Visiting Abu Dhabi

CSB student reflects on her time at the Women as Global Leaders conference

March 30, 2012

By Rhebekkah Westre ‘12

Editor's Note:

Six CSB students and administrators were selected to present at the 2012 Women as Global Leaders Conference March 13-15 in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. They were among a group of 14 CSB students and four administrators who attended the conference. The CSB group was the largest contingency from the United States at the conference, which drew 1,000 attendees.  The trip was coordinated through the Sister Nancy Hynes Institute for Women's Leadership at CSB.

The goal of the conference was to inspire and connect an emerging generation of women leaders from around the world. The 2012 theme is "Creating a Sustainable Future for the World."

CSB senior Rhebekkah Westre presented on the impacts of solar energy in rural India, based on her study abroad experience in India. Her reflections on the experience are below.


My trip to the United Arab Emirates brought many reflections on my time here at the College of Saint Benedict. I am a current senior and I have a few weeks left before I graduate.  I was excited and nervous to go on my first trip to the Middle East especially since I had the chance to present work that I did for school.  I had no clue that my undergraduate career would bring me there and I eagerly accepted the challenge of going to this country, just like I accepted the challenge to spend a semester in India.   I certainly have the travel bug after my study abroad experience and was ready to use my passport.

The trip included two stops in the United Arab Emirates. Our first was in Dubai.  As a group, we had the opportunity to see the city. I also went up in the Burja Khalifa. It was a remarkable thing to do -to go up in the world's tallest tower.  It seemed as if you could stare out and see the whole world from there.

We stayed at a university which was eye opening. It was neat to attend a class and see how a university functions there.   I found attending an educational institution a great way to learn many things about a country. 

Our second stop was Abu Dhabi, where the Women as Global Leaders conference took place.  On our sightseeing day, the group toured a mosque.  When I arrived, I had to put on an abaya (a robe-like dress, worn by some women in parts of the Islamic world, which was certainly a different feeling. To be covered from head to toe and not have anything showing was a shocking feeling.  I'm happy I did it because I feel I now understand the covering better.  One thing that surprised me is the way the abaya "uniforms" women and makes you focus on their face instead of their clothing.

The conference was a wonderful experience. I was excited to present the work I did in India.  And I enjoyed the encouragement I received.  The conference was affirming in many ways. The sessions that I attended widened my understanding of the world.  Meeting so many different people helped me realize that really, all of us just want to peacefully coexist with each other.   One thing that surprised me was my opportunity to meet actress and environmental activist Sigourney Weaver.  It was awesome to hear her speak and the passion she has for the environment.      

This trip has given me a sense of direction for after graduation.  I haven't yet decided what I want to do with my degree in biology. I am thinking of working in international affairs or leadership.   My passion lies within public health or the environment.  I want to work with people at the global level to solve these issues because as a world we need to work together.  I think I am going to volunteer next year in a different country to deepen my understanding.  When I am doing that, I am going to be looking for graduate schools that focus on international issues.  This trip solidified those goals for me.