Category Archives: Niagara College Taif

Look who’s home!

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There’s no place like it

My great Middle East odyssey has come to an end. After a year and three months of living a once-in-a-lifetime experience, I find myself back home in Canada. I will take advantage of some remaining vacation time to get things back in order and I will then rejoin my colleagues at the Niagara-on-the-Lake campus for the winter semester.

What an adventure! It feels great to be home but I am very conscious that I left a lot of new friends back in Taif. The memories, too numerous to list here, boggle the mind when I think back on the hectic, chaotic, work-filled, extremely long days of the first few months last August. All of the meetings, special events and open houses we attended and organized seem like a blur today. You know you’re part of a very special team when you can get together at the end of those long days and still laugh and enjoy the experience.

I have Dave Taylor to thank for making this whole journey a reality. He kept warning me that it was going to one hectic ride…and he didn’t lie! I also owe thanks to Sean Kennedy for allowing me to be part of this incredible team. It always amazed me in those early days that no matter how busy and frenzied the workload was, Sean was there, sleeves rolled up, digging in to help. He kept our sanity by treating us to some Baskin-Robbins ice cream once or twice…a day! There’s a rumour around here that Sean is single-handedly responsible for increasing the value of the franchise! Being a part of the small team that tackled daily challenges and always found ways to meet them will always be something that I will be immensely proud of.

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Dave Taylor and Sean Kennedy rockin’ those sunglasses!

Getting to know Bassem Makzoumi will always be one of the best things to come from this adventure. I had to opportunity to meet him a few times at the Welland campus before he flew over to Taif before I did. Once I arrived, we became fast friends. Sharing an office and our daily challenges helped to develop a bond that will last forever. He’s a negotiator, a salesman, a diplomat but above all else, he is fiercely loyal to the college and his friends. My first week in Saudi, he was nice enough to take me with him when he went for a haircut.  Now Bassem has a brush cut so you don’t need a lot of explanation to get the barber to do that. I, however, have an award-winning and stunning hairstyle that is the envy of all (Would it kill you to play along?). So Bassem goes first and gets his cut done in minutes and then he gets up and says he has a few things to buy and will be back shortly. So…here I am, my first week in Saudi, sitting in a barber’s chair with a guy asking me in Arabic what I’d like done. Luckily, the results left me as handsome as ever!

Bassem was my constant companion for the first six months or so. Our rooms were across the hall from each other at the hotel. We would often go out for supper together or coffee/tea at ‘each other’s place’. Bassem, thankfully, could handle the driving in Taif, something I never got used to.  Bassem also knows everyone in town. He can fix anything. Bassem simply gets things done!

At some point, we made a deal that would see him teach me some Arabic while I would teach him some French. Turns out he doesn’t like tongue kissing all that much! Actually, he and his family spent a lot of time in France so he was, and is, well versed in French. I, on the other hand, now have an incredible 15-word Arabic library. I wish there would have been time to properly learn more of this language.

It is comforting to know that our bond will continue here in Canada. I am privileged and lucky to count Bassem Makzoumi as a very dear friend.

Andre and Bassem SM

Bassem and me

I also had the chance to get to know and work with other Niagara College employees that I had never met. Orel Ruiz, in charge of Finances, is without a doubt the answer to the energy crisis. If we could bottle the energy he has the world would no longer have a crisis…and he does it all with a smile and positive attitude. Matt Marois, in charge of recruitment and student services, is also incredible. Let alone the hundreds of things that need to be dealt with on a daily basis, he’s getting married on New Year’s Eve and somehow still finds time to do what needs to be done. Mike Hurley, our IT go-to-guy. He took what can be generously described as the IT Challenge of all time and cobbled together a network that did the job! David Atherton, in charge of…well…in charge of everything! This poor man’s job description has changed so many times that it makes my head spin. Not David. Always equal to the challenge, he goes on his merry way getting the work done. Even though he would much rather stay home with his children, he gets on the plane for that killer flight and spends a couple of weeks at a time in Taif. It is that type of dedication that is synonymous with the entire team.

