First, let me say that this Exchange was one of the most unique and fascinating activities that I probably will ever have the chance to participate in. I am so grateful to the Emirates Foundation, Joanna Lynch, and our host, the His Highness the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, for allowing me to participate as Truman Scholar in this program.

That being said, I am excited to be back in America. I was honestly quite exhausted physically from the travel and full schedule as well as mentally from continuous contemplation and internal questioning on everything that I observed. As I sat down to write a summary of the trip, I had every intentions of discussing the two of the items that concerned me the most: development in the UAE and their government that owns/runs EVERYTHING. I then noticed the posts by Scott and Kurt, so please read those and know that I agree full-heartedly with their comments.

Having been back for a few days, I have had time to reflect on what has been the most meaningful take-aways from the trip. Obviously, I have made new friendships that span the globe. I feel that I learned so much from both groups. The Emiratis were open in sharing their culture and country with us while being willing to withstand our intense questioning about everything. While our cultures, beliefs, values, and priorities do not always line up, I realized that these people and this nation has the potential to emerge as a strong ally for us in such a volatile region. I am not saying that there are not issues that need to be worked on, but their moderate stances and progressive plans make them a potential partner for us on facilitating peace and establishing more diplomatic relationships and commerce in the Middle East. I was amazed to see their interest in US affairs and politics.

On our very first day, I was drawn into a totally unexpected deep conversation about rural development and politics with Muath. Internationally, I was quite aware how US politics were followed, but I had no idea how acutely people could discuss partisan politics in the States. With this opportunity, I was privileged to discuss being a Southern Republican and what that means for me. It was interesting and quite thrilling to break down stereotypes and preconceived notions about being a person that adheres to conservative principles and applies them progressively to policy. I was glad to show that there is more than George W. Bush (who is reviled there) in the Republican Party. On a less serious note, I was also proud to represent the South, Alabama, and The University of Alabama (Roll Tide!) by sharing bits of culture and my accent, which was so enjoyed that I received numerous compliments and was even recorded so I could be listened to all the time, haha.

Apart from the educational goals of the exchange, I had one priority: to ride a camel. I am happy to say that this was accomplished during our desert safari, and it more than met my expectations. The camel is such a large and awkward animal that it really takes effort to stay on. You get bounced around, and you have to really hold on when they lunge forward and kneel down if you don’t want to go flying through the air. Other fun memories for me include jumping sand dunes on our safari, playing water polo in the pool, swimming in the Indian Ocean, getting the most absurd sunburn and tan ever seen, and being treated like royalty at what I am sure are the nicest hotels in the world. As a person that loves to cook and truly appreciates good food, I must say that everything we ate was top notch. From fruit juices to hummus to gargantuan shrimp, our stomachs were always full, and I know I was always quite pleased and even blown away with the tastes and flavors that I encountered. To cap off this grand adventure, the Trumans, accompanied by our friend Muath and our photographer Bashir, went to a club (comparable to a really nice club in any big US city) in Dubai where we were treated to truly wonderful night (but only after getting the right mix of men and women to let us in). We had a great time sharing laughs, dances, and drinks to bring closure to this grand voyage. I know that the memories made and the friendships formed will stay with me for the rest of my life, and at the end of the day, I honestly feel that these are the only things that really matter. And who knows, maybe someday I shall have the honor to be in the UAE again…Inshallah!