x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Emirati students learn life lessons on trip to US

Visit helps Emiratis prepare for Masdar.

Naeema Al Nofeli and Mohamed Al Marzooqi from the Masdar Institute were among 24 Emirati students who have returned from a practical experience at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Naeema Al Nofeli and Mohamed Al Marzooqi from the Masdar Institute were among 24 Emirati students who have returned from a practical experience at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

ABU DHABI // Student Mohammed Al Marzooqi has just returned from two weeks at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Boston - but reckons his best lessons were outside the classroom.

The 24-year-old, from Sharjah, was one of 24 Emiratis sent to the US to prepare for the start of their courses next term at the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology.

For his undergraduate degree he studied at the Higher Colleges of Technology in his home emirate.

"Because we studied here, it's good to see a different environment," said Mr Al Marzooqi. "They motivated us to make a lot of changes when we came back - maybe things others wouldn't notice, small things, but changes."

He said the students' lives outside the classroom were much richer than his experiences in the UAE and at Masdar.

Beyond the university, Mr Al Marzooqi noticed many societal differences, too.

"For people with special needs, they have so many facilities - the doors, the auto-cars for people in the supermarket," he said. "These are things that aren't related to MIT but have inspired us."

Naeema Al Nofeli, 25, also noticed many lifestyle differences between students in the US and UAE, some of which could be adopted here.

"The students at MIT are much more focused on sport," she said. "Here, most of us go to the movies, but there, they are [playing] football, basketball."

Mr Al Marzooqi added: "When students are involved in activities at a university, it makes them more connected to the institution.

"Here, the teachers emphasise study and say we don't have time for anything but study, but that's bad. Sports make us healthy."

The students were part of a second batch to take the trip. It is part of a one-year foundation course to bring their skills in subjects such as maths up to the level needed to start a master's degree at Masdar.

Ms Al Nofeli hopes to ring the changes as a result.

"This trip was more about what goes on outside the classroom than inside," she said. "We really want to make improvements. Our opinion is valued by the administrators, so we will give them our feedback."

Mr Al Marzooqi said the style of teaching was very different to what he had been used to.

"When they teach you theory, they immediately show you the practical side too," he said. "It really sticks in your mind more.

"In foundation that's not what we've been doing, although in the next two years we will have more lab time."

Amira Al Dahmani, 27, said the trip had helped her realise how underrepresented Emirati women are in the sector she is training for.

"Someone asked me who I think the women in energy are in the UAE. It was very hard to answer," she said. "But we have so many good women at Masdar and I realise how important it is for us to be doing this."

Jasem Al Hammadi, 23, added: "We met many US women who have been in the energy sector for many years."

He said the trip was a good bridge as he prepares to embark on his master's degree.

"This has really shown us things at a higher level," he added.

For Ms Al Dahmani, the experience has been empowering.

"I've met so many people with companies in the field and I've met people working in the area I'm interested in - social entrepreneurship in developing countries and energy poverty," she said. "I'm hoping to go for internships at some of these places. It's really helped confirm that I'm doing the right thing."

mswan@thenational.ae