Can it really be 15 months? How lucky am I to have been part of a small, hard-working and dedicated team to go to foreign lands and open a new college? From the ground up, we put it together and got it running. It’s funny to think (well…now it’s funny) that we were still uncrating tables and chairs the night before the first day of classes.

Dealing with the Saudi culture is always an exercise in patience and creativity. Simple things that would only require an email to get accomplished here in Canada often requires days, weeks or longer to get done in Saudi. Now if you don’t happen to be blessed with an inordinate amount of patience (pick me!!!) it can be frustrating, but I was finally getting used to it. It didn’t make it any more fun, but it is what it is.

The Saudi people I met were very friendly and warm. On many occasions, I would get invited to the home of someone I barely knew. I sometimes accepted and was always treated like family. In my experience, they are truly open and giving people. They can’t drive, though!!!!

The college itself was invited to many official functions and many times we were the guests of honour. Always warmly received, it was obvious to me they were happy to have us here. We met princes, governors, ambassadors, top business people and all were thrilled that we were here to help offer a western education to their young citizens. This is what made it worthwhile for me.

I realize that some people back home, colleagues and even friends, find it difficult to understand why Niagara College would get involved in Saudi Arabia. I understand that. I, too, do not agree with all of the policies, laws and customs that make up the Saudi culture. My decision for joining the team was not to embark on a ‘mission’ to change the world. I simply believe that education, be it here in Canada, the Middle East or anywhere else in the world, has the power to change.

Making close friends with some, acquaintances with others and teaching yet more Saudis, all while interacting with many decision-makers, I know that there is a willingness to change. Some want change to help the local economy while others want progressive change for all citizens. I’ve been fortunate to have had many conversations with Saudis who privately hope for positive change. However, they, like myself, understand that change is a very slow moving machine. It is a culture steeped in long-standing traditions and the past does not let go easily.

Interacting with our students in the classroom and casually outside of class, I see the desire for change. Saudi Arabia’s population is about 39 million (and by the amount of crying babies on every plane I’ve been on, growing fast!!!) of which roughly two-thirds are below the age of 30. It is a very young population with citizens who are more and more aware of what the ‘outside world’ is like. The ‘old guard’, like those of all countries, will have to make way for the new. I believe change is coming and I’m glad to have played a very small part in what I hope will be a positive transformation.

So my journey comes to an end. I have grown both personally and professionally. I can highly recommend to anyone that wants to work ‘outside their comfort zone’ to consider being a part of the great work our International Department is doing. It doesn’t have to Saudi Arabia. It doesn’t have to be for 15 months either!! I also wouldn’t recommend doing it while taking a synchronous Masters course based in a time zone with an 11-hour difference, but I digress.

Our International Department is involved in a wide variety of projects all over the globe. With government funding shrinking, new revenue sources are needed. Our International Department is contributing to this with some of their projects. Sure it would be nice if we could open campuses in Hawaii or Venice or other such places. The fact is, the places that need our expertise are mostly from poorer or developing countries. As much as I would like it, Hawaii doesn’t need us.

There will always be cultural, religious and political differences to deal with. However, if you wait for the just the right mix of everything before you decide to expand your global experiences, you might just never leave the country, and that would be a shame. International travel is one of the best interactive forms of education there is. The opportunity to immerse yourself in a culture different than your own allows you to see everything from a global perspective. I truly hope some of you are as lucky as I was and get an opportunity to experience what I have. It truly was an amazing chapter in my life.

So, what do I do with this blog moving forward? I’m going to visit a friend in Orangeville next weekend. I could post some pictures of that, but I suspect no one will care…and I don’t blame you. Although their Summer Rib Fest is pretty awesome!

I’ll just leave it as is for now and decide what to do with it later on.

For now, as Sam said to Rose, “Well, I’m back.”

Niagara College Taif

Niagara College Taif

 

 

A Gift from Saleh

Saleh and me

Saleh and me

Yesterday evening I had a visit from my good friend Saleh and his son Anas. They came over to say goodbye as my return to Canada is barely a week away. In our vastly improving but still sorely lacking mastery of each other’s language, we relived a few memories from the past 15 months. We shared many laughs and a few tears. Man, it’s difficult to say goodbye!

