Saturday, 8 June 2013

It's 4 am and I can't sleep...Jetlag and reflections on Dubai

The body is still adjusting to another time zone.
Just read through all the blogs posted so far – some great reflective comments.
Even though I’m regarded as the ‘old hand’ on these study tours it was really valuable to get a reality check on what a big deal this is for so many students, first time overseas, full of excitement and trepidation (often over little things). As those who know me from previous trips have heard me say ‘you won’t really learn anything until you get outside your comfort zone’. For some students everything about the study tour is outside their comfort zone and I need to remember that.
To some extent I have already played out every element of the study tour over and over because others and I have been working on this since Emma and I conceived it over 18 months ago. I have been organising the travel agent, the accommodation, liaising for over a year with Sheffield Hallam University, the bus tour operator in Sheffield (great company to work with), supporting Emma (who has taken on the program) and attending to emails.  On a rough count there have been over 800 emails through my account relating to every aspect of the study tour. I feel as though the actual study tour is an anti-climax because I have played out every aspect of it on my computer already.
Well enough of that reflection, how’s it going so far? As usual it’s not all smooth sailing, one poor student had their passport rejected at Melbourne Customs and had to fly 24 hours later (a technical hitch but terribly disappointing for her). In 14 previous study tours (La Trobe, RMIT and in a life prior to University) that has never happened before. Another student had her knee cap dislocated on the flight when the seat in front was pushed back too fast – thankfully she is sort of ok (great effort on her behalf to get it back into its right location). And then we ‘lost’ a couple of people on the Dubai bus tour for a while. And oh I nearly forgot, all of Ivan’s video-camera gear got picked up at Dubai customs and he and I had to do some fast talking about what he was doing with thousands of $ worth of equipment – thought we had a real problem for a while. Don't mess with customs. Oh well a few more grey hairs on me won’t be noticed. They do say everything comes in threes (fours?), I’ll settle for those four as the four worst events in the tour. Each study tour throws up some little challenges.
Although it's only a 24 hour stopover in Dubai, and it took ages to get through customs, and the bus tour dragged because we saw that traffic congestion on a Saturday afternoon and early evening in Dubai is now a real problem, the idea of a stopover on the way to an intensive program has again proved to be an important and recommended element in any program. This is the second time we have tried a stopover for a group before starting the intensive and assessment part, I would recommend it strongly for consideration on most trips particularly where a lot of students come together and many don't know each other. Putting everyone together in a group, even though it is really only as a tourist at this stage, really bonds people. If you do it in very different place to Australia it reinforces that you are a foreigner when you leave our shores.  Everyone in the group starts looking out for each other and everyone realises the value of working and sticking together.
Group photo outside the aquarium
So what did we learn from Dubai and our great bus tour guide ‘Etchy’ – I think that's what he said to call him. Dubai is exciting (it’s excited with itself), obsessed with being the biggest, tallest, mostest in the world at everything, and if it's not the best yet at something then it soon will be. It’s so disconnected from the reality of much of the rest of the world and yet it exists. It is in the eye of some a utopia (no taxes, low crime rates (interesting to see the figures), no graffiti (boring?), and neat and orderly (boring?). It's the city that only globalisation could produce.
Burj Khalifa - the world's tallest building
But it is not a reflection of anything but greed and envy, ingenuity and the value of a persistent vision. It is also in some elements the modern dystopian city, no elections (no Arab Spring here), ruled by elites of families, relying on low paid (exploited?) foreign workers. An artificial city that grows nothing has virtually no manufacturing base, and little history. The capitalist aspiration realised and it has conquered the adversity of its natural setting as well. It has no reason to exist other than for shopping and commerce, a collection of follies and fantasises brought to life. Is it the future or the rejectedfuture? Is it the imagined city that just happened to get built? The ultimate let’s imagine it, let’s dream it – let’s build it, Lego and SimCity in real life. The kind of city we had to build just to see what it would be like and 2.2 million people are in a giant experiment on behalf of humankind.  Does the human species need a Dubai because if we didn't have it then we would still be imagining it?
On a barge crossing Dubai 'creek'

We wanted a stopover that provided an alternative to Australian cities and those of the industrial north of the UK, well we got it. I recommend a Dubai stopover (two nights next time) for consideration on any future study tours where it works in the program.  You can’t study how cities are emerging across the world unless you have the concept of a Dubai somewhere in your real or imagined experience. 
- Trevor Budge (Associate Professor - Community Planning and Development Program) 

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