to be hosted by Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, opening on October 20, 2020. Dubai’s Expo will be a festival of human ingenuity. Here they will showcase and explore what is possible when new ideas and people connect. Businesses from over 60 countries will be present, with a state of the art center being built just for the event. The United Arab Emirates selected the theme “Connecting Minds, Creating the Future”, sub-themes being Sustainability, Mobility and Opportunity.

Sheikhs study abroad

The Sheikhs leading modern business in the United Arab Emirates

Takeaways from the UAE

“It was a great study abroad trip that highlighted the business aspirations of the entire world coming together in one place.”

People in the United Arab Emirates are business oriented, but that does not take away from their ability for great hospitality and kindness. It was a great study abroad trip that highlighted the business aspirations of the entire world coming together in one place.

All in all, I realized how impactful and supplemental a study abroad trip is to any type of degree. Since I am in the Professional MBA program specializing in international business, this experiential learning was something that I could never have received in the classroom. Sometimes you can only learn by being in the environment and engaging with the business community.

Study abroad opportunities at the Business School take place in locations around the globe from Belize to China to Denmark. Options are available for students interested in a variety of disciplines including entrepreneurship, sports business, marketing, sustainability, and more.

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