By Kelly Tran

The Middle East and Islamic Student Association (MEISA) recently hosted a panel of five Darden students who shared insights on their experiences working and living in various Islamic countries. Panelists represented a diverse range of career backgrounds, including nonprofit management and consulting, and experiences in countries such as Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Indonesia.

The event attracted over 60 Darden student attendees, many of whom expressed how the panel provided new perspectives about working in other parts of the world and how local environments, religions and cultures differ from country to country even within a similar region. One attendee, Caio Souza (Class of 2020), affirmed that he learned valuable information about the Middle East and Islamic culture from his peers.

In particular, students were keenly interested in the impact of local Islamic culture on the workplace environment. Though not a country in the Middle East, Indonesia is home to the largest population of Muslims in the world and has its own cultural understanding of Islam and the workplace. When asked about employer-employee relations, panelist Nela Oktivani (Class of 2019) shared, “In Indonesia, people in the workplace are like family. Your boss looks after you.”

For many, the panel served as a way to correct misinformation about the Middle East and Islamic culture. Waleed Jehandad (Class of 2020), who worked in Saudi Arabia, explained that “The problem about the Middle East isn’t the Middle East itself, but rather the misperceptions of the region that come from stereotypes and media, which can only change by educating people through events like this panel.” Waleed encouraged attendees to actively learn more about culture and diversity in the Middle East, especially those interested in working for a global organization or pursuing job opportunities in the region.

The event concluded with a question about how panelists’ preconceived notions changed after they lived or worked in a predominantly Islamic country. Panelist Kelly Connors (Class of 2020) responded by sharing her experience as a foreigner in Jordan. Although she felt a fear of the unknown when she arrived, Kelly explained that she soon developed a love for the country’s food and culture, assuring other students interested in traveling to the Middle East they would feel the same. “If you have a chance to do something new and different, take the exciting opportunity,” she advised. “It will probably turn out much better than you expected.”