Mariam AlZaabi, Scholarships Office, United Arab Emirates
Every year, the government of The United Arab Emirates (UAE) grants numerous scholarships to distinguished Emirati students. The purpose of the scholarship is to grant them the opportunity to pursue their dreams and graduate from the top ranked universities across the world. Currently, we have students in Asia, Europe, and North America. The following section elaborates on the strengths, weaknesses, and challenges faced by the advisors in the United Arab Emirates while they monitor these students and discusses the role of these advisors.
Students travel to other countries with the aim to obtain a quality education that will eventually help them serve their country. Most of the scholarships in the United Arab Emirates have an objective to make sure that students made the correct choices prior to being awarded the scholarship and prior to the students leaving their home. Moreover, some of these scholarships offer an Early Preparation Program for eligible students in tenth, eleventh, and twelfth grades. The benefits of this program include enhancing the student's skills and critical thinking, gaining knowledge of cultural difference, and increasing awareness of the admission process and deadlines. There is also a summer program for eligible high school students to travel to these universities across the world and to learn more about the study abroad program. The UAE scholarships seek to find common questions from these students and share how to draw the right path before applying to universities. For example, programs guide students on some of the required assessments/tests: SAT, TOEFL, ITLES.
Initially most students seem to be enthusiastic regarding their study abroad opportunity. However, they begin to present challenges for the management of the scholarship for a variety of reasons: not complying with the scholarship policies, lack of motivation, and a lack of preparation to study abroad. According to McLaughlin and Durrant (2017), many students realized after spending some time in a new country that they were unable to carry on their studies because they had a hard time adjusting to the new environment. Students struggled, academically as well as socially, to cope with the difficulties that they were facing there.
One of the biggest challenges that advisors face while monitoring students studying abroad on scholarship is the language barrier; some students complain about the communication style with professors, while others feel shy in the larger classrooms and need more time to adapt and to learn how to associate with their classmates and university staff. Therefore, we advise students to be at campus prior to the orientation day. The second challenge is cultural difference; UAE students graduate from high school at the United Arab Emirates with their peers from the same culture. However, once they reach university, they discover new cultures from different countries with different foods, unfamiliar living circumstances, and new learning styles. In this situation, we guide our student to get more involved on the university social committees and participate/volunteer at any event on campus. In order to avoid the above challenges, we hold a pre-travel departure orientation where we discuss challenges, solutions, and outcomes.
Professionally, the lack of resources for the advisors in the United Arab Emirates is another challenge. There are not many training programs or workshops that are specialized in academic advising in the United Arab Emirates that help advisors develop skills. In response to this need, a NACADA (The Global Community for Academic Advising) workshop was held here to learn more about the advising standards and skills training. We got valuable information at that workshop. One of the most important things I took from the experience was setting the goal to write an article for NACADA to share my advising experience with other members. The NACADA Core Values challenge advisors to “motivate, encourage, and support students and the greater educational community to recognize their potential, meet challenges, and respect individuality” (NACADA, 2017).
As an advisor, we must know how to be good at motivating, recognizing challenges, and encouraging students to not give up on their goals and ambitions. In order to achieve our goal of reducing student challenges in the UAE, we targeted students deemed to be at-risk and worked with them closely to try to resolve their cases before having to take any formal disciplinary measures to the management. In my personal style of advising, I do not mind if students contact me directly via my personal phone outside of office working hours if their issue is urgent. I believe that an advisor should work closely with students on matters that can affect student success and find the best solution to solve it. Furthermore, I believe advisors should build strong relationships and have mutual trust with their students. I keep asking my students to think beyond their major and encourage them to apply for other educational experiences such as study abroad opportunities and internships which will help them to get tangible real-world experience.
Every year, delegates from the United Arab Emirates Scholarships travel to different universities across the world. The most important reason for these missions is to meet our students and to make sure that they are settled, adapted to the new environment, and have no issues. Additionally, we have met with university