Anas and me

Anas and me

Young Anas then presented me with a gift. Saleh had him taught him a couple of lines of English which Anas delivered beautifully.  And what a gift it was! A handmade, traditional Arabian dagger in a sheath covered with silver.

Wow

How beautiful is that? The packing material is dried flower petals and leaves. I think it goes well with the silver of the sheath. :o)

Engraved

The handle is made from the branch of a local tree.

To make it even more special, Saleh engraved the blade with my name and date. I will treasure both his friendship and generous gift forever.

Look at those big, brown eyes!!!

Look at those big, brown eyes!!!

Shokran Saleh.

Good Idea That Rain Day!

OK, that’s a lot of rain!

Imagine if that was snow!!!

Rain Day!?!?

Rain Day

You know it’s time to come back home when they’re shutting down schools and businesses because of rain!

Snow Day I understand but Rain Day???

Apparently they are expecting very heavy rain so our Makkah campus, along with everything else has been closed as a precaution. Here in Taif, it’s business as usual. That’s just not fair!

So…we had a BBQ

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Niagara College President Dr. Dan Patterson is here in Saudi Arabia for a visit and we decided to have a BBQ. Not just any BBQ though. A traditional, cook and eat outside BBQ. Not just any traditional, cook and eat outside BBQ, but one in a location that was truly awe-inspiring.

BBQ_Location

We drove into the mountains of Al Hada and there, at the edge of a cliff, was our BBQ. Arabic rugs and pillows laid out on the ground, sun peeking through the clouds and a view that went for ever. And just to be certain that everything was perfect…Chef Osama and his crew were doing the cooking.

It was like something out of a storybook. How often do you get to do this? I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.

A well-fed and happy group

A well-fed and happy group

There are more on my Flickr site. Click here.

Saleh Abu Anas

Saleh and Son

Saleh and his son Anas

So…you’ve just left everyone you know and everything you own behind. You’ve been on a plane for 13 straight hours. You’ve just landed in a place called Jeddah in Saudi Arabia. The only 3 people you know in this country are still a two-hour car ride away.

You’ve been told a driver will be there to pick you up. Your whole world is spinning as everything is so different than what you’re used to. The sights, the smells, the dress, the language. Thoughts like, “What the hell am I doing here?”, and, “Is it too late to get out of this?” start sneaking into your brain.

It’s at this point that you spot a man, dressed in a thobe, holding a sign with your name on it. You read the name on the sign again, just to make you’re not confused. Of course, how many other André Roy’s can there be in Saudi Arabia? I walk up to the man and identify myself. The man gives you the biggest smile ever, says, “Hello Mr. Andy!”, shakes your hand and then hugs and kisses you on both cheeks. I actually remember looking around me, a bit out of embarrassment and a bit out of shock. “I am Saleh!”, said the man and took my luggage and started walking away with trotting behind trying to keep up. Welcome to Saudi Arabia!

Every now and then he would look back at me, smile and say, “Mr. Andy”. I’d smile back and have absolutely no idea what to say. It was when we got to the airport doors and walked outside that I realized I was no longer in Canada. It felt like someone had thrown a blanket soaked in boiling water on me. My little fat body would have reacted had it known what to do. Holy crap was it hot! My sweat was sweating!! How was I going to survive in the repressive heat?

At some point while my body was losing liters of sweat, I must have stopped walking. I heard Saleh, from a distance, say, “Mr. Andy”. I snapped back to reality, stepped out of the pool of sweat I was standing in and caught up to him.

When we reached the car and I got in, leaving the hellish sun for the comfort of shade, I remember thinking, “How do you say ‘air conditioning’ in Arabic?” I needed have worried. As soon as Saleh starting the car, he began adjusting the A/C and moving the vents around so I was in the ‘sweet spot’ of the cool stream of air. He handed me some tissues to wipe off my face and gave me a nice cool bottle of water. “This guy’s alright”, I remember thinking.

