An Adventure in Abu Dhabi

John Girard, Professor of Information Technology at Middle Georgia State University
2016 Fulbright Specialist to the United Arab Emirates

In September 2013, I submitted an application to join the roster of the Fulbright Specialist Program. Today, two years and four months later, I am in the very final stages of completing the first phase of a grant with Al Ain University of Science and Technology. During this three-week session, I have delivered a series of lectures, at both the graduate and undergraduate levels, facilitated faculty workshops, and worked with University leaders to expand their knowledge management program.

The adventure began with me traveling to the United Arab Emirates to work with Al Ain University of Science and Technology (AAU). My grant is part of the Fulbright Specialist Program, a program sponsored by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) of the U.S. Department of State and administered by the Council for International Exchange of Scholars.  The Fulbright Specialist Program awards grants to U.S. faculty and professionals approved to join the Specialist Roster in select disciplines to engage in short-term collaborative projects at eligible institutions in over 140 countries worldwide. Shorter grant lengths give Specialists greater flexibility to pursue projects that work best with their current academic or professional commitments.  In my case, the short-term feature was particularly appealing, especially when compared to the Fulbright Core U.S. Scholar Program that often is one semester or two semesters in length.

I have especially enjoyed the opportunity to engage with students at Al Ain University as well as its sister university, Al Falah University, in Dubai.  I suppose the biggest surprise to me was just now similar Emeriti and American students really are.  The intellectual curiosity and thirst for knowledge that I witnessed in the UAE mirrors what I see everyday in my classes in the United States.  Equally interesting was my discovery that the faculty in the UAE have very similar challenges as faculty at home, for example, the increased demands of accreditation.  In so many ways, the two environments are very alike.

I think a very important part of any international experience, and especially Fulbright grants, is to learn about the environment in which you are immersed.  To that end, I spent countless hours wandering through the neighborhoods surrounding the campuses I visited.  It was absolutely fascinating to discover restaurants, coffee shops, dessert cafes and so much more.  I wrote a blog about some of the unique things I discovered that seemed different than home.

I must admit that when I applied for the program I was not very confident that I would be accepted.  I thought applying would be a good experience and that I might learn enough to be successful in a future application.  That was 26 months ago and now I am finishing the first phase of the adventure.   I have what is called a serial grant so I will be returning to continue my work with Al Ain University in the autumn. The experience has been incredibly valuable, and I look forward to sharing much more about the adventure on my home campus.

Read more about my Fulbright experience here.