As the summer sun beats down on UAE residents, crowds make a mass exodus to escape the heat and humidity. But where does the younger generation go? Summer break means different things to different students and can be fraught with indecision.

For some it is a time to completely abandon all thoughts about studies and responsibilities and have a good time. Others choose to use their break to secure internships or summer jobs that would enhance their chances of gaining permanent employment later.

And some want to explore the world by travelling or volunteering abroad. Whatever your decision, it helps to plan your summer break as time certainly flies when you're having fun.

Summer school

For some students vacationing, travelling and relaxing is not an option. Why? Two words: summer school.

Whether it's catching up with meeting credit requirements, raising grades, or simply fulfiling the desire to gain greater knowledge, summer school students will still have to worry about meeting deadlines, taking tests and completing assignments. The load, however, will be much less.

Most students taking summer courses said they were doing so because they were falling behind in their classes in terms of credit hours and grades.

"Last semester, I took five courses, about 15 credit hours," said Daniel Cha'alan, business student at American University of Sharjah (AUS). "But I didn't pass two courses, leaving me with only nine credit hours."

Students claimed that courses taken during the summer time tend to be easier than the same courses taken during the Autumn or spring semesters. According to Cha'alan, that could be the result of time constraints.

"Professors only have six to eight weeks to teach students the material, compared to 16 weeks in a regular semester," he said. "So many instructors find that they need to cut back on the content and focus on the most important material. Thus students find the courses much lighter."

Another important factor is the number of courses taken. The average number of classes students take in a regular semester is as many as six.

In the summer, however, students can only take up to two courses in most universities - making it much easier for students to focus and excel in these courses.

"The content we're expected to memorise is much less and we're not taking as many courses," said Ryan Ali, a chemical engineering student at AUS. "So it's difficult not to do well."
Summer is the ideal time for students to raise their grades, but one is always constrained by time.

"I obviously don't have the whole day to myself like others who are on vacation," Cha'alan said. "I can't sleep in or spend the day on the beach if I want to. But considering the work load, it doesn't stop me from having fun."

Another drawback is the heat. "It's deadly," said Ali. "Walking to classes in the late morning or afternoon hours sometimes feels like a never-ending journey."

Nevertheless, students still use the summer to make the best of their grade-enhancing opportunities.

Summer activities on campus

Just because most classes have drawn to a close it doesn't necessarily mean campuses have shut down. Some universities offer students a variety of activities during the summer. Munketh Taha, director of student activities at AUS, encourages summer students to participate.

"Students can participate in many of the extracurricular activities we organise," he said. "They range from chess tournaments to taking advantage of our indoor facilities such as the sports complex, where students can either individually work out or take part in summer tournaments.

We also have movies showing in the Student Centre, where students can even request to watch certain films."

Taha added that through these activities, students could enhance their social and leadership skills.

"The summer season often forces students to look for indoor activities where they end up mingling with others and making new friends," he said. "Just by staying in the dormitories students can meet new people and form friendships."

Another great summer activity students can look for are on-campus employment opportunities.

"We offer jobs ranging from the library to the sports complex," Taha said. "It's an excellent way for them to earn money and gain experience.

"Students who must stay on campus during the summer for personal reasons but are not taking courses are examined on a case-by-case basis, Taha said.

"We definitely take into the consideration the situation of some students who can't go back home, for example students coming from Gaza strip," he said. "We obviously can't leave them without a home to go back to in the summer and we consider that."

Graduating students look for jobs

Students who have approached their last year at university are more cautious about how they spend their summer.

Alifya Abbas is a media and communications student who just graduated from Manipal University, Dubai campus. She freelances for a student newspaper and is planning to stay in Dubai for the summer.

"I'm freelancing for now and hope to get a permanent job in journalism in the future," she said.

Fatima Patwa just graduated from the interior design department at the American University in Dubai.

"After graduation, I want to work as an intern for two months and then look for employment." Fatima said that she had not yet found a job and was awaiting responses from several companies she applied to.

Volunteer wisely

According to California-based volunteer organisation Just Give, volunteers should think about the skills they have to offer, their interests and their personality.

For example, people with a love for the outdoors could look into volunteering at a wildlife sanctuary or national park while those who enjoy children may find work at a day care centre or special needs school enjoyable.

In the UAE there are organisations such as the Emirates Environmental Group, K9 Friends, UAE Red Crescent Authority, Make a Wish Foundation, Dubai Autism Centre, and Al Noor Training Centre for Children with Special Needs.

Al Noor Training Centre for Children with Special Needs director Isphana Al Khateeb said the organisation welcomed student volunteers as this raises awareness about special needs in the UAE.

"Educators say the volunteering experience is character building. Working at our centre is also an eye-opener for students as it invokes compassion and makes them grateful for what they have.

Volunteers are the future pillars of our society and the work makes them more responsible citizens later on in their lives. This work also helps students decide what careers they want to do in the future," Al Khateeb said.

She mentioned, however, that the organisation did not like "random volunteers" who were not committed to their volunteer work.

