When Jessica Nestell and Patricia DeOliveira graduated from Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts this spring, they took with them memories made more than 6,700 miles off campus.
They were among a group of nine students who traveled to United Arab Emirates to attend the "Women as Global Leaders" conference at Zayed University in Abu Dhabi, and also explored daily life and culture in Dubai.
"It wouldn't have been something I elected to do on my own, but I'm glad I did," said Nestell, a dual major in psychology and sociology with a minor in social work.
The international field trip was organized by Petra Hejnova, an assistant professor of public policy and political science at MCLA, who encourages students to consider traveling outside the North Adams campus community whenever possible.
She's previously taken students to Prague and also hopes to do more domestic travel-study experiences in the future.
"You can't understand your own culture unless you see it in a comparative context," she said.
So, Hejnova designed a women's studies class around the conference, which focused on emerging and current leadership roles of women across the globe. Prior to the trip, students read Islamic texts, reviewed statistics on the status of women in the Middle East and discussed the culture of the region.
"I learned that the drive for women is the same all around the world -- we all want better for ourselves,"
Once in Abu Dhabi, the group of MCLA students were given opportunities to interact and learn from other conference participants, who represented a total of more than 85 countries combined. Speakers included Zayed University President and U.A.E. Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research Sheikh Nahayan Mabarak Al Nahayan; Princess Lolowah al-Faisal Al Saud, member of the Saudi Arabian royal family and ambassador for economics and advancing the status of women; even American actress and environmentalist Sigourney Weaver.
In addition to attending the four-day conference, the students spent several days visiting mosques, museums, spice and textile markets, and other venues in Dubai.
"You learn that people are people, no matter where they are," said Jessica Russo, a rising senior studying political science and biology at MCLA.
The students said they've kept in touch with their fellow conference participants via Facebook and Twitter.
Said Hejnova, "[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."
On the Web ...
To learn more about study abroad program at MCLA, visit www.mcla.edu/Academics/academicresources/career/travelcourses.