A trip to Sciences Po Paris gave five students a chance to get to grips with the European parliamentary process.
Students learn about Europe from EU politicians
ABU DHABI // Majed Al Khemeiri read a lot about relations between the Gulf and European Union in his history class - now he has had the chance to see them in action.
With four other students from United Arab Emirates University, Paris-Sorbonne Abu Dhabi and Zayed University, he spent time debating and discussing current affairs with policymakers at the European parliament last month.
"When we see the news - a reform or policy - we do not know the process involved or the details of how it came about," said Mr Al Khemeiri, 22. "This year, instead of studying it as part of a classroom lecture or media, we were actually exposed to the process."
The three-week EU summer school course at the Foundation Nationale des Sciences Politiques et l'Institut d'Etudes Politiques de Paris (Sciences Po Paris) was organised by Abu Dhabi Education Council in collaboration with Sciences Po.
It was designed to broaden Emirati social science students' knowledge of other countries' policies, institutions and governance through first-hand experience.
"This aimed to help students to understand the current debates in the EU as well as develop relationships with Europe through them," said Dr Katerina Nicolopoulou, senior specialist at Adec's global partnerships division.
The curriculum included the history and institutions of Europe, democracy and political parties, security strategy, energy issues, Islamic finance and bridging the gulf between the EU and GCC.
Amal Youssef, a third-year student of International Relations at Zayed University, said she had no idea about the role of EU before the trip.
"I learnt about the council, parliament and commission and cooperation between the EU members," she said.
Ms Youssef believes these lessons are important because not many students are aware of the political landscape in other countries.
"Here, education does not update us about what is happening in other parts of the world.
"We cannot be ignorant and it will be good to introduce classes both here and in European classrooms so that we understand each other's cultures."
Dana Al Hajri, 23, who is studying history at Sorbonne, said the chance to engage in intellectual dialogue was particularly valuable. "The most interesting debate was on the common currency, something that the GCC is trying to develop," she said.
"I think we all left with the feeling that one can learn a lot from these countries which have made it work, and that it has more pros than cons."
The Sciences Po internship is an extension of links the Government is trying to establish with France in different sectors, including education.
Dr Nicolopoulou said the germ of the internship programme was planted in 2010, at the Eurogolfe Public Diplomacy and Outreach Project (EPDOP). EPDOP was funded by Sciences Po and brought together economic and political decisionmakers and professionals from Europe and Abu Dhabi.
"These students are studying subjects like international law and economics and you cannot talk about these topics if you do not know about international organisations and the EU structure," she said.
Mona Majed, the division manager of Counselling and Scholarships at Adec, said they plan to extend the summer school programme to more students next year. "The students personalities have changed; they are more open to other cultures and are brimming with new knowledge," she said.