Each March, MCLA takes students around the world during the annual spring break. This year, nine students in a women's studies class will travel to United Arab Emirates (UAE) to attend an international conference on women.
They will accompany their professor to Dubai and Abu Dhabi for the "Women as Global Leaders" conference, organized by Zayed University, which focuses on women's emergent and current leadership roles across the globe, as well as the practice of educating students for and about leadership.
Primarily a student leadership conference, "Women as Global Leaders" draws participants from more than 85 countries and from across all sectors, including education and government.
To prepare for the experience, they have been looking at issues pertaining to women and leadership, especially in Muslim countries, in Petra Hejnova's "Women as Global Leaders" class.
Hejnova designed the class around the conference, which was last held in 2008. One of the MCLA students will present her paper, "Ecofeminism: Environmentalism as a Women's Issue," at the conference, after it was selected in a very competitive process.
"The conference always attracts very interesting speakers, including prominent world leaders and personalities," Hejnova said. At the last conference, speakers included Jane Fonda and Helen Thomas.
In preparation for the trip, Hejnova's class is examining theory of women in leadership, as well as the culture in the UAE, as they look at the historical, social, economic and political issues of Islamic societies.
"We spend a lot of time talking about Islam as a religion. We talk about cultural norms" she explained. "The social structure is really interesting because the majority of the population in the United Arab Emirates consists of immigrants. I want them to have an understanding of the environment they will be going to."
In addition to attending the four-day conference in Abu Dhabi, the students will spend several days in Dubai where they will experience some of the cultural and religious aspects of that part of the world through visits to a mosque, historical museums and even the spice and textile markets.
The experience may also include a barbecue in the desert and a camel ride or two.
"They will get to know a country in the Middle East and meet women not only from the Middle East, but other parts of the world, as well," Hejnova explained. With increasing globalization, "Our students will compete for jobs with people from other parts of the world. It's important that they meet people and they understand where they are coming from, how other cultures throughout the world operate and how they see things. I'm hoping they will network and make connections with people from other parts of the world."
Hejnova expects her students will gain an expanded perspective from being exposed to the people and ideas of other cultures. "That always teaches you more about your own culture and about yourself. Unless you have something to compare it to, how do you understand who you are and what your country is like?"