Wellness and Cultural Exploration: A Journey through Dubai, UAE

Published 05/17/2024 in Scholar Travel Stipend
Written by Simrankaur Wahan | 05/17/2024

Dubai, the treasure of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), represents a unique combination of modernity and tradition. Despite its rapid development and global status as a financial and commercial hub, Dubai remains deeply connected to its Emirati culture, allowing travelers like me to experience a beautiful blend of wellness experiences and local customs. I would like to delve into my recent exploration of wellness and cultural richness in Dubai, emphasizing its transformation into a haven for serenity amidst the bustling metropolitan landscape.

Prior to embarking on this trip, I wanted to examine the juxtaposition of Dubai's global stature with its commitment to preserving and promoting Emirati heritage, exemplified by attractions like the Global Village and Emirates Heritage Village. Through this one-week trip, I was able to gain valuable insights into both Emirati culture and the broader Middle Eastern region, which allowed me to develop a broader understanding of global diversity.

Dubai: A Beacon of Wellness in the Middle East:

Dubai's visionary leadership under Sheikh Mohammed ibn Rashid Al Maktoum has proven its commitment to holistic development by transforming Dubai into a wellness destination. The Emirates has invested in luxurious resorts and infrastructure, including wellness retreats, which cater to the global demand for rejuvenation amidst a busy life. Though the opulent spa experiences in skyscrapers like the Burj Khalifa were out of financial reach for a young traveler like me, I did find the tranquil desert retreats to be very affordable and relaxing.

The Arabian Desert provides respite from the fast pace of city life with its expansive dunes, desert safaris, camel rides, and starlit dinners in the desert sky. Though it was my first time in a desert, I felt at ease and closer to a different yet serene side of nature. This experience continued to solidify Dubai’s stance toward well-being by preserving the desert into an enjoyable adventure that those from all backgrounds could find solace in.


Dubai offers a variety of other wellness options that cater to all visitors as well. As Dubai is a melting pot like my hometown of NYC, I witnessed an amalgamation of wellness practices from across the globe. There were cafes like SEVA Experience Dubai, which is the Middle East’s leading yoga, meditation, and holistic wellness center serving 100% organic, plant-based food. There are Ayurvedic (ancient Indian medicine) practices followed at this center. Seeing the accessibility of such food and practices exemplified what Mike Milken always teaches us at annual summits and what we’ve been practicing at Summits recently:

 1)     Plant-based is the future (I have the Periodic Table of fruits and vegetables that Mike gave us hung up on my fridge).

2)      Increased focus on wellness sessions at summits and Alumni Symposium: “Staying Positive Amidst Uncertainty” from Summit 2020, where I taught breathing exercises and “Wellness Health Break” from Alumni Symposium 2023, where I led a morning meditation session.

Seeing yoga studios, meditation centers, holistic therapies, and organic cafes across the city demonstrated the importance of wellness and finding support amidst the urban hustle. There were also unique sights catered to wellness, including Miracle Garden, a botanical oasis amidst the urban landscape. Here, you could find flowers of all types in the middle of the desert! There were topiaries, or sculptures made of grass- see the unicorn one in the picture.

Dubai's Miracle Garden is truly proof of the city's ability to transform dry, desert like landscapes into lively sights. The Miracle Garden is truly a miracle and spans over 72,000 square meters. It has majestic sculptures and intricately designed trails. Not only was it a floral paradise, but also was a wellness hot spot. I found myself basking in nature and for a few hours, it didn’t even feel like I was in the middle of a bustling city.

Juxtaposing Globalization with Cultural Identity:

Though Dubai is now modernizing with numerous skyscrapers, it is still connected to its Emirati roots. I noticed that the Emirati people are very hospitable, generous, and really revere their tradition. Men wear white kanduras while women don gorgeous abayas. I had an opportunity to delve into Emirati culture when I visited Global Village and the Emirates Heritage Village. The Emirates Heritage Village shows the Bedouin (desert dweller) lifestyle. Emirati artisans demonstrated their crafts, and I had an opportunity to listen to Emirati folklore.

My favorite cultural attraction, which I would hope all Milken Scholars can one day visit, was the Dubai Global Village. This man-made village celebrates diversity by having a designated space for over 90 countries to exhibit their individual foods, handicrafts, and performances. I don’t believe that I have ever had as much cross-cultural understanding and appreciation in one area as I did at the Global Village. This attraction was testament to Dubai’s pledge to promoting cultural heritage of not just the UAE, but also the world. I could walk to one corner to try the moisturizing shea better of Senegal and walk to another corner to try the mango and coconut smoothies of Thailand in the same “village.”

UAE’s sheikh promotes business-friendly policies and promotes constructing religious sites of different communities. I had the opportunity to visit a Sikh Gurdwara in Dubai and have attached a picture of the gratitude expressed by the community to the Sheikh for allowing this construction. This further demonstrated a commitment to preserving and honoring global cultures and religions.

The Milken Institute and Milken Family Foundation's Mission in Cultural Understanding:

The mission statements of the Milken Institute and Milken Family Foundation highlight a commitment to fostering global understanding and collaboration, aligning closely with my objectives of cultural and wellness exploration in Dubai. By immersing myself in the rich Emirati culture and engaging with diverse perspectives at the Global Village, I was able to gain a greater cultural understanding, which is what we as Milken scholars always try to do. The Milken Institute is also working to promote wellness, mental health, and mindfulness, which I’ve had the opportunity to experience at Milken Scholar summits and symposiums.

The epitome of connection can only be experienced by wholeheartedly immersing ourselves into the lived realities of others. Connection is the only medium to experiencing unconditional love. It's through genuine connection that we bridge the gaps between cultures, languages, and perspectives, transcending barriers to understanding and fostering empathy. In these moments of true connection, we not only enrich our own lives but also contribute to the collective tapestry of human experience, weaving threads of compassion, understanding, and unity.


All in all, the luxurious city of Dubai offers vibrant cultural experiences and integrates a variety of wellness offerings, which demonstrate its commitment to both tradition and modernity. Through this trip, I embarked on a transformative journey of global enlightenment and self-discovery. As Dubai grows as a global center for wellness and cultural exploration, I am certain that it will continue to be a beacon of innovation in the Middle East and beyond.