Twenty-five students are packing their bags for a 20-day educational trip during which they will learn about leadership and multiculturalism, writes Amelia Naidoo.

The Al Maktoum Institute for Arabic and Islamic studies in Scotland will welcome a new batch of female university students from the UAE at the end of the month. The 25 young ladies from Zayed University (ZU), the Higher Colleges of Technology (HCT) and Abu Dhabi University (ADU) will take part in a training programme on multiculturalism and leadership during their 20-day stay which begins January 30.

The students were among the toppers in their class, had high GPAs (Grade Point Averages of above 3.5) and also had high TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) and IELTS (International English Language Testing System) scores to be eligible for the programme.

The aim of the programme is to promote UAE national students' knowledge about contemporary global issues such as multiculturalism, leadership, cultural engagement, and global awareness.

Students will attend lectures and participate in discussions and debates, tailored to advance the learning and understanding of Islam and the challenges of global dialogue.

Officials from the three universities and the Al Maktoum institute spoke to the students at an event last week. Notes was there.

Zayed University

Samah Al Kaff, 22, from Zayed University was eager to apply for the programme because of her interest in multiculturalism, globalisation and the relationship between Islamic countries and the West.

The international studies and journalism student believes there is a lot of miscommunication between Islamic and Western countries. "Once the communication problem is fixed I think their relationships will take huge steps forward."

Although Samah has a lot to say, she intends to use her time to listen more before put forward her opinions. "I think there will always be a chance to talk but when you listen, you can give a more informed opinion. Both the West and the Middle East have been giving opinions but [these] are un-informed anout each other. Once they take the time to understand us and we take the time to understand them I think things are going to be much better."

Samah said the programme will help her understand foreigners, which will be useful when she enters the UAE's multicultural workforce.

Dr Sulaiman Al Jasem, Vice President of Zayed University, stressed the importance of programmes that improve cooperation among civilisations, and enhance the knowledge, critical thinking and leadership skills of students so that they can better serve their community and country.

Al Jasem also expressed his gratitude to Shaikh Hamdan Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Deputy Ruler of Dubai and UAE Minister of Finance and Industry, for his support for ZU students and for higher education in the UAE.

Higher Colleges of Technology

General business major Asma Al Azri from Al Ain Women's College wanted to be part of the programme to "learn abroad and gain knowledge from outside".

The student, who works as a human resources officer at a hospital in Al Ain, hopes to enhance her skills academically and professionally.

"The programme will give me an international perspective on business and leadership, which is important to me in my job in HR — I need strong leadership skills in this position," she said.

Siham Al Falahi, 22, from Dubai Women's College (DWC) decided to apply for the programme to help her become a better leader especially because she's already employed as an accountant with a Dubai Electricity and Water Authority.

The accounting and business administration major said it's her first educational trip abroad and she is looking forward to visiting Scotland's museums and heritage spots. "I looked on a website and it's going to be extremely cold there!"

"One of my friends who went the last time said it was really interesting because they learned how to communicate their ideas with others."

DWC business and management student Sara Bushaqer, 25, was encouraged by a classmate to apply for the programme.

"I think the course is going to be difficult because we will be doing daily essays and kept quite busy," she told Notes, adding that it will still be a good experience.

Dr Howard Reed, Senior Director at the HCT and Director of DWC, was at the event. Calling the programme a "wonderful opportunity" he said: "When they go there they really put themselves into learning about other cultures. "

Abu Dhabi University

Shereena Al Shamsi from Abu Dhabi University is looking forward to the teamwork and interaction that will occur during the programme.

"I've heard that Qatar University is also participating and it will be nice to mingle with those students," Shereena said.

It is the management student's first educational trip abroad, "but I hope it will not be the last one!"

Public relations and communication major Hanan Mohammad, 26, from Abu Dhabi University is excited about the trip because she enjoys socialising. It's one of the reasons she chose public relations as a major.

"I heard that we are going to visit Scottish families when we get there and communicate with them and see how they live. This is great because it provides a good global experience."

Dr Ali Saeed Bin Harmal Al Daheri, Chairman of the Board of Trustees at Abu Dhabi University, said the knowledge and expertise the students will receive should be used to benefit their societies.

About the Al Maktoum Institute for Arabic and Islamic Studies

Mirza Al Sayegh, chairman of the Board of Trustees of Al Maktoum Institute, addressed the students ahead of their trip.

"You are going to a new society. We would like you to come back to us with your criticisms, remarks, objectives and ideas that can help us in promoting future courses," he said.

He added that Shaikh Hamdan Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Deputy Ruler of Dubai and UAE Minister of Finance and Industry, welcomes student feedback and wants the group to have face-to-face discussions with him after the trip.