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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 11 December 2018

Taking time out should be part of everyone's education

A year off after school to properly explore university degrees and employment prospects is vital

The Philippine island of Boracay. Taking a break to travel before entering the workforce is a positive thing to do. AFP
The Philippine island of Boracay. Taking a break to travel before entering the workforce is a positive thing to do. AFP

Why taking a break should be celebrated more in Arabia

With almost everyone on holiday as we celebrate the UAE’s 47th birthday this weekend, I thought it was important to shed a light on the concept of taking breaks in life.

Taking a year after school to go backpacking in Europe, or to find oneself, is not something unheard of in the West. In fact, many high school graduates use that time to intern, find their passion in their life, or simply to just do nothing.

When I obtained my Masters’ degree, I was only 21, and I decided to take a one-year break before I joined the workforce. I had crammed a lot of studying in the past four years that I just wanted to relax, discover where I really wanted to work and try out different things. Sounds fair, right?

It was during that time that I took oil painting and calligraphy classes, learned French, submitted my writing pieces to local publications and started a fashion sideline that eventually became a fulyl-fledged online business.

While my parents were supportive of my decision, many in my social circle were questioning it. “Did you start applying for jobs?,” “Why are you at home?” They weren’t convinced by conscious and deliberate decision to take a break. To them, taking a break was some form of failure. It was going against the norm, especially when you were a young and smart accomplished student.

I remember I was at a dinner event once when one of my mom’s friends, a proud career woman, started asking me about my career plans. I told her that I don’t intend to work for the time being. She was so appalled by my response that I still remember her exact words: “I never thought you’d be a person who wouldn’t want to develop herself, Manar,”

I took that same step again, also deliberately, when I left my role in the government and decided to manage my businesses full time. I wanted to take a break to travel, empty my brain and simply just to relax.

Although my family was also supportive of my decision, some of my friends and acquaintances weren’t. “You’ll be bored,” “What do you mean a break?” or the classic one: “Shouldn’t you know what you want to do with your life by now?”

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When people graduate in the UAE, they are expected to join the workforce straight away and if the organisation is good, specifically if it was in the government sector, they would rarely leave it and basically work their way to retirement.

Taking a break after school or in between jobs to find one’s self or just to relax is unheard of in the UAE and the Arabian Gulf countries in general but I believe that it’s very important and should be considered especially after high school.

In our final years of school, we were so busy with finals that I remember some of my classmates enrolled in college programmes that they may have never pursued if they had proper time to experience that field. What happened later was that some switched courses during their second year,or just suffered, pursuing a major they disliked because they had no other choice.

Taking a year after school to properly explore college degrees, future employment prospects and interning in different organisations to have a sense of what it would be like to pursue accounting or engineering is vital.

Think about how much time and money would be saved instead of having students request to switch majors, or drop out of one college to go to the next. In the end it’s only one year after high school, not 10, and we would have students and young people who are pursuing degrees that they are strongly passionate and excited about.

How I see this done is there should be a partnership or understanding between the Ministry of Education and entities in the UAE where they would take on high school graduate interns and perhaps create an internship programme that involves interning in different entities both public and private based on someone’s interests. At the end of it, the student would have a sense of what degree they want to undertake in university and what sort of career path in the future.

Many entities’ internship programmes only cater to fresh graduates or those in their final years of university, so having a nation-wide scheme that’s aimed at high school graduates is great.

In addition, by doing so, high school students may find it interesting to work in the private sector, thus increasing the number of Emiratis there as well as help the UAE diversity its economy by pursuing new and unconventional career paths.

Manar Al Hinai is an award-winning Emirati journalist and entrepreneur, who manages her marketing and communications firm in Abu Dhabi.