A virtual Middle East immersion

“Kaifa haluka/haluki?” The warm Arabic greeting for “How are you?” set the tone for the NUS Study Trips for Engagement and EnRichment (STEER) programme held virtually from 7 to 16 Dec.

STEER is a long-running programme that had started in 2010. Although the pandemic meant that it had to go online for the first time, innovative programming and the latest technologies ensured that students got a complete, immersive learning experience from this year’s eSTEER, themed “Middle East 101”.

The itinerary included virtual walking tours of culturally significant sites and remote dining of authentic regional cuisine – the students practically felt as if they were walking the streets of Abu Dhabi or Lebanon.

“Even though our experiences were virtual, they were no less valuable and we gained myriad insights into the Middle East regions. This mode of delivery also meant that we could learn in the comfort of our own homes,” said Gao Yiming, a Year 4 NUS Engineering student.

Other than cultural activities, the 10-day programme included a series of online lectures and webinars designed to introduce undergraduate students to specific locales in the Middle East, and provide exposure to the region’s rich socio-political, cultural and economic environments.

Participants were introduced to the Arabic language and acquainted to the modern history and contemporary issues of the Middle East, such as the recent normalisation of ties between Israel and the Gulf states.

Geopolitics, culture and business

Sessions such as the “The History of the UAE and its Success in Economic Diversification” by Mr Shaikh Saleh Saif Hamad Al Sharqi, Second Secretary at the Embassy of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in Singapore, enabled students to appreciate the geopolitics and development strategies of the Middle East.

eSTEER webinars dived into the aspirations and developments of the United Arab Emirates, Oman and Gulf Cooperation Council countries; while the virtual activities provided immersive experiences of the regions’ history, heritage, culture, arts and sports. The various engagement sessions with corporate companies and government organisations also supported students in developing their professional networks in the region.

Attendees had the opportunity to engage one of the largest companies in the world, Saudi Aramco – the Saudi Arabian government’s petroleum and natural gas company. During the online lecture by Ms Marwa Al-Khuzaim, Managing Director of Aramco Asia Singapore, she shared Saudi Aramco’s transformation to a global integrated energy and chemicals company and its role in energy transition.

Virtual tours and remote dining

As part of the programme’s cultural immersion, a customised tour of the majestic Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque located in Abu Dhabi was conducted vicariously. Through the tour, students learnt about contemporary Islamic architecture and the religious centre’s unique structural elements such as its main dome, one of the largest mosque domes in the world, and the unique exterior Sivec marble surfaces.

A virtual narrated walking tour to a souk (or bazaar), and indulging in Lebanese cuisine through a shared, simultaneous remote dining experience, imbibed participants in the fascinating culture of the Middle East.

“The souk was where we got in touch with the soul of Abu Dhabi – from the merchandise to the ambience of the streets, which gave us a glimpse into the culture of the city,” shared Yiming.

“The highlight of the remote dining experience was definitely the interaction and being able to taste and smell authentic Middle Eastern food, which transcended the sensory limitations of online interaction,” he added.

On the final day of the programme, students attended an interactive networking session, “Working and Thriving in the United Arab Emirates”. The panellists included Mr Low Pit Chen, Consul General of the Republic of Singapore in Dubai, and other Singaporean entrepreneurs and professionals based in the UAE, who shared their experiences of the region.

“The candid sharing helped to paint a realistic picture of living in the Middle East as a Singaporean, and made the idea of pursuing a career in the region a lot more tangible,” said Christal Tan, a Year 4 NUS Business student.

Since the inception of STEER in 2010, more than 1,000 students have participated in its thematic programmes and immersed in educational and cultural experiences of emerging regions.


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