Wednesday, May 03, 2006

April 29 – Dubai: Paving the Way for Student Exchange

The day started with the sort of hotel breakfast buffet that one sees in business hotels—a choice of hot and cold cereal, eggs and breads. But I knew I was not in Sacramento when I was offered a choice of camel milk. Reza and I gave camel's milk rice pudding a try. Not bad.

Reza Abbaszadeh and I had flown six hours from the beautiful old European capital of Paris with its historic buildings and associations to Dubai, a city in the United Arab Emirates that had barely existed 25 years ago. It is the visionary risk management project of an emeritate hedging against the day when oil will run out. When that happens, Dubai—a combination trading-financing-entertainment-shopping city—will be firmly in place providing an income to generations of Emirati, as locals are called.

We had several hours before our appointment at the U.S. Consulate, so we went to see a bit of this newly constructed entrepôt in the desert. We started with the much-discussed Emirates Mall. It is three stories tall and filled with every sort of luxury brand you can think of—Gucci, Piaget, Prada—as well as Carrefour, a French grocery and household goods store. One could outfit a house or buy a cruise. Most surprisingly, one could ski!

There is a long slope with groomed, man-made snow and ice sculptures for good measure. People were sledding, snowboarding and otherwise disregarding the fact that they live in the desert. One had the sense, after visiting the mall that money could defy nature, at least for awhile. Indeed, drinking water is produced by desalinization plants.

Dubai has a Knowledge Village where companies like Cisco, Intel and Samsung are clustered. There is a Health Care City with modern hospital, dental, physiotherapy and related services. Under development is an academic territory where local, European and American institutions of higher education are setting up partnerships and outposts. They are betting that Dubai will become a learning center for the Middle East. The consulate told us that Harvard was considering a site.

Reza and I were on time for our consulate appointment, but there were layers of security to negotiate. Our cab had to run a slalom course designed to slow down vehicles. Three different security stops checked our identification and screened us. It took 15 minutes to make it up to the consulate offices.

We had a meeting with the economic and political consul, the officer in charge of visas, and a young woman who advises students seeking to study in the U.S. The three of them were cordial and asked about the exchange we were hoping to achieve. Who were the students? Why did they want to come to the U.S.? Who would pay their expenses? Would they receive a degree? They were concerned that the students have an incentive to return to Iran.

They told us how the approval process works. First, UC Davis has to get a license from the U.S. Treasury Department. The Treasury Department?

Trade with Iran is strictly limited to medical supplies, agricultural goods, rugs and a few other items. Information exchange is permitted and the Iranian students we hope to educate will be "importing" information back that an American scholarship has paid for. Hence the need for a license to trade to make sure that the "goods" are legal. I am sure there is logic to this but it was not immediately obvious to me.

They were, I think, persuaded that this program holds no harm to U.S. foreign policy and spent two hours with us. But they were clear about their need to enforce the law. When young students from countries with high unemployment rates want to come to the U.S. they exercise great scrutiny over their applications.

It struck me as ironic that Canada is creating incentives for talented people and those with financial resources to emigrate there while the U.S. creates obstacles as a matter of policy.


Blogger lifeIsNotADressRehearsal said...

It was interesting to note your comment about how Canada is wooing international students while the US is opting for tighter and more restrictive policies.I highly recommend Richard Florida's 'Flight of the Creative Class' which is centered around this and other reasons for why US might be in danger of losing its competitive edge in attracting the best and the brightest from across the world.

12:59 PM  

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