We were on our way. After a few more smiles followed by some “Mr. Andy’s”, I started wondering how we were ever going to communicate. I was dead tired after the long flight but didn’t want to fall asleep as I thought that would be rude. Again, I needed have worried. I was about to discover ‘Saudi Driving’!

The traffic was five cars abreast. Not a big deal unless you consider there were only TWO LANES!! There were cars passing us on both shoulders AND in the ditch!!! I would glance over to Saleh to see his reaction, but he was a calm as could be. Cars would be honking their horns, flying past us at speeds that were frightening, cutting in and out with absolutely no concern for other drivers. I was doing my best to maintain a calm appearance. Of course, it didn’t help when I would see Saleh driving at 120KMs while holding his cell phone and drinking some water while steering with his knee.

Then we finally got out of the airport parking lot. OK, that’s not true but Saudis are crazy drivers!!

I think Saleh must have sensed my complete terror so he started chatting with me. I had no clue what he was saying but he was chatting away. Somehow, at some point, we started teaching each other the words for various body parts. Head, arms, legs, feet, fingers, etc. We were laughing at both of our awkward pronunciations but we were having the best time. Unfortunately, I cannot remember any of the Arabic body part words. It turns out that ‘body parts’ don’t come up too often in general Arabic conversation.

Before I knew it, we had arrived at the Taif campus. I couldn’t believe how much fun I had just had while in car for two hours with a complete stranger who didn’t speak my language. It seemed impossible that two people could laugh so much and feel like good friends under these conditions.

But that is the ‘magic’ that Saleh has. You are never a stranger and he will never let you feel like you are alone or an outsider. Saleh has driven me around to many places over the 15 months that I have been in Saudi Arabia. Each time was a laugh and joyous event. On trips back to Jeddah for the airport or meetings, he would always pull over and buy some water or coffee and snacks. He would never accept any money. Sometimes, he would be driving me and prayer time would come up. He would pull up to a mosque and ask if it was ok for him to pray. I was tempted once or twice to say no just to see his reaction!

Now, I’ve explained the Saleh was OUR driver. He was there for US. The normal ‘Driver/Driven’ thing (if there is even such a thing) would lead one to believe that YOU would tell HIM when to pick YOU up. Saleh was having none of that! You would ask him to pick you up at a certain time to take you to the airport and he would inevitably insist on a half hour earlier pick up. Arguing didn’t change anything. We quickly found ourselves asking Saleh what time he would pick us up of rides. That was how dedicated he was. He knew the roads and traffic patterns. He would not risk having you be late because we hadn’t left early enough.

Saleh is now in charge of our campus security. Turns out he’s very well connected and has many friends that make him a natural for the job. He brings the same dedication and work ethic to security and we all felt much better for it.

It was impossible to know on that hot day at the Jeddah airport in August of 2014 that the first person I met would turn out to be such a great friend. When I go home, I will miss his ever-present, infectious smile and warm, out-going personality.

Thank you for all you have done for me, but most of all, thank you for your friendship, Saleh.

Chef Osama Delivers!

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Chef Osama and a grateful fan

Last night, a few of us were treated to a typical Middle Eastern supper in our cafeteria at the Taif campus.

Bassem Makzoumi decided that it was the perfect time to get together and ‘break bread’. As always, he was absolutely right. He contacted Chef Osama and asked him to put together a ‘little something’ for about 8 of us.

Chef Osama works for the catering company that handles our cafeteria. As you can see, he put together quite the meal.

Nothing like getting a few friends together and having a great chef prepare the meal.

Chef Osama meal

A hard-working, well-fed, happy bunch of guys!

“Bilhana washifa” (please forgive the spelling) is Arabic for “may you have your meal with gladness and health” 

Sand Storms, Hail Storms and Hotel Floods, Oh My!!

Makkah

Our beautiful, new campus in Makkah

I’m finally back with the team in Saudi Arabia. While most of the Canadian contingent returned in mid-August, I was able to enjoy a bit more of the home life awaiting my new visa. I really don’t have much of a clue as to what goes into getting a visa but all I need to know is that when Abbas, Shari and Jennifer are on the job, it just magically appears. I simply wait for the telephone call telling me it’s ready and then I start packing. My thanks to these three hard-working individuals.

