Kuwait diary of UCL student ambassador
20 February 2009
Links: UCL News article: Jack Davies joins UK delegation to Kuwait
Jack Davies, a second year LLB student in UCL Laws, was one of five British students who travelled to Kuwait as guests of Kuwait University from 16-23 December 2008. Throughout the journey, Jack kept a diary, reproduced below, of his experiences and impressions of the country.
Woke up 5am and travelled to Heathrow. Met the other four selected students and proceeded to get on the Kuwait Airlines plane. After a smooth six-hour flight, we were greeted by Sahyej, the co-ordinator from Kuwait University, Dr. Fayiz Al-Dhafeeri, the Cultural Attaché from the Embassy of the State of Kuwait in London, and other students from Kuwait University. We were then escorted to our accommodation, which are part of the university facilities.
After having been shown our rooms, our hosts left. We then had some dinner, which was an interesting mix of Western and Arabic food - it was delicious! Due to the time difference and the length of travel it was now nearing midnight in Kuwait so we all went to bed.
Woke up at 8am to an excellent breakfast at the University. A private bus then picked us up at 9am with Sahyej and Aws (the president of the Student Union) on board, and we went to the Kuwait Foundation for the Advancement of Sciences (KFAS). We were given a presentation on Kuwait's investment in non-oil dependent industries (out of concerns for oil depletion) and the country's development of its scientific arena. We then met the director of KFAS and had a chance to see the many awards and professional recognitions that the Foundation had achieved.
We then travelled back to uni and met Professor Abdullah S. Al Fuhaid, Director of Kuwait University, who, along with Dr Fayiz, spoke about improving relationships between Britain and Kuwait. I then gave a short presentation on UCL's objectives with a view to improving relationships with Kuwait Uni and I spoke about PhD prospects at UCL for those currently studying in Kuwait. Photos were taken by local and national newspapers and we left for lunch.
After lunch, we experienced some culturally specific activities. Our first stop was a local coffee shop where locals meet to discuss a wide mix of topics, from politics to what they have been watching on TV. We returned to uni for dinner.
Our last port of call was a 'diwaniyah' (a social gathering specific to Kuwait) which was being held by a friend of Sahyej's. A diwaniyah is a great way to meet people and socialise. These gatherings are held in very large rooms, which have seats all around the perimeter and anybody is welcome to come sit, chat and drink tea!
After another delectable breakfast, we travelled with Aws to the Direct Aid-Africa Muslims Agency. This altruistic charity helps raise money and goods to send to African countries where poverty is rife. We met the director who was passionate about helping those in need; we saw some harrowing images and heard some disturbing stories which reinforced the many difficulties which citizens of certain African states face.
The next stop was the Kuwait Stock Market. There were not many happy faces to be seen here, which was understandable given the current financial turmoil. We met a financial expert who works on-site and who told us of the current situation. As he was very busy we did not have that long to speak with him. We took some photos and proceeded on to the British Council, where we had a presentation and discussion about what they do and how they believe spreading British culture is beneficial.
Our next stop was the Grand Mosque, which is the fourth largest mosque in the world. We were given a presentation on the principles of Islam and the function of the mosque within the religion. We then went on a guided tour around the entire place, taking our shoes off before entering the main hall, and observed several classes taking place.
We then visited the Kuwaiti Museum of National Works. The majority of the Museum concerned the Gulf War and the Iraqi invasion. We even got to see at first-hand the head of the famous Saddam Hussein statue which was felled in Baghdad.
After that, we were lucky enough to get invited to a Kuwaiti wedding. There were loads of people there as anybody can attend a wedding, whether or not they know the bride or groom! We followed the groom's car around for a bit then went to the desert. There were loads of tents set up in the desert with TVs and music inside. We also had a game of football outside, but it was freezing!
We woke up late and had lunch at Aws's friend's house. After a delicious meal and after socialising with everybody there, we proceeded to walk around Kuwait's traditional markets which reminded me of the famous Marrakech markets with their countless stalls and unique atmosphere. Everybody was very friendly and many stopped and shook my hand.
Firstly, we went up the famous Kuwaiti Towers and looked over the whole of Kuwait City…much smaller than London! Whilst up there, we had a photograph taken for the national newspaper, 'Alwatan'. [see link above]
We then travelled out into the desert again, this time to Aws's farm. We stayed there all day and had a barbeque. We had the chance to go horse riding, not my forte!
Thereafter, we travelled a further 40 miles to see Iraq! We were obviously not allowed to cross the border, due to visa and security issues, but I did get the chance to get a photo next to the Iraqi border.
Finally, we had a game of football against some Kuwaitis on the national ground's training pitch. It was a long and gruelling 90 minutes but the pain was worth it when the whistle blew and England had won, 8-7! To celebrate our victory, we had an Iranian kebab en-route back to the university.
First port of call today was the British Embassy. After a long security process we had tea and biscuits (very British!) with the Ambassador who discussed their role in the country regarding consulate and legal work.
We proceeded to the Higher Education commission where we met Dr Rasha Al Sabah, the Undersecretary for Higher Education. She told us about her studies in Birmingham and of her love for Aston Villa. Oh dear…
Then, on to the oil fields! In the afternoon we visited the Kuwaiti Petroleum Company who gave us a tour around their offices, an oil field, and one of the control rooms. We had a presentation from one of the CEOs who explained how they are trying to promote environmental awareness by creating habitats for wildlife including bird houses and an artificial lake.
Afterwards, we were driven back to Kuwait City and visited the national Muslim Women's Society.
Last day, unfortunately! This day was very university-centric. We visited many different faculties and met several professors and members of staff. Furthermore, we heard much about how Kuwait is developing its education system and how it continues to expand its university.
We had to get an early night's sleep due to the early flight the next day, so we said our goodbyes to our great hosts and the rest, as they say, is history!
I had nothing short of an amazing time in Kuwait. I am truly grateful to the Kuwait Cultural Attaché, Kuwait Embassy and Kuwait University for organising such an enlightening and enjoyable trip. Furthermore I would like to extend my thanks to those at UCL who helped me out, most notably Dr David Stevens.
Top: Jack Davies and other British student ambassadors sitting in the Kuwaiti Foundation for the Advancement of Science (KFAS).
Middle left: Jack and his Kuwaiti friends relaxing in a desert tent, watching TV after playing sand football.
Middle right: Jack at the Iraqi border.
Bottom: Jack Davies with the Kuwaiti University Committee and other British student ambassadors, standing outside the main office of Kuwaiti Petroleum Company (KPC).
UCL Context: UCL International Office
UCL has long had strong links with Kuwait: around twenty Kuwaiti students are currently studying at UCL, and representatives from UCL have been visiting the country for the past ten years - attending education exhibitions, giving public presentations and visiting schools. Dr David Stevens, the Head of the UCL International Office, and Professor Vince Emery (Pro-Provost, South Asia & the Middle East) have also visited the Ministry of Higher Education, the Public Authority for Applied Education and Training (PAAET) and Kuwait University.
The International Office advertised the programme to existing UCL Student Ambassadors. A panel then selected one ambassador to be nominated for the trip to the Kuwait Embassy.
Dr Fayiz Al-Dhafeeri, the Cultural Attaché, hopes to organise a similar trip for women students this year. Watch this space!