Bahrain on my mind…

January 25, 2011 § 2 Comments

This post is written by guest contributor, Thema Monroe-White. Thema is a doctoral student in the Public Policy program at Georgia Tech. She will be sharing more about her conference trip to Bahrain at the WRC’s Graduate Women’s Brown Bag Lunch on January 26 (for more information click here).

Title: Bahrain on my mind…

I recently presented my paper on student entrepreneurship at the 10th International Entrepreneurship Forum (IEF) in Bahrain.

Bahrain is an island nation located off the coast of Saudi Arabia in the Persian Gulf.  Over 40% of the population is foreign.  Men wear traditional Bahraini dress, European business suits, and jeans, the women were in full orthodox Islamic dress, short skirts and heels.  This melting pot environment made my experience in Bahrain truly eye opening.  Naturally, I was nervous, curious and excited all at the same time.

Bahraini board members of the non-profit inJAz. Executive Director H.H. Sh. Hessa Bint Khalifa seated in the middle. Ms. Khalifa was a panelist at the 10th International Entrepreneurship Forum.

Upon arriving in Bahrain, I immediately noticed that the air was clean, the cars were new, the sky was starlit and Bahrain’s rate of exchange to the US dollar was 2.65 to 1.  That means that a tiny bottle of water in Bahrain cost me $3.50.  It also means that even though the McDonalds was packed at 9pm in downtown Manama (that’s the capital) on a Friday night, the oil-rich country and its inhabitants were wealthy.

The women (from throughout the Middle East) that I met were well dressed and well decorated.  Their jewelry was some of the most beautiful I had ever seen, the make-up flawless and they were overall very proud.   However, as someone who studies inequality and marginalized groups I am aware of the variety of shapes that they can take.  Bahrain clearly had inequality, and signs of overall social problems were evident as well.  The dark skinned Indian woman confined to the bathroom at the Isa Cultural Center & Mosque, ensured that I noticed the inequality.  The Bangladeshi waiter and Indian researcher made it clear to me that for them the US was still their land of opportunity.  My Lebanese high school classmate with her British husband reminded me that the price of a comfortable life was low-wage ‘help’ and a zero income tax.  The two people that were physically thrown out of my hotel for smoking in a non-smoking restaurant reminded me that some problems are universal.

There is so much that I learned about myself and about the ‘Island of Two Seas.’  Travelling alone (no husband and no children) made sure of that. I wasn’t quite sure how to act – like a student, like a mother or a wife.  So I found myself surprising everyone no matter how I introduced myself: “So you are from America!” or “Wow you’re married?” or “You have three children?” and “You are a student too?”  Well actually, that does sound a lot like what I hear in the States… interesting, right?  Either way, going abroad for professional purposes was an exciting change.  I’ve travelled across Africa, Central America and Europe before, so travelling did not bother me.  However, this was my first time presenting my research and that made me anxious.

I was nervous about how people would receive me and my study.  Was it academic or rigorous enough? Would it be relatable? After all, I was the only US student presenting at the conference and my topic was only about US student cases!  I wasn’t sure how to spin it or how it would be received so I just dove in and swam like the other fishes.  So what did I learn?  That if you’re confident, others will be confident in what you have to say.

Overall, I would say that another trip to Bahrain would be well worth it.  I enjoyed the atmosphere, the general level of comfort with outsiders and the familiarity with the English made it easy to get around.  How does it sound to you?

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