Two weeks ago, 75 college-aged girls from around the world traveled to Dubai to participate in the Insight Dubai Conference. From March 23-27, each participant was matched with an Emirati buddy from the Dubai Women’s College.
Throughout the week, these women worked in small groups, listened to guest speakers and panelists, went on field trips, and took part in simulations and role-plays in order to gain a deeper understanding of such topics as shari’ah law, Arabic government, peace, and human trafficking. This year, four Boston College students attended: Diane Bernabei, A&S ’14; Shannon Inglesby, A&S ’15; Bridget Manning, A&S ’15; and Christina Iacampo, A&S ’16.
Iacampo, who first heard about the conference from an email from the Islamic Civilization and Societies listserve, said, “I was interested in it because I hadn’t traveled to the Middle East, so it was a good opportunity to do that, and I was really hoping for some kind of cultural experience.” She was also attracted by the international nature of the program, as college women from all over the world attend.
When the participants arrived at the Dubai Women’s College, they were each matched with one or two Emirati buddies from the college. These Emirati women helped introduce and assimilate the conference members to their culture, and participated in the various group discussions and activities.
On the second day, the conference participated in an Islamic court simulation. “We were introduced to a fictional case and had to decide based on shari’ah law if the mother or father would be given custody of these three children. I was one of the judges,” Iacampo said. “It was interesting because there were a lot of intricacies in shari’ah and differences in the different schools of Islamic law.”
For example, depending on the school of law, the age of reason, when a child can pick which parent he or she wants to live with, varied from when the baby stopped breast-feeding to the age of 13.
Participants also discussed various aspects of human trafficking with their small groups. “My small group focused on forced marriage,” Iacampo said. “That was more global, a broad, surface-level discussion of human trafficking.” She then described how it was interesting to talk about a more specific form of human trafficking.
Other small group discussions focused on common values. “[Participants] engaged with a buddy on what values we all have,” she said. “We reached points where things aren’t familiar.” For example, Iacampo described not being able to take pictures of the Dubai women unless she asked permission first. When Iacampo asked her buddy about this, her buddy replied that if they put pictures of themselves on the Internet, it could ruin their chances for marriage if the boy or his family saw the pictures.
Iacampo was surprised that the Emirati women didn’t have any pictures of themselves posted on their Facebook accounts, but instead had pictures of other things, like cartoons. “I was surprised because they love Instagram, Snapchat, love taking photos, but can’t share photos of themselves the same way that we do,” Iacampo said.
Members of the conference also got to sightsee around Dubai. One visit included a trip to Heritage Village, a town that the Emirati are trying to preserve as an old village from before Dubai was modernized 40 years ago. Iacampo said it was interesting to experience the different perspective of being in a relatively new country. She described going to museums and seeing office chairs from the 1970s treated with the same care and importance that Americans might give to chairs from the Revolutionary War era. By visiting Heritage Village, Iacampo stated, “I saw efforts to preserve and create their history, maintaining old-style buildings with the hope that they will grow in history.”
The conference sat in on the Federal National Council, where Emirati council members convene to talk about different political topics. That day, the council was discussing instating compulsory military service in the United Arab Emirates. Although the entire council was in Arabic, Iacampo was able to understand a few parts and thought it was a great experience to be able to witness that part of the UAE’s history being made.
Other tours included going to the top of Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world, and going on a desert safari, where the girls rode the dunes in land cruisers, which Lacampo described was like being on a roller coaster.
Iacampo’s favorite part of the trip was going to the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, the largest mosque in the UAE and a key center for Islamic worship. The conference members had to borrow an abaya (the full-body robe) and a shayla (the head scarf) from their Emirati buddies, because women must be covered when entering the mosque. “I liked wearing the clothes to be anonymous in that way,” she said. The mosque is huge, with a capacity for 50,000 worshippers, and Iacampo said it was simply remarkable. Iacampo described the reflection pools, white marble, and gold leaf embellishments. The mosque also hosts the largest carpet in the world and the third largest chandelier in the world.
According to Iacampo, “the most valuable thing I got from [the conference] was just realizing how similar I really am to some of these Emirati girls, who have extremely different personal values in some cases.” Iacampo also enjoyed being able to experience the Emirati culture firsthand. “I gained more from the relationship part of it than I expected,” she continued.
BC students interested in attending the conference next year can apply to the program in the fall. Kathleen Bailey, a professor within the political science department, can be contacted with any questions.