The duties students perform include assisting with fundraising activities, fairs or summer camps. Often they will provide one-to-one supervision to the children although professional care-givers are always present. Students will also assist with feeding and helping the children with arts and crafts.

Giving and globetrotting

Recent graduate Jane Ferguson, 23, is an avid world traveller who either volunteered or backpacked in Malawi, Cuba, Carribean, Yemen and the United States. She was raised in Ireland, studied literature and politics at York University in England and currently lives in Dubai.

After completing high school Ferguson took a gap year abroad in India. She enrolled with volunteer programme for two-and-a-half months where she was based in Bangalore and did public relations work for Oxfam-affiliated charities that conducted awareness activities about lower castes.

Ferguson's duties were to take minutes of meetings, help come up with awareness publications and assist with administrative duties.

Although she got to explore remote areas in South India, she said the work she did was worthwhile but slightly disappointing because it was too administrative.

"It is still better to go into a voluntary programme if you want to meet locals rather than hanging out in dance clubs and youth hostels when you travel abroad."

Ferguson said the benefits of volunteering abroad were that you got to know a society more intimately and work with its people.

"You also get to grips with the working life in a country and a real insight into the culture and customs than when you go into the tourist areas."

Ferguson advises students considering overseas travel to complete as much research on the programme they're going to join and know exactly what role they will play.

"Always ask for references. If you're from England, for example, contact people there and ask them what the experience was like instead of just reading the testimonials on the website."

If going backpacking

Ferguson suggested packing light. "Don't bring loads of clothes because you can always buy stuff wherever you're at." Also, she never forgets to pack a first aid kit, hiking sandals and reading material.
Her final piece of advice was to exercise common sense when going to a foreign country. "People get a bit shocked when I tell them I usually travel on my own. As long as you're sensible you can do anything on your own."

While some students said that they planned to stay in Dubai for summer courses, many of them said they will be going back to their home countries for a brief but much needed break.

Freshmen and first-year students have more freedom to plan their summer, as they need not find a job or internship as required by many academic courses.

Muniba Jahangir, business student at Universal Empire Institute of Medical Sciences, is planning to go back to Pakistan. "I want to sleep, see my friends and family and just have fun," she told Notes.

Afshan Pathan, an international business student at World of Knowledge Management Development College/ International College for Business, Economics, Science and Technology, the London City College campus in the UAE, wants to use her free time to pursue a hobby she fancies.

She told Notes that she will take scuba diving lessons in Jumeirah with a bunch of friends. "It'll be fun and will make the heat bearable," she said.

First year medical students can still enjoy their summer before starting their training at a hospital. Sumaiya Al Shabbir, a medicine student at Dubai Medical College, will travel to the US for a vacation with her family.

Anuj Kamat and Mayank Kothari will be going back to India to enjoy their last ‘free' summers before they start their internship next year.

"I just want to go back home and relax; it's too hot to stay here anyway," Kamat said. Students from Gulf Medical College said that they will train at a hospital in Ajman during the summer. When they have some time, they will go crab hunting in Umm Al Quwain, Sahil Kazi said.

Animation students David Tokuta and Olufolami Adeoti at SAE Institute will have three weeks off. Both will stay in Dubai and try to work in their chosen fields. "I will be working on a personal animation project in the summer," Adeoti said.

Socially responsible traveller

Gail Rego will realise her dream of working abroad with special needs children come July 15 when she travels to Turkey for a volunteer internship abroad.

The third-year media and communication student at Manipal University, Dubai campus joined the programme via AIESEC Dubai, a worldwide student organisation, of which she is the vice president of Human Resources.

"I'm not sure the programme will help me with any future jobs - that's secondary - because this was a personal decision. I've always wanted to do volunteer work with children," she said.

Rego said she found out about the Alternative Life Camp programme on the AIESEC website as the organisation provides various internships and travel abroad programmes.

"AIESEC has an online system and all you do is upload your information and look for a job description that suits you best. I found volunteer internships in Poland, Russia and India but settled on Turkey eventually because I've visited much of the Middle East and India but I have never been to Eastern Europe."

Rego hopes to get a broad cultural experience when she visits Istanbul, Turkey, for three months, which is slightly longer than the usual two-month internship.

She will work with children who have physical disabilities at a summer camp, teaching them about her Indian culture – folk stories, Hindi songs, dances and videos.

Her weekly schedule will have her start her camp instructor activities with the children from 8am to 5pm with evenings free. Rego will also get a two-day weekend when all the interns will have the opportunity to explore the surrounding areas and have fun.

Since securing her place with the programme Rego said she has been in regular contact with the camp manager who advised her on living expenses, activities, living arrangements and so on.

She said she also did extensive research on the camp by visiting their website and emailing the manager questions.
Rego will be travelling alone but was at ease because she looked forward to making friends with other interns from across the globe.

"I'm so excited about the trip – it's something I've been looking forward to for so long. I have always lived with my folks so the independent living will help me grow in many ways," she said.