Following a comfortable but always long flight, I found myself back in Taif with the hardest working team in the world. My first week was quite the eye-opener. One expects to see the odd sandstorm in a desert nation such as Saudi Arabia but there was a doozy on the day I landed in Jeddah. Luckily it occurred a few hours after I had left for Taif. By the look of the picture from the Arab News, I’m quite happy to have missed it.

Sandstorm in Jeddah - Photo courtesy of the Arab News

Sandstorm in Jeddah – Photo courtesy of the Arab News

Two days later, at our Taif campus, we experienced a rather impressive hail storm. Over the past year, I’ve seen some heavy duty rain fall but a hail storm…that was a surprise. My little iPhone video shows what it looked like. The hail ranged from ‘pea’ to ‘marble’ in size. I believe those are 2 authentic meteorological terms. It was great to see the reaction of both students and staff who were experiencing their first hail storm. They were simply amazed as they looked and felt the hail stones in their hands.

All things Niagara College have grown significantly here over the summer months. We now have two campuses, the newest being just outside the Makkah city limits. It is roughly 45 minutes to 1 hour from Taif, depending on whose driving and what mood they’re in!

The Makkah campus is incredibly beautiful and much bigger that the one in Taif. It is located in a developing area which, for now, still resembles a desert! However, with streets and infrastructure already in place for homes and businesses, this should all change in the next few years. Until then, we make due with our little desert paradise. FYI…all the grass you see in the photos is actually astro turf! (That’s fake grass to you non baseball and football fans) I have to admit that it makes for a strange but welcomed sight in middle of a desert. The indigenous flora and fauna is also always on display. OK, maybe not so much the flora, unless astro turf counts. I still get a kick out of seeing camels roaming the dunes. Other desert critters are also to be seen, some more welcomed than others! Hey, it is the desert and they were here first LOL.

Makkah

Niagara College Makkah

Another project we are undertaking is as capacity building consultants for a woman’s college in Madinah. Our crack team of experts, headed by Bev Davies and Abbas Sumar, will be working closely with the existing all female staff and administration, helping them to reorganize their complete operation. It’s always gratifying to be recognized for our good work. Plus…we get to branch out and support some of the women of Saudi Arabia as they pursue their education. What a great feeling.

Between our two male campuses, we now boast a student population of roughly 1,000! Not bad for only one year. Of course with the growth in student numbers comes a growth in faculty and staff. Our original “Little Team on Desert” has grown substantially. Faculty has more than doubled (ok, so I don’t know the exact number, sue me) while the support and admin staff have also kept up the pace.

Makkah

NC Makkah classrooms and labs

The ever present and varied challenges involved in starting up two colleges in a strange land keep us on our toes. We had less than three months to prepare for the academic year at the Makkah campus and you don’t need to have an over-active imagination to figure out how much work that involved. Many people here and back home in Canada spent many long summer hours getting things ready.

Makkah

Main entrance to Niagara College Makkah

There seems no end to the challenges we face and tackle every day. No one is bored and each day is different. What more could you ask for?

Our latest major challenge in Taif was an HVAC (air conditioning) failure resulting a blown pressure hose releasing what look like enough water to fill an olympic sized swimming pool into our campus hotel. Flooded floors, collapsed ceilings and general mayhem resulted. This alone is bad enough but when you factor in that some 30 employees where scheduled to move into the hotel this week (including me), you start to get an understanding of our predicament.

However, as we always do, we come up with alternate plans, not to mention living arrangements, and press on with the job at hand. Of course, Orel, the one tasked with making these new arrangements, might use more colourful colloquialisms to describe the situation.

So there you have it. Year Two has begun. Everyone here is aware that the challenges and work will be intense. But this is what makes being on this team so great. Frustrations, challenges, and long, hard hours are a daily fact of life here. No matter the situation, we always find creative solutions and press on with what needs to be done. This, above all else, is what makes me so happy to be a part of this outstanding team!

