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Dubai is closer than you think at Westgate

October 12, 2016


Arlington Heights, IL – Fourth graders in Carol Nelms’ class at Westgate Elementary School traveled to Dubai this past week, and invited me along, for free.

Of course, I had to take them up on their offer, so I packed my bags and met them in their classroom only to find a friend of the class projected on the screen, ready to share everything he knew about Dubai.

Wearing his gray t-shirt with the Chicago flag displayed proudly across his chest, Christian El Sheikh, current resident of Dubai, sat on the other side of the world and met Nelms’s class full of eager and excited students armed with curiosity and a sheet, front and back, of prepared questions.

This is all part of Wesgate’s fourth grade caravan unit which focuses on world geography and the different lifestyles and cultures of the people of the world. I was in fact invited to travel across the globe through skype, and not on an airplane, which turned out to be an extremely fun and interesting experience in its own right.

The students asked Sheikh questions about the typical school day in Dubai, the popular sports, the popular attractions, foods and fashion, and of course they asked him to demonstrate the United Arab Emirates official language of Arabic.

Students’ mouths dropped as they found out that a school day in Dubai stars as early as 7:30 am and could go as long as 4:00 pm or 5:00 pm. Back and forth the conversation went, as students learned about the most popular team sports in rugby and cricket and the island shaped like a palm tree (Dubai’s Palm Tree Island).

Before this meeting with Sheikh in Dubai, students had visitors from or skyped with people from India, Africa, Germany, Macedonia, and Hong Kong, all of which are family members or family friends of students in Nelms’ class.

I had to know what these students thought about this unit so I got my chance to ask the class a few questions in an open forum discussion. This was my favorite part of the day.

I wanted to know from these students if and how this project may have opened their eyes to a completely different way of thinking or living in the world. Nelms’ class did not disappoint:


Me: What is the most interesting thing you have learned about another country or city’s way of life?

Student: In India, they rarely eat meat, if at all! Cows are special animals in India, and if you eat one you could go to jail.

Student: I didn’t know people in other places raced camels.


Me: Are there any traditions you now know of that you wish you had in your life?

Student: In Africa, they really take time to make their hair pretty using colorful braids. Here we just put our hair up in a ponytail most of the time. It would be fun to have my hair colorful.

Student: Saying ‘hi’ in other cultures is different. You are supposed to bow or kneel to greet someone. We don’t do that here.

Student: It’s interesting how in India, you could travel to a different area of the country and they would be speaking a completely different language. Here, if you travel to a different state, everyone speaks English.


After that discussion with the Nelms’ eager and knowledgeable class, I was able to reflect on how great it is for District 25’s students to have the opportunity to meet, face to face, people living everyday lives around the world. This project clearly opens student’s minds to everything outside of, not only their block and their town, but to everything outside of the country. 

The students clearly understand that there ARE real people, living everyday lives around the world and now at Westgate, they can picture it.

Adam Harris