How Two Women are Bridging Diversity in Abu Dhabi

Recently, I saw down with Jacqueline Smith and Shala Noufe, two organizers of Building Cultural Connections (BCC) to discuss their inclusive collective and
the importance of having friends and family while living abroad.

Dorian: Where are you two originally from? How has being raised there
shaped your perceptive/view on life?

Jacqui: I am from UK, England and was raised in a small town in the
Midlands, two hours North of London with my seven siblings. My parents
are from Jamaica. They moved to the UK to follow their dreams and to
raise their family. As such, I was brought up in a close-knit family
and raised to believe that education was crucial to one’s success, and
that with perseverance you could achieve whatever you put your mind
to. Family, culture, education and travel have shaped my perspective
on life.

Shala: I am from Georgia, USA. Being raised in what is called “The
South” has made me friendly, easy going, and family focused. Life is
better with friends and family.

Dorian: I agree. Financial and career success is important, but 
I’ll take friends and family over material wealth any day. When I
first moved here, I immediately felt a void as I came here by myself.
I was thankful for financial freedom but felt isolated.
That’s why I’m so excited to hear more about Building Cultural Connections (BCC) and how you all are providing a platform for people to feel included. Explain more about BCC for someone that has never heard of it. How and when did it get started?

Jacqui: Building Cultural Connections was originally known as Black
Culture Experience and was started by an expat from London UK who
wanted to create a platform for Black expats and others living and
working here, whether they were born here or not, to socialise and
network using Black culture as the vehicle. As the group grew in size
and diversity, it transitioned into the group we have today. Our motto
is ‘Be Proud, Be You!’


Shala: BCC reflects a diverse group of people who not only love their
culture but also desire to learn more and experience other cultures.
Working and living here in the UAE has made us global citizens and the
group’s new name and direction reflects that.

Dorian: It really seems that you all have struck a chord with people
as you all have close to 1000 active members on What makes this group stand out from others in the UAE?

Shala: This group stands out because it is about forming lasting
connections beyond our tenure here. Our Meetups are usually intimate,
welcoming, fun, and promote social and personal networking. We attend
and put on a variety of local events frequently, so there is always
something happening for members. We try to make events affordable and
accessible, often sharing cars and taxis.

Jacqui: We understand that when people leave their families and
countries to work abroad they can often feel very isolated and miss
their families. So we try to give people a taste of home by
encouraging people to share their culture as that is what makes them
who they are. So, for example, we have many potluck events where
people bring their traditional foods to share. We focus on creating
inclusive, intimate events with personal touches often organising
events in members homes. This tends to make for a more relaxed setting
which leads to better interaction and understanding between people.

Dorian: What are some of the events you all host or like to attend?

Jacqui: I personally enjoy our monthly movie nights as members open up
their home for us to meet. Everyone brings food to share and we
usually end up with some discussion or debate at the end. We like to
offer a variety of events and we also take suggestions from members.
We also believe in supporting and celebrating local events and
festivals, especially anything to do with culture, the arts, music.
Shared experiences are often more memorable.

Dorian: Why is BCC needed?

Shala: BCC is needed because it provides a platform for people to meet
and learn about various cultures in a personable way. It helps to
highlight the positive relationships that exist in the world and in
particular here in the UAE. We believe we are breaking down negative stereotypes and barriers, which in turn leads to appreciation and a better understanding of each other.

Dorian: Do you mostly attend other community events or host your own?Jacqui: We like to support whatever is happening locally and Abu Dhabi
World and Tempo Magazine are some of our resources for ideas.
Shala: We mostly attend or create our own small community events but
this year we are branching out more to create larger events. We have
started ‘Line Up,’ Abu Dhabi’s first Urban Line Dance Group and are
planning other yearly events. But we find that dance and music in
general is great for bringing people together in a positive and
creative way. It crosses language and cultural barriers.


Dorian: What are some of your most memorable moments with BCC over the years?

Jacqui: Some of my memorable moments were the overnight desert trip to
Liwa. The desert event was fun and exhausting. We sat under the stars,
shared our secrets and marvelled at the beauty of the place. We stayed
up late talking and laughing. The next day as the sun rose we trekked
through the desert and ate breakfast on top of a sand dune, the
setting was so serene!

Shala: Yes! The desert overnight was truly amazing and more so because
it was a team experience and we had members from the age of 6 to 70!
Another popular event is our ‘Meet Greet and Mingle’ events which
attracts larger numbers. We have a series of fun icebreakers or themes
or questions which lead to really interesting conversation.

Dorian: Where do you see yourself 5 years from now? Ten years?

Shala: Five years from now I would hope the group continues to grow
and develop into an international organisation, a go-to place for
people interested in learning about others, hanging out, and growing
with people different than you.

Jacqui: I would love to see sister organisations in other countries. A
hub to connect with or call on in your personal, social and business
life. We all need a group that supports families as well as singles
and couples.

Dorian: Any last thoughts?

Jacqui: We would like to thank all our members, the BCC family, for
their support and a special shout out to our planning group whose hard
work allows us to put on such regular events. Finally, we are just
getting started with our social media, and hope people will join us
and follow us through one or all of our platforms. We are now
welcoming new members. Join the family.

Dorian: It was great to have coffee with you. I have one last thought
as well. Do you mind joining me and following me to the register to
pay for this check?

*Jacqui and Shala both stare blankly.

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Instagram: Building Cultural Connections

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