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Emirati School Pupils Tell of Confidence Boost from Overseas Summer Programmes

Melanie Swan, The National
October 15, 2015

Emirati high school pupils returning from a summer programme to prepare them for university spoke about how the experience was shaping their plans.

Funded by the Sheikh Saqr Student Enrichment Program, part of Al Qasimi Foundation for Policy Research, seven Emirati pupils from RAK travelled to either the United States or the UK for three weeks to improve their English language skills and prepare for university life.

The group has begun their final year of three in the enrichment programme and reflected on their summer experience.

Sara Al Zaabi, 16, was one of two to travel to the Oxbridge Summers programme, studying subjects that included English language, art and politics. Before the trip, she was unsure which direction her studies would take but, having gone back to school, her view was clearer.

“After visiting Oxford, I’ve decided to apply there for undergraduate studies. After taking the political science classes, I realised it was not for me, so I will be studying English literature,” she said.

Pupils begin the university preparation programme in Year 10 and continue until they leave school at the end of Year 12.

Jessica Andrews, a coordinator from the foundation, said such experiences beyond the classroom were vital to complement the education children received in schools.

“There is a lot of focus on rote learning and memory learning here, so on these kinds of trips the students are really learning critical thinking, independence. That’s not something that the system here emphasises as much as it does content,” she said.

Aamna Al Zaabi, 17, travelled with four others to the Summer English Academy at CCI Greenheart in San Francisco.

She said: “This programme added a lot of value to my life, like how to be respectful, how to connect with others and how to be yourself.

“I learnt how to be confident. In the UAE, I have people to support me, like my family and friends, and I rely on them, but when I was in the US the game changed completely.

“Ever since I came home, I’ve overcome my shyness. For example, when I’m in the maths class and don’t understand the point, I used to never say a word because I’m shy, but I overcame that.

“I’ve realised the importance of being confident because your family and friends won’t always be there for you, and being confident is one of the main factors in life.”

Shahad Al Shehhi, 17, went to the US and said she “gained courage,” in and out of the classroom. She undertook intensive English lessons in addition to recreational and cultural awareness activities, which included volunteering at a food bank that helps to feed 1,500 families.

“Before this trip I was always relying on my parents, but now I feel that I can do anything by myself, without any fear,” Shahad said. "Also, I feel that my English language has become better because I used only English to communicate with others.” 

Dr. Natasha Ridge, head of the foundation, said: “This opportunity supports our larger goal of equipping more talented Emirati students from Ras Al Khaimah to pursue university degrees abroad.”