IECHE – Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

IECHESA 11

Team Niagara College – (L – R) Abbas Sumar, Bev Davies, Shady Masoud, a real handsome guy and Sean Kennedy

I’ve received a few emails this week asking what IECHE (International Exhibition and Conference for Higher Education) is all about. Oddly enough, I has asking the very same question minutes before the gates opened and literally thousands of people started flowing into the convention center. As the name implies, IECHE is both an exhibition and conference. There are many distinguished and recognized guest speakers from around the world giving presentation and participating in panel discussions related to the present and future of higher ed. This year’s theme centered on the 21st Century College and University and what role technology should play in it.

Canada, with amazing assistance from our Canadian Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Tom MacDonald, and his equally remarkable embassy staff, was well represented. We had 25 universities and colleges in Riyadh this year. IECHE is held annually at the Riyadh International Convention & Exhibition Center and, MAN, is this place BIG! If I remember correctly, there were over 40 countries, and close to 500 colleges and universities there this year.

IECHESA 04

Sean Kennedy, VP, Student and External Relations with his Excellency, the Ambassodor of Canada to Saudi Arabia, Tom MacDonald at a gathering in the Ambassador’s Official Residence in Riyadh

We got to meet, face-to-face, with students from all over the Middle East who want to experience the quality education we so expertly provide in Canada generally and Niagara College in particular. It’s actually a lot of fun speaking with both young men and women who are looking for the best way to achieve the career goals.

IECHESA 05

My colleague and very dear friend who is about to become much, much busier, Bev Davies speaking with interested students

IECHESA 06

Abbas Sumar, who has quickly become a very good friend, lists the advantages of a world-class education at Niagara College

IECHESA 07

Shady Masoud, was one of our first teachers in Taif but has since moved up to a management position, was a great help with his command of the Arabic language. He is from Egypt and has invited me to visit his family. I will be taking him up on that generous offer!

The conference also gives us the opportunity to network and meet with people and companies that we can mutaually benefit from. His Excellency, Ambassador MacDonald and his staff were constantly bringing poeple over to our booth to offer up introductions. As a result, we made quite a few new contacts and have so companies coming to visit us in Taif.

IECHESA 09

Sean partaking in some networking

However, in my very humble opinion, Ambassador MacDonald’s greatest contribution to the conference was securing Tim Horton’s to be at the Embassy booth! I cannot begin to describe the pure, unadulterated joy I felt when biting into my first TimBit in months. In short order, Tim Horton cups were springing up in all the Canadian booths. NO one in the Canadian pavillion missed out on the chance to savour Timmy’s offerings. Thank you, your Excellency!

IECHESA 10

You know you’re in the Canadian Pavillion when… And it was all free too!!!

I know you don’t want to hear me whining but…just to prove that I actually do work over here…the exhibition was open from 9am to 9pm Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday and from 4:30pm to 10pm on Friday. Let me tell you, my fat, little body isn’t meant for standing up 12 hours at a time!!! I do need to thank my boss, Sean, for giving me the day of on Friday. It was a short day and he knew I had a paper to finish for that Sunday so he told me to stay at the hotel and get some personal work done. I was extremely grateful!

Our team, which is still in the early stages of development, is quite small. We didn’t have the bodies needed to comfortably handle our two booths at the conference and we needed key people to remain at the Taif Campus for our annual Institutional Review (which, in a cruel twist of fate, was postponed to next month at the last minute). So we put together a happy crew of five people for Riyadh. Two from the Taif Campus and three from Canada. Once in Riyadh, life happened! Last minute work popped up that needed to be completed in the next 3 days. As a result, our happy crew of five was split in two with Mohamed Damati and myself manning our two booths and the other three staying back at the hotel to work on submissions and attend last minute meetings. Neither group had easy! We called in reinforcements from Taif and Shady joined us at the conference. Mohamed even enlisted the help of his cousing who, just for fun, had the exact same name as Mohamed Damati. We simply refered to them as the M&M Twins. Our Mohamed is one of the young locals who work for us at the Taif Campus. He has exceptional skills in desgin and has been busy with helping to create the look of our campus.

