Al Qasimi Foundation Offers Interns Experience Beyond the Office Walls
Al Qasimi Foundation
September 27, 2015
Internships are a rite of passage for today’s university students. When it comes to equipping interns with professional experience, the Al Qasimi Foundation offers opportunities that build both resumes and relationships.
The Foundation approaches its internships differently than most organizations, opting for a community-based experience rather than traditional office-based programs.
“Being a part of the Foundation team—even for a limited time—means taking an active role in Ras Al Khaimah’s broader community. It means building bridges among educators, researchers, under-privileged youths, policymakers, and other diverse stakeholder groups,” says Ms. Caitrin Mullan, who supervises the Foundation’s internship program.
This year, interns from Germany, Sudan, Hungary, the United States, India, and New Zealand joined the Foundation’s international team and were immersed in the community. Working, eating, and socializing with Ras Al Khaimah residents allowed interns to connect organically with the people most impacted by their work—an opportunity not always available to students learning about community development or regional research.
Ms. Ann-Christine Niepelt, one of this summer’s research interns, sees the community dimension of this program as invaluable.
“Of course I expanded my knowledge of sociology, philanthropy, and the United Arab Emirates’ education system while interning with the Foundation,” says Ms. Niepelt, who is finishing her master’s degree in Berlin, “but the most memorable parts of my internship were getting out of the office to explore Ras Al Khaimah first-hand.”
Part of Ms. Niepelt’s research took her to local schools. At Al Dhait Secondary School, she was able to observe Emirati students of all ages honing their English skills through skits and songs and to socialize with students and teachers at an English language carnival organized by grade 12 students to promote interactive learning.
In her free time, Ms. Niepelt camped in the desert, became acquainted with Old Town’s souk, took intercultural Zumba classes, and explored the coast of neighboring Fujairah.
“If you come to do research or development work at the Foundation, the holistic internship experience improves your intercultural competency. Especially if you come from abroad, getting into the research ‘field’ is your only opportunity to get to know the UAE’s culture. Every time I had meetings with other institutions around the country, visited local schools, or got an invitation to an Emirati wedding, I realized how much being present in this community helped me become a better researcher and a better neighbor—even when I went back to Berlin!”
This July, the Foundation’s outreach efforts opened the door for another intern, Ms. Aliz Toth, to experience a traditional Iftar celebration in an Emirati home. Along with fellow residents, she ventured outside Ras Al Khaimah City to Sha’am, a more northern area of the emirate and home to several local tribes.
In Sha’am, Ms. Toth found herself sitting on the floor of a gold majlis as two-dozen people encircled an Iftar spread, which was complete with traditional Emirati fare—biryani, harees, fareed (or thareed), and luqaimat.
One of the Foundation’s related Ramadan traditions is participating in sadaqa, or compassionate giving. Staff members assemble care packages and personally distribute them to street laborers working in Ras Al Khaimah. Ms. Toth was able to deliver these gifts and meet the men who keep the emirate safe and beautiful.
“Even though I have lived in the UAE as a student for a couple of years, I did not always feel that I had the chance to engage deeply with Arab culture,” explains Ms. Toth, who hails from Hungary. “So I was grateful for these opportunities because they gave me a better insight into the country in which I’m living.”
Ras Al Khaimah residents welcome Foundation interns into their community because many of them feel connected to the organization that has continually invested in local teachers, students, and other populations.
This August, Ms. Toth attended a Syrian wedding for the daughter of one of the teachers who take part in the Foundation’s professional development program. A former dancer herself, Ms. Toth learned traditional Syrian dances at the wedding and helped female guests welcome the groom and his attendants as they processed into the ballroom playing drums and bagpipe.
For Ms. Toth, the connection between her professional goals and these engagement opportunities is clear.
“Knowing about the community and the culture surrounding us can be vital in any workplace, but this is especially true when doing development or research-related work. At the Foundation, I could see my own research work in its context. Formulating questions, compiling sources, and analyzing data are all shaped by this context, and the Foundation's internship model was a great way to learn about carrying out research,” says Ms. Toth.
“And,” she adds, “the Indian food in Ras Al Khaimah is by far the best I have ever had.”
Dr. Natasha Ridge, the Foundation’s Executive Director, appreciates interns’ willingness to invest in Ras Al Khaimah at a personal level.
“Our internships,” she says, “provide opportunities for distinguished students to gain professional experience while making meaningful contributions to a dynamic community, and they can do this only by engaging its people. So, we do everything we can to foster those kinds of cross-cultural affinities because they benefit young professionals and they benefit our emirate.”