Sethu Tshabalala recently visited Dubai for business. She shares some of her insights below – 

“It’s 1 A.M. and I am walking the champagne-lit streets of the Dubai International Financial Centre. There is a bustling kind of quiet. People are still walking here and there. A waiter’s shift has just ended at a restaurant. Friends are ending the night with a group selfie that may be captioned “Dinner in the sky in Dubai”.

I landed in city three hours prior to this. As I left the plane, something in the ambience reassured me that I would love the city, as a style-crazed-heel-loving young woman in finance.

Everything about Dubai I experienced was grandiose: from the crystal lighting at the larger than life duty free counters, to the majestic flower-filled hotel reception I would call home for a short while.

And because adventure is far more thrilling to me than getting a full night’s rest, I sped through a shower, ordered something simple for dinner and left the hotel for a midnight stroll.

In this moment 1AM moment I have an out of body experience: the buildings tower over me almost as if to say, “Welcome to the future: elegant, clean and safe.” My heart abounds with joy as I experience one of the most iconic financial districts in my life. Somewhere a part of promises: “I’m coming back.”


Suffice to say, getting up the next morning was no easy feat. But that midnight stroll is a memory that will play itself over in my mind for the rest of my life.

I was in Dubai for business. In fact, I have been to four countries in the last few months since I began a new role. Every country is either a new set of lessons or a re-enforcement of some important ones. To summarise:

  • No matter what race, language and nationality others are: we all are the same. We have dreams. We have fears. We want to work. We want to know that we matter to people around us. We want to have a permanent place we can call home.
  • Wifi, taxis and currency run your daily life: without them you can lose everything. Literally
  • Materiality is not king: when you’re in a foreign country, you are only that: a foreigner, with a limited budget, who is heavily reliant on others for survival
  • He who does not learn the local language will struggle to win the hearts of the people

There is a perception in my community that travel is expensive or impossible. Although (thanks to social media and some multinational organisations), that is slowly changing. My aspiration for us as a generation of young people is that we would embrace the concept of leaving South Africa to try new places: professionally or for leisure.

A lack of diversity in any space is great breeding ground for prejudice and social conflict. With each country I’ve experienced I have been able to share a clearer idea of what South Africa is about and I am able to address areas where I lack perspective about other foreign nationals.

So please, when life grants you the chance: travel! Not only for the sake of an out of body experience on a midnight stroll in a safe city, but for the sake of enlarging your global perspective and creating one more socially conscious and sympathetic global citizen.”