IECHESA 08

Busy, busy, busy!

We now had a crew of three at the conference (which really needed six) and we had a crew of three writing, editing and presenting a major proposal in three days (which really needed 2 weeks). This is what I like so much about our team here in Saudi Arabia. We get things done! No matter the challenge. No matter the deadline. No matter the amount of work. We all jump in, roll up our sleeves and get it done. Long hours. Little sleep. But TONS of fun. We would always get together for supper…at 10:30pm…and brief each other on our day’s activities. No complaining anywhere, just great laughs. Supper over, we would head back the hotel and some of us went to bed for the early wake up the next morning and others to put in another 3 – 4 hours of work before getting some sleep.

It’s such a great feeling when you work your ass off but immediately see the results. I’ve been in Saudi Arabia for about eight months now and I am continuously amazed by what our team has accomplished. We’ve taken many the months of ground work by tireless advance team and turned it all into a thriving and growing college. We continue to enjoy increasing enrollments, great retention rates and widespread recognition for your great work. And that’s just the beginning! There’s more coming just over the horizon. Niagara College is being acknowledged as a global leader in higher education and, as a result, other opportunities will no doubt follow.

I’m so thrilled to be a part of it.

Souk Madinat Jumeirah – Dubai, UAE

Souk Madinat Jumeirah 10

Souk Madinat Jumeirah

Sorry it’s been so long since my last posting. April has been a very hectic month for us here Saudi Arabia. On top of that, I had a group presentation and final paper to complete for my masters.

Last week I was in Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia. Niagara College had a booth at the International Exhibition and Conference for Higher Education (IECHE). It’s not normally what I do but we were short-handed so I volunteered to help out. I’m glad I did. It was a great time! We met a lot of people interested in both our Canadian and Taif campuses.

IECHE

Who is that handsome stranger?

We were invited to the Canadian Ambassador, Tom MacDonald’s, official residence for a small gathering where we made some very important connections. I took full advantage of the open bar and had a few Crown Royal and cokes. It always feels ‘naughty’ to have alcohol in Saudi Arabia but when you’re at the Canadian Embassy, you’re in Canada!

Just before my five long, long days in Riyadh, I went to Dubai. It was good to get away from the normal routine and relax a bit. I actually spent about a day and a half working on my final paper. A very well travelled paper, that one. LOL

It wasn’t all homework and study however. I did take some time to do a bit of exploring. I spent an afternoon at the Souk Madinat Jumeirah, on the shores of the beautiful Arabian Gulf. The weather was excellent, if not a bit too warm. It got up to 46C on a couple of the days I was there. Nothing a cold beer and a wee dram of scotch won’t take of!

‘Souk’ is the Arabic equivalent to ‘market’. You can find souks all over the Middle East. It’s a gathering spot for the locals where the latest news is shared and discussed…loudly!! LOL.  Of course, like every market, there are plenty of shops, restaurants, food offerings and rest areas to be experienced. Madinat is no different.

Souk Madinat Jumeirah 14

Burj Al Arab

It’s an authentic re-creation of a Middle Eastern ancient marketplace. Lots of winding streets and pathways, both inside and outside. The air conditioned inside was my particular favorite. As the saying goes, you can find just about everything in a souk so the variety is quite extensive. As you all know, I am NOT a shopper. However, the Madinat Jumeirah has a lot more to offer than shopping. I had a great seafood feast at one of the local restaurants, complete with a cold pint (or two).

I picked up a small silk rug for home and a great looking brass Arabian coffee pot as well. Of course half the fun of buying anything at a souk is the negotiations for the price. Since I have no real idea what the value is for the two items I bought, I can’t say if I got a good deal or not. I did talk the price of the silk rug down to less than half the asking price. I have no doubt the worms that supplied the silk were from the bad part of town!!

I took a daylong trip out to the east coast of EAU and a sunrise hot air balloon trip over the deserts of Dubai. I will have more on that in a few days but, for now, here are a few pictures of my visit to the Souk!

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