After a thorough review of potential destinations, current risks, feasibility and appropriateness of business opportunities, we elected to take our Broad Executive MBA Class of 2022 to Dubai and Abu Dhabi, in the United Arab Emirates, for the Global Marketplace international residency last month. Additionally, we allowed alumni from the Class of 2021 to join us since they were unable to travel last year due to the pandemic. Traveling with 90 students and alumni came with challenges, but the program also made history by being the largest education abroad experience MSU has ever offered.

Over the course of seven days, students participated in a wide variety of different business experiences and cultural activities. They supplemented this with many opportunities to network and debrief about their experiences. Based on the feedback we’ve received, the program’s impact was significant.

Liliana Torres (EMBA ’22) offered her insight about her time abroad:

EMBA students at the Al Ain National Museum, Abu Dhabi, photo credit Sarah Mauragis

EMBA students at the Al Ain National Museum, Abu Dhabi

“Traveling to the UAE with my EMBA peers for the Global Marketplace was a wonderful and enlightening experience for me. I enjoyed tremendously the opportunity to visit diverse organizations and businesses, seeing how forward-looking they are and how quickly they have developed,” she said. “As we learned during our visit to the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum solar park, Dubai has a strategic goal of generating a large part of their electricity utilizing solar energy. They also keep improving the water desalination process with the goal of making it less energy-intensive and are improving their building standards to obtain sustainability certifications. It was surprising to see that in an oil-rich region, there is so much emphasis on the production of renewable energy.

“I was especially glad to learn that the UAE government is emphasizing the role of women in the economy,” she continued. “This was best exemplified during our visit to Hub 71 in Abu Dhabi, a tech ecosystem that supports startups with funding, coaching and access to top tech companies, among other benefits. There we learned that 36% of their startups are owned by women, who are encouraged to enter the tech field. There is still much room for improvement in this area, but I am hopeful that as their economy continues to grow, governments and businesses will find a way to make it more inclusive and equitable for all residents, nationals and expatriates alike.”

Connor McLeod (EMBA ’22) was awed by the multitude of ways the UAE is beneficial for business owners:

“The experience of our international residency/Global Marketplace in the UAE was one that I will cherish for the rest of my life. I will be able to reference and reflect on this in international business settings moving forward,” he said. “I benefited so much in just one short week in terms of networking, gaining cultural knowledge and business acumen. During our site visits, we covered a broad range of sectors: automotive, health tech, energy, supply chain/logistics and air travel. It was exciting that we had such a diverse experience and could see so many different industries.

Connor McLeod at the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, Abu Dhabi

Connor McLeod (EMBA ’22) at the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, Abu Dhabi

“If I were to pinpoint one aspect of the trip that derived the most added value for me, it would be the networking opportunities,” he continued. “Not only were we able to become closer with students from different cohorts, but we also had the opportunity to meet Class of 2021 alumni while gaining valuable insights and lessons learned. The ability to strengthen relationships with our own EMBA teammates was invaluable, and as a result, lifelong friendships were formed. My most memorable experience during the trip was the desert safari near Abu Dhabi with the cultural workshop. I also enjoyed the trip to the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque — the profound architectural beauty of the mosque left me speechless. Islamic values still have a very strong influence on the daily life in the UAE, even for non-Muslims.”

He also noted how the UAE is accommodating to entrepreneurship: “Foreign investors and business owners can fully own onshore companies in nearly all sectors. The UAE also removes barriers by offering extremely low import duties and requires corporate or income tax. Another attractive aspect is that the dirham is stable and secure against the U.S. dollar. The UAE is positioned greatly in terms of geographic location; it’s central to global reach. In terms of longevity, it will be interesting to see how UAE can backfill their GDP and economic activities with non-petroleum goods and services as the globe pushes towards renewable energy utilization.”

Overall, this year’s Global Marketplace was a huge success: students experienced hands-on learning around cultural similarities and differences as well as business opportunities and challenges in the Middle East. We look forward to seeing what new business partnerships evolve from the experience.