MSU interior design senior Lauren Stoklas on her Clinton Scholarship experience in Dubai

Lauren Stoklas, a senior in the Interior Design program in the MSU School of Planning, Design and Construction, was one of the awardees of the prestigious 2018 William Jefferson Clinton Scholarship.

Image of Lauren Stoklas.
Lauren Stoklas, a senior in the Interior Design Program, enjoying the Dubai desert in summer 2018.

Lauren Stoklas, a senior in the Interior Design program in the MSU School of Planning, Design and Construction, was one of the awardees of the prestigious 2018 William Jefferson Clinton Scholarship. Stoklas spent the fall semester studying abroad at the American University in Dubai.

“Dubai is known for being a type of cultural melting pot; so being able to have my first foreign cultural experience in such a diverse community was incredible,” Stoklas said. “I loved being surrounded by people that grew up differently than me, dressed differently than me, spoke differently than me, and believe in different things than me.”

“I was not only able to learn so much about the Middle East, but I also learned so much about all the unique aspects of various individual Middle Eastern countries. The people were so welcoming and I have never found such gracious hospitality,” she said.

“It didn’t take much more than two weeks to assimilate to a lot of the cultural aspects of the area, since the friends I made there were so eager to show me their culture.”

Each semester, 10 U.S. students are offered the Clinton Scholarship to strengthen their exposure to Middle Eastern culture. The recipients must demonstrate exemplary academic achievement. The scholarship covers full tuition and housing for a semester.

“Something I learned about interior design that I brought back with me is that design is a reflection of a region's people and their culture. Design should support the people that are going to be using the space, so this is why it is extremely crucial as a designer to do thorough research on the intended occupants,” Stoklas said.

“The spaces we as designers create dramatically affect the occupants within the space, so it is important as professionals to not just create ‘pretty’ spaces, but rather ones that will benefit the people. To expand, this is not to say that designers need to cater towards people’s current behavior, but rather through design we can encourage new types of behavior,” she elaborated.

“Obviously this was something I have always known, but didn’t fully grasp until I live in a place whose culture was much different than my native one was I able to fully grasp this concept.”

Stoklas said that the Clinton Scholarship allowed her to step outside herself and reflect on her own design style and abilities to communicate.

“I think the biggest take away from my studies in Dubai was I learned how to effectively communicate and be empathetic with people from various backgrounds. I learned that I might not know anything about the metric system or what software a person uses to design, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t still collaborate or communicate,” she said.

Graduating this spring, Stoklas said this opportunity has prepared her for the unknowns that the future holds.

“I’d say the second biggest take away from my time abroad is that no matter where life takes me in the future, even if it’s not down the path I have clearly mapped out in my head, everything will be okay,” she said.

Stoklas became interested in the Clinton Scholarship after Linda Nubani, PhD, assistant professor of interior design, called her mid-June asking if she was interested in studying abroad in Dubai.

“I have always heard amazing things about studying abroad and I can confidently say that they are all true. The entire experience was so exciting and eye opening,” Stoklas said.

“I really valued the time I spent in such a contrasting place to the United States. I felt very fortunate to have gotten to visit a part of the world that a lot of my other friends who studied abroad have never gotten to see.”

Stoklas attributed her confidence and willingness to grasp an opportunity to her education at MSU, but said that her professors and their support played a large role in her attendance to the American University in Dubai.

Stoklas said that regarding her major, she noticed the interior design approach varied widely between the Middle East and the United States.

“While being in a place that has designed some of the most opulent spaces in the world, and has designed the world’s greatest, biggest, tallest everything, there is definitely a different approach to the design process,” she said.

“I found that designers in Dubai were faced with the challenge of creating a unique place for people to visit as almost everything has been done before. Their design approach was a lot more creative and abstract and that can especially be seen by just looking at Dubai’s skyline,” she said.

“Every space needs to stand out from its neighbor, so there was a constant battle of creating the ‘next best thing’.”

Within the homes of her friends, Stoklas said there were also simple design differences. 

“For example, in the United States, the kitchen is usually considered the heart of the home and is centrally located with views to the rest of the main living spaces. Meanwhile, in Dubai, I noticed most kitchens were tucked back in corners completely isolated from the rest of the home, and I think this reflected a huge cultural difference between the two places.”

Stoklas said that her time abroad was extremely valuable to her overall education and career.

“My biggest educational take-away would be it is extremely important to be able to acknowledge one's own predispositions when it comes to learning. Many times in class I had to step outside myself to get on the level of thinking my classmates were on – simply because of the differences in our cultures,” she said.

“I had to realize that just because I always considered something to just ‘be the way things are’ does not mean that is the case for everyone.”  

“It is extremely important to not just assume things are common knowledge or behavior, but instead ask yourself ‘how are my own past experiences affecting how I interpret what is being taught?’”

Stoklas said that her options are still open post-graduation, but she would like to work in a firm that specializes in some form of design, including interior design, graphic design or package design.

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