ABU DHABI // Three women have beaten competition from 67 other Emirati applicants to win coveted Fulbright scholarships to study in the US. The Fulbright programme was founded in 1946 in Washington to provide a bridge between the US and the world. It now reaches out to 140 countries. The UAE sent its first scholars in 2006. Including the latest three, seven have gone through the rigorous year-long selection process.
Maryam al Meqbaali, Rana al Hammadi and Umaimah Rasheed, were among 70 Emiratis - 45 women and 25 men - to apply this year. Mary Corrado, the country director at AMIDEAST, the organisation that works with the US State Department on the programme and finds suitable students, said the number of women applicants from the UAE reflected their growing ambition to become successful professionals. Of the four previous Emirati scholars, only one was a man.
Most of the students have come from the Higher Colleges of Technology, although the search included federal and private institutions. Lana Kattan, who travelled the Emirates seeking candidates, said men had more opportunity after high school to go directly into work. "But women are more driven," she added. "They feel the need to prove themselves." Ms Rasheed, a psychologist, is a pioneer in her field - an area massively under-represented by Emiratis, she said.
"Mental health is a huge issue," she said. "It's important to have local experts who understand both the local and foreign culture, to address mental health issues in the UAE." Ms Corrado confirmed the stringency of the selection process. Students have to submit to examinations testing their English, as well as passing one-on-one interviews and a series of written applications. Ms al Meqbaali, who will take her MBA at Dowling College in New York State, said the only challenge she expected was missing her family. It will be her first time living away from home.
Ms al Hammadi has been working in graphic design for five years since graduating in applied media studies. She will study art history at New York's Pratt Institute. "There is a vision for Abu Dhabi now and many projects are focusing on museums, like the development of Saadiyat Island. "There is a new focus and cultural awareness towards art." Ms Rasheed studied for her bachelor's in psychology and professional writing at the University of Toronto. She will study at The Chicago School of Professional Psychology. She said she hoped the trip would help to dispel the notion among some westerners that Arab women are socially oppressed.
The students, who leave in August, are funded by the State Department and receive around US$120,000 (Dh440,000) for the two-year programme. This covers everything from from tuition fees to housing. They also get a flight home each year. Since the programme was founded in 1946, 183,000 students have gone to the US through the scholarship and 110,000 US students have travelled to other nations. Amna al Zaabi was the first Fulbright scholar from the Emirates. She went to the US to specialise in counselling, and now works with the Emirates Nuclear Energy Company. Applications for the next round of students close on July 29. Applicants can apply online at https://apply.embark.com/student/fulbright/international