Abu Dhabi Q&A- Vaughan Scott

After spending four days in Dubai, the group traveled to Abu Dhabi. What differences did you notice right away?

VS: Because it was during COVID, the most obvious difference was more people were wearing masks and being a bit more cautious. As for their clothing, people were in more traditional garb in Abu Dhabi, unlike the western attire we saw in Dubai. Overall, Dubai felt more westernized in general. Perhaps that’s because it’s a newer city. In terms of its setting, there was more water surrounding Abu Dhabi because it sits off the mainland on an island in the Persian Gulf.

Tell us about the architecture.

VS: Abu Dhabi is the capital of the UAE and has many grand buildings, along with some of the most celebrated skyscrapers in the world. The city was planned under the guidance of Sheikh Zayed in 1967, initially for a population of 40,000. Today the metro area population of Abu Dhabi is 1,540,000. As the central business district expands, the city has plans for many more new, extremely tall skyscrapers.

You mentioned they have a different business model for building these. How so?

VS: Yes. They don’t have the Western mindset that you plan to recoup your building investment in say 7 to 10 years. They aren’t really concerned about that. Their focus is making sure a building is beautiful and will last. It doesn’t have to be profitable from day one as a justification for it to be built. It might be 30 or 40 years before it makes a significant profit.

Let’s talk about your itinerary.

VS: Our first day was packed. We started out with a meeting at what’s known as AmCham, because it’s a member of the global network of American Chambers of Commerce. We heard from two speakers: Jay Huston, who is Chairman of the Board of Directors and works for Raytheon, and Alessandro Redaelli, the General Manager of Etihad Towers, a huge complex of buildings with five distinct towers.

One of the most interesting parts of the meeting for me was when I asked Mr. Huston, “As it pertains to hypersonic weapons, are the Chinese and Russians as far ahead as they profess to be and are we as far behind them as we pretend to be?” He laughed and said, “We can’t really fully disclose where we are with things,” but he did remind us of the great strides we’ve made in the past 50 years.

Later that day we met with Lamia Khaled Hariz, head of corporate communications for Abu Dhabi Islamic Bank. It was interesting to hear from a woman speaking about a bank that’s the fourth largest Islamic bank by assets and the primary bank for UAE nationals. The bank is what’s known as “sharia compliant,” which means it can’t make investments that derive a majority of their income from the sale of alcohol, gambling, pornography, weapons or pork products. A difference I noticed in their philosophy of banking is they seem to take a more humanistic approach and are more likely to understand hardships people are going through, even if it means suspending payments. This has been particularly true during COVID.

I understand you had some high-speed fun on day 2.

VS: Yes. We visited Ferrari World, the largest indoor theme park in the world and one dedicated to all things Ferrari. Besides the fun interactive things to do, there’s a major exhibit called “Women and Ferrari. The Untold Story.” It highlights the history of female race drivers and their inspiring contributions to Ferrari. The park is also a very family-friendly place with everything from mini-Ferraris for the kids to the chance to drive the real deal.

And did you drive the “real deal?”

VS: I did. I had an opportunity to drive a Ferrari on an actual highway. You go with a professional driver who instructs you first. It was a blast. I got to race one of our students from stoplight to stoplight. And I reminded him that this could be a situation where even if he won, he lost!

Tell us about the last day that included a visit to a mosque, a museum and a palace!

VS: On our final day we went to the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, the largest mosque in the country. It’s big enough to accommodate some 40,100 worshippers. I found it interesting that as you enter the mosque you go through what’s called “Tolerance Path,” where the first thing you see is pictures of the Pope and Queen Elizabeth. It reminds visitors of the country’s respect for all religions.

Then it was on to the Louvre Abu Dhabi, which is a component of the Louvre in Paris. Its gigantic collection includes archaeological finds, decorative arts, sculptures and paintings by modern masters.

We finished up the day at the massive and stunning Qasr Al-Watan Palace, a working presidential palace that’s located on a nearly one-hundred-acre campus. The entire site is situated on a peninsula.

Can you sum up the success of this adventure?

It was a fantastic experience for me. Reading the students’ reflection papers after we returned home revealed it was also an enormous success for them. I think an interesting point many walked away with was that maybe the U.S. is not as progressive as we think we are. In many ways we fall behind because we sometimes lack the ability to get things done, to make progress without divisiveness. It’s certainly food for thought.

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