Twenty-three NUS undergraduates across different faculties went home with a fresh perspective on the Gulf region after participating in the recent Study Trips for Engagement and EnRichment (STEER) programme titled “The Arabian Gulf in Transition” from 9 to 23 December. The trip took the delegation, headed by NUS Mechanical Engineering Associate Professor Loh Wai Lam, to Muscat, Oman; Doha, Qatar; and Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates (UAE).
The trip began with visits to the Muscat Securities Market and the Oman Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Muscat, where the students engaged in thought-provoking discussions on Oman’s financial sector, and learnt about the government’s move to attract more locals to the private sector, known as “Omanisation”. The students also learnt about the tenets of Islamic Banking at Bank Nizwa.
At the Ministry of Tourism, the group gleaned an understanding of Oman’s efforts and challenges to boost tourism amid declining oil and natural gas reserves as well as negative stereotypes of the Middle East. A visit to the Sultan Qaboos University offered the unique opportunity to interact with local undergraduates while learning about the curriculum and dynamic student life.
A major highlight of the trip was a networking session with Singapore’s Consul-General in Muscat Mr Richard Grosse. With Oman having one of the smallest populations of Singaporeans working abroad, the students were privileged to meet some of these Singaporeans and hear about their experiences working and living in the nation.
Another highlight was a stay at the Al Wasil Village, a nomadic desert camp located in the Wahiba Sands, where they experienced the life of a true Bedouin nomad, if only for a night. There the students bonded over a campfire and stargazing, with some braving the chilly temperatures to catch a brilliant sunrise atop one of the many sand dunes. The participants also went sand dune bashing, being strapped into a Land Cruiser as a skilled driver drove through the massive sand dunes, providing a roller coaster experience like no other.
In the next leg of the journey, the students headed to Doha, where they met Mr Jai Sohan, Ambassador to the Singapore Embassy in Doha, and discussed issues related to Qatar’s economy and education system. They also met with His Excellency Abdullah bin Hamad Al Attiyah, Chairman of the Abdullah bin Hamad Al Attiyah International Foundation for Energy and Sustainable Development, who shared insights on Qatar’s oil and gas industry. Collectively, the region produces approximately one-quarter of the world’s oil production.
The group toured famous Doha landmarks such as the Falcon Souq, Museum of Islamic Art and Aspire Park, as well as the Sheikh Faisal Bin Qassim Al Thani Museum where they had the rare opportunity to be greeted by the Sheikh himself.
In Abu Dhabi, the delegation visited Etihad Airways, flagship carrier and second largest airline in the UAE, learning about the strict training procedures and interacting with pilots and cabin crew at the Etihad Airways Training Academy. They also met with representatives from leading aluminium player Emirates Global Aluminium, composite aero-structures facility Strata Manufacturing, and the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority.
Overall, the STEER programme — designed to familiarise undergraduates with emerging regions through an immersive educational and cultural experience — debunked many assumptions the students initially had about the Middle East. The participants discovered more about various aspects of the region, including similarities with Singapore and its own path towards a knowledge-based economy, while fostering genuine friendships and an inquisitive mind.
By Year 2 students Amanda Soon Wan Shin (Economics/Accountancy) and Shabira Bte Syed Abdul Basheer (Political Science).