SU students attend the Education Without Borders conference and explore a modern Middle Eastern city-state
by Ed Ruggero
WHEN MEGAN PETRIE ’10 CHOSE TO WRITE a paper on Islam for a class on religious fundamentalism, she used as sources course texts, her professor and scholarly works available on the Internet. She never anticipated that within a few short months she’d have the opportunity to travel to a Muslim country for a firsthand view of a modern Middle Eastern state. Petrie and 10 other faculty-recommended students participated in the 2009 Education Without Borders conference held in the United Arab Emirates’ sheikdom of Dubai at the end of March.
At first Petrie thought the offer of a free trip to Dubai seemed a little too good to be true. “Even after I was accepted, I kept expecting to get an e-mail saying, ‘Your deposit for travel is due.’” Fortunately for the elementary education major from New Hope, Pa., Susquehanna provided financial support for what turned out to be a wonderful learning experience. “This was a pretty special opportunity,” Petrie says. “I was honored to be asked.”
Education Without Borders is a biennial conference hosted by the Higher Colleges of Technology of the United Arab Emirates. Its stated aim is to create networks across cultures and a forum where students and leaders from business, education, government and the humanitarian sector can share ideas on some of the world’s most pressing problems. Susquehanna President L. Jay Lemons also saw the conference as a step toward the kind of cross-cultural experience that will become part of every student’s undergraduate education starting with the Class of 2013.
“This is not a part of the world where SU students have had regular contact, but it’s an area growing in importance for the global economy,” Lemons says. “While this conference is not long enough to constitute the kind of experience the university has envisioned to fulfill the new requirement, it is a great opportunity for those attending and a chance for Susquehanna to test those educational theories that will be in play in other cross-cultural ventures.”
In Petrie’s case the opportunity started with that paper she wrote, in which she focused on Pakistan and Afghanistan. Her professor heard about the conference and suggested the trip would give her a close-up look at a liberal and politically stable Muslim country. “That kind of travel, with the chance to experience foreign cultures and learn about different ways of looking at things, is especially important for a teacher,” Petrie says. “I’ll have a broader perspective, which will make me better at my job.”
THE TRIP STARTED with a long bus ride from Susquehanna to JFK airport in New York City, followed by an epic 13-hour plane trip to the United Arab Emirates. The ultra-modern city of Dubai sits on the shore of the Arabian Peninsula where the Persian Gulf narrows toward the Strait of Hormuz. Dubai is a planned city being built mostly from scratch, with striking man-made islands and peninsulas fanned out like giant palms, and the Burj Dubai, currently the world’s tallest building at 800 meters. (In comparison, the antenna on Chicago’s Willis Tower [formerly Sears Tower] reaches a tad higher than 500 meters.)