Exchange Matters / February 22, 2019

Alabama to Dubai: A Cultural Exchange

Loriann Lawrence in Dubai. Photo credit: Loriann Lawrence


In a unique reverse exchange, a former intern at Global Ties Alabama traveled to Dubai and reconnected with a participant who visited Huntsville, AL as part of the 2018 IVLP project “Hidden No More.” She recounts her visit here:

A month before my trip to Dubai, I met Maryam Al Thani during my internship at Global Ties Alabama. Maryam is an engineer at the Dubai Electric and Water Authority who we hosted as part of the 2018 “Hidden No More” exchange comprised of female innovators from around the globe making an impact in STEM fields.

During Maryam’s time in Alabama, I served as a guide for the group, greeting and picking them up at the airport, and also leading walking tours of downtown Huntsville. As I learned more about where each participant was from, I learned that Maryam was from Dubai and shared that I would visiting her country soon. We exchanged numbers with hopes to meet again in Dubai, but I didn’t put much thought into it. In spite of this, Maryam was immensely excited for me to visit Dubai and sent me tourist resources and suggestions.

As the date came closer, my excitement grew. It was slowly sinking in that I was really going to the “City of Gold,” famous for its record-breaking monuments and jaw-dropping luxuries. I landed in Dubai after the 15-hour flight and wasn’t disappointed—the beauty of Dubai was far more than I ever imagined. I couldn’t wait to meet Maryam again and explore Dubai with her.

Upon our meeting, I was unexpectedly showered with souvenirs by Maryam. We drove to Old Dubai where she gave me a quick history lesson about the United Arab Emirates. Then she took me a favorite local spot for an amazing meal of traditional Emirati cuisine. The personal tour got even better when Maryam took me on a boat ride across the Dubai Creek to the souks, where she haggled for me and showed me the quality products made in the UAE.

The experience is one I will never forget. My time in Dubai would have been vastly different without Maryam’s perspective of Dubai and its hidden gems. Without my internship at Global Ties Alabama and hosting the “Hidden No More” group, this reverse cultural exchange would not have happened.

As an aspiring entrepreneur, I see myself doing business with people from around the world and such people skills are necessary. I learned that I enjoy interacting with people from other countries. Exchanging with the visitors gave me insight into their countries, comparing the similarities and differences with my own. My experience at Global Ties Alabama helped me recognize and pay closer attention to cultural differences in order to facilitate communication with our visitors.

Loriann served as an intern at Global Ties Alabama in 2018. She is a student at Oakwood University in Huntsville, AL studying French, art, and marketing. She is pursuing a career in interior design and real estate.