Former fellows of the Hubert H Humphrey Fellowship Program recount their adventures that include spreading salt on snowy roads, hiking in the mountains and planting trees
Emiratis encouraged to live the American dream by taking up fellowship scheme
Ayesha Al Hosani was filled with fear as she prepared to jet off into the unknown to start a fellowship in America - leaving her one-year-old son and three-year-old daughter behind for nearly a year.
Ms Al Hosani was successful in her application for the Hubert H Humphrey Fellowship Program, a scheme aimed at young and mid-career professionals from across the globe offering an opportunity to develop both academically and professionally in a brand new environment.
But as she prepared to step on the plane and say a temporary farewell to her life in the UAE, concerns about living in unfamiliar surroundings with customs different to her own soon took over.
Ten months on, just a week removed from her return from the United States, she is happy to share that her concerns were unfounded - and is urging Emiratis to broaden their horizons, embrace a new culture and 'go for it'.
The US Embassy in Abu Dhabi is inviting mid-career Emirati professionals to apply for the Hubert H Humphrey Fellowship Program.
The fellowship is targeted at Emirati professionals who have strong leadership and service qualities and are working in sustainable development, institution building, education and public health.
The Humphrey fellowship programme brings accomplished mid-level professionals to the US for a one-year non-degree program.
The initiative offers applicants the chance to enrol in graduate-level classes while engaging in activities to enhance their professional development.
Ms Al Hosani, a health educator at the National Rehabilitation Center, is delighted she overcame her misgivings to make the most of the experience.
“I am a girl with a family and two children and the idea of living in an unfamiliar place made me nervous. We always hear that there is racism and I wear a headscarf. I thought I would get negative comments but when I went there it was the opposite,” said Ms Al Hosani, who studied a program on substance abuse education at Virginia Commonwealth University.
Though the year was an emotional rollercoaster for the 28-year-old Emirati, Ms Al Hosani said she does not regret going for the fellowship.
“It took a little courage to confirm that I want to do this. In the beginning, my husband was hesitant but after that he was very supportive. He came with me and made sure I was comfortable. Along with my mother, he took care of the children (back in the UAE) while I was studying,” she added.
“We attended conferences, workshops and we could introduce organisations in the US to what we do in the UAE. It was an exchange of experiences,” said the 28-year-old.
“I encourage Emiratis to apply and go for this. There were people who had five years of experience while some had 25 years of experience. It can be enriching for anyone. I always wanted to study abroad. We were 12 people from different countries and I learnt about their cultures,” she added.
“One of the experiences was going to a farm and planting seeds, we did lots of volunteer work and went hiking. I did lots of things we would not do in UAE," she said.
She admits she had tough times - missing anniversaries and birthdays and seeing her young childen grow up, but feels the sacrifices were worth it.
“I had so many breakdowns when I was there. I had to miss birthdays, anniversaries and special events in the family. My child was a year old and children change really fast at that time. It was affecting me emotionally. Supportive friends helped out,” she said.
Since her return last week, she has already looked into going hiking in Ras Al Khaimah.
Candidates should be between 30-50 years old, with at least five years of professional experience and a minimum of a bachelor degree.
Those aged under 30, like Ms Al Hosani, need to demonstrate they have the necessary maturity and discipline to take part.
Dr Sabha Al Dhafri, area manager in Al Ain at Union National Bank was a Humphrey fellow in 2010, when she studied public affairs at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis.
“One of my goals during the fellowship, was to encourage more Emirati women to work with us,” said Dr Al Dhafri.
“We did a lot of public speaking and visited headquarters of companies. We volunteered and helped make food packets for the underprivileged. It snows a lot in Minnesota and each fellow took a truck with a driver and went to clear the streets by dispersing salt. This was a new experience for me. Even when we had to wake up and go down at six am, we had fun,” she said.
“I was the branch manager at that time and during my time there I learnt how to motivate my staff. I became more independent. My staff are learning from me,” she said.
“Be ready to adapt to a different culture. Be independent and open-minded. If you are not open to different cultures, you will feel lost. I encourage Emirati women to go because you will learn a lot. Your thinking and perspective will change” she advised prospective fellows.
Dr Ali Abdulla Majed Alobaidli. head of support services at National Rehabilitation Center took up the fellowship and headed to the University of Washington in Seattle in 1998 for a program on individual career development.
During his programme, he was involved in the university career fair and trained to be a career development facilitator and organised workshops.
After his return, he completed his doctorate in the field and believes the experience in the US laid the foundation for his higher studies.
Applicants need to demonstrate leadership qualities and a record of public service. They should be able to communicate in English and need to take the Toefl (Test of English as a Foreign Language) exams, as these scores are required in the application.
Charlotte Fadare, cultural affairs officer at the Embassy of the United States in the UAE, said she hopes to see the number of Emirati applicants grow.
“The Humphrey Fellowship Program is a great opportunity to build an understanding of issues shared between the US and with the UAE,” said Ms Fadare.
The US government covers the majority of the participants’ expenses, including fees, airfare, accommodation, and health insurance.
Applications must reach the US Embassy by September 14, 2018.
For more information, visit humphreyfellowship.org