Archive for March, 2011

This week I delivered Personal Development Plan training or PDP to 150 Arab Open University Kuwait Branch students. The AOU students and employees were divided into three groups of women and two groups of men. They were a delightful mix of young and old, of different nationalities, cultures, religions and backgrounds. Some were running schools and companies while others came straight from high school. Their common factor was their zest for life and their commitment to study and improve themselves.

The one-day PDP workshop covers setting goals, organisation skills, time management, study skills, covering letters and CVs, and job interviews. We played games, role-plays and quizzes, watched short films, had trouble-shooting discussions and learnt from each other. PDP leaflet for AOU

Kuwait AOU students and employees have the same goals as in the West: starting a family, buying a car and house, getting a job or promotion and ultimately being happy. They also face the same problems of combining family, friends, a job and studies. On the other hand, we also talked about some of the PDP issues that students here in the Gulf are confronted with.

I had a fantastic week at AOU Kuwait Branch and enjoyed every minute of it. My students went home happy and content. They told me they learnt a lot from the PDP training and I learnt a lot from them.

An Swinnen


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“You are staying WHERE? An, that is not a decent hotel. Why did you not check with me first before booking that hotel?” Mohamed Salama asked. I could hear him sigh and pictured him sitting in his office with his head in his hands. Mohamed is my best friend in Abu Dhabi and the Managing Director of Jernas Solutions, a safety and security company. Being out with Mohamed is like being out with a famous film star. Everyone wants to say hello and shake his hand. I am always the safest girl in Abu Dhabi when Mohamed looks after me. 

In my book “The Business Survival Guide (because it’s a jungle out there)” I advise people to use www.booking.com for hotel reservations. Sometimes I book my old favourites like the Ibis Hotel in Kuwait, Le Meridien in Abu Dhabi or the Grand Hyatt in Doha. If you book early enough you can get great deals. Sometimes I decide to be adventurous and try out different hotels, especially in Bahrain where I find the Gulf Hotel overpriced for the service you get.

That is how I ended up in a 4-star business hotel in Manama that turned out to be a “not very decent” hotel. There were prostitutes everywhere: outside, in the lounge, the corridors and the nightclub where the deals were made. The Hotel Manager explained to me that these ladies were guests’ girlfriends. They fall in love in the nightclub …

Another example of Cupid working his magic I experienced in a hotel in Muscat in Oman. My 18-year old bell boy refused my tip (first time ever), sat on my bed and told me how beautiful I was. It took me 10 minutes to get him out of my room. I have never had to rely on “I’m tired, please leave” body language as much as in that hotel.

Next time you check into a 4-star business hotel that has a big bed positioned in the middle of a large room surrounded by mirrors and a bar area, think … All might not be what it seems!

An Swinnen

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I sit on my own bed and kick off my high heels. Home! No need for business dresses, heels and laptop bags. A big jumper, jeans and trainers will do. A team of doctors, dentist, hairdresser, business advisors, bank and accountant are ready to patch me up in a minimum amount of time and send me back on the road.

I live far away from the real world. I live on the English Riviera in Agatha Christie Country. Think afternoon tea in rose gardens, beautiful cottages, green hills and wide beaches with palm trees.        

The Churston Court, Devon - my beloved local

I am home for seven days and need to find a balance between problem solving (lots of annoying things happen to houses, cars, computers and heating while you are away), hard work, our South West Training Centre, friends, cappuccinos at Cafe Tutto near the beach and lunches at the Churston Court, a 12 th century manor house where they serve the most amazing local moules marinieres.

Before leaving, Helen promises me to start looking for a house for me to buy in Paignton. Dave of Automaster will find me a new car and Andy will deal with the heating problem. Where would I be without my friends?

An Swinnen



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 “Urgent! Contact us asap!” the email from the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Kuwait read. I had stayed at the Crowne Plaza on 3 February in preparation for my big evening. On 4 February I was awarded the British Business Forum Excellence Award 2010 by Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne. It was news to me to read that because the Crowne Plaza had arranged my entry visa, I had to stay with them until leaving Kuwait. By then I had checked into the Ibis Hotel in Salmiya and was not keen to return and pay three times as much, however much I love the Crowne Plaza.

I decided to do nothing and wait. Their following email was more alarming. I was on a list of young women reported missing by immigration police (and we all know what that means in the Middle East!). There was a chance I might not be allowed back into Kuwait so off I went into a taxi back to the Crowne Plaza!

Leaving Kuwait for Bahrain on 11 February was not a problem as the Immigration Officer was on a long mobile phone call while checking my visa and I was still registered at the hotel.

On 16 February after a meeting with Dr Taj at Qatar University I boarded a plane back to Kuwait. I was wearing my professional business woman look with glasses on my nose just in case the alarm bells went off (I left my new red boots in my suitcase). As ever, the Immigration Officer smiled at my “salam aleykum and sukran”. The plan worked: no arrest and a new entry visa! Result!

An Swinnen

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