Today we were able to visit the American University of Sharjah. While there we got a tour of their art building and were able to sit in on the critiques for the senior Visual Communications class. As soon as our bus pulled up to the university, I was amazed. The architecture was beautiful! Their entire courtyard, or in our case “Red Square,” was covered in marble. We walk over to the art building and immediately as we walk in you could see the differences. The floor plan is more open and instead of desks for you to sit at they have tables where you can lay your work out and leave it. There are three levels to the work area. The bottom level is for beginning students who are just starting their major and during your years at AUS you eventually make it up to the top floor where senior students work. The “Jp” of their department met with us for the tour and showed us around all the different studios that are available. Printmaking, ceramics, wood/metal shops, and all of the different printers and 3D technology that is readily available to the students. Afterwards we made our way over to the university Starbucks. Yes, they have their own and this one was maybe twice the size of the Parkland Starbucks. While in line to get some coffee, I met an Environmental Studies student from Lebanon. She immediately could point out that we weren’t students since everyone else is busy studying for their exams the next day. I really enjoyed talking to her and getting to know why she came to AUS. Nothing to grand, her family moved to the UAE, Sharjah in particular, back in the early 2000′s. She asked us if we liked it here in Sharjah and Makenzie and I both said yes which took her by surprise. Sharjah has many restrictions, one being that it is the only “dry” emirate in the UAE. Any other emirate you can find alcohol but in Sharjah, strictly prohibited. Among other reasons, she can’t wait to graduate in May and take a break and visit Lebanon before pursuing her Masters degree. We parted ways and wished her luck on her exams the next day.
After our coffee break we sat in on the senior Visual Communications class. One by one students would go up to the front of the class and present their project, either an autobiographical piece or a rebranding piece. One student went out of the box and took her own direction on the project. Other professors sat in on the critique and gave their feedback on each project, some more brutal than others. Back at PLU, the entire class would be involved with critiques. Over at AUS, none of the students spoke up. We were told ahead of time that we could speak up during the critique but since the students in the back weren’t saying anything I know for myself, I felt uncomfortable speaking for a project I liked when there were professors harshly critiquing some projects. My personal favorite was a student who rebranded or in the case “branded” for the new Louvre in Abu Dhabi that opens in 2015. I appreciated the steps she took to find the perfect balance of pattern and sophistication for the logo. During our lunch break with the students I made sure to tell her that I enjoyed her presentation and that I was silently cheering her on. Little to my knowledge, they were waiting for us to speak up! The reason they didn’t say anything was because they all had their heads buried in their books near the back of the classroom. We all laughed and carried on our conversations with students. I learned that AUS isn’t much different than PLU, in regards to the art department. They, too, get kicked out by campus security at a certain point during the night and have to stand their ground to stay later.
We concluded the night by having a little slice of home for dinner: The Cheesecake Factory. Located in the Mall of the Emirates, this Cheesecake Factory is the largest one in the world! Best part about the night? Two of our servers were from the states! One from Boston and the other from LA/Thousand Oaks. Once hearing that we were from Seattle, they quickly found two other servers from Seattle as well. What are the chances! We learned a lot about the company tonight. All of the servers from the states are a group of workers that applied with 8,000 others to get the chance to go around the world and help train new workers. This all started about six months ago, too. They were all just recently in Kuwait for an opening and have upcoming openings in Egypt, Saudia Arabia, Puerto Rico, and Mexico City and that’s only in the next few months. We made sure to get a group shot with our servers and of course ended the night with a slice of cheesecake.