FUJAIRAH //Until recently, Noof Al Zayoudi had never contemplated getting her hands dirty with gardening.
"My grandfather has a farm but I didn't know anything about farming," said Noof, 19, a student at the Higher Colleges of Technology (HCT) in Fujairah.
That changed with her introduction to the college's greenhouse, where she joined a group of female first and second-year English-language students in growing organic herbs, flowers and vegetables.
"Now I have my own vegetables to take care of," said Noof.
"[My grandfather] is proud of me. Learning about our heritage is good for the past, present and future."
In September, the project earned special praise from Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak, the Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research and chancellor of HCT, for building students' awareness of the environment, use of English and teamwork.
The initiative is entirely in English to help the students with their language skills.
"We are finding them becoming much more motivated and engaged in the language," said Bruce Gleason, the teacher who runs it.
The project, launched in 2009, this year won the Nikai Award for Innovation in Teaching among the HCT and has helped the students connect with their older relatives, whose farming culture is becoming increasingly distant to many young people.
"We wanted them to do something that would keep them connected to their heritage," Mr Gleason said. "Around half the girls are from farming families."
The girls, all striving for business studies degrees, have blogs on the college website where they are encouraged to discuss the project and practise written English.
It is not HCT's only attempt to engage students beyond the lecture hall. Next term teaching students will go to the mangroves in Kalba to learn about the conservation area.