DUBAI // Abdullatif Bani Hashem has returned from a summer trip Down Under with a love of all things Australian - except Vegemite.
One of 30 Emirati boys who spent summer in Australia this year on an educational trip, Abdullatif was no fan of the strong-smelling, strong-tasting Aussie sandwich spread.
"I did not like it that much because it is a new taste but I got my family some Australian sweets and biscuits," he said.
The Summer Abroad programme was part of an educational and cultural partnership between the Abu Dhabi Education Council (Adec) and Bendigo Tafe, a vocational training centre in the Australian state of Victoria and one of the trip's sponsors.
"It was very interesting," said Abdullatif. "We learnt about a new culture and the Australian way of life. We also learnt about the Aboriginal people.
"We went camping, participated in sports and went canoeing. We were also introduced to the animals that are native to Australia, like the kangaroo and dingo."
John Butler, the commissioner to the Middle East and North Africa for Victoria, said the students had all completed the programme successfully.
"The four-week visit has clearly been an enlightening, two-way cultural experience that has enabled the Emirati students and their Australian hosts to learn about each other's way of life," said Mr Butler.
The pupils spent four weeks living with local families. They were able to practise their English skills and learn about the Australian culture.
Among other activities were visits to outdoor camps, wildlife parks, universities and galleries.
They also travelled to Melbourne to watch Australian rules football at Etihad Stadium.
"We would be delighted to see the alumni of this programme return to Victoria in the future as higher-level students at one of our excellent tertiary institutions," said Mr Butler.
Abdullatif, who will be in Grade 12 this year, said he wanted to become an engineer and would consider studying in Australia if he found the right university and course.
"Everyone was very kind and helpful," he said.
"We were placed with homestay families who helped us improve our English skills. I will keep in touch with them by e-mail."
Ahmed Al Shamsi, a project manager at Adec, said parents who had sent their children on the programme last year were very impressed with it.
"Overall, parents were highly impressed by the positive change in their children's behaviour and improved language skills for those who have travelled to Australia, as well as other countries," Mr Al Shamsi said. "Students that have attended the programme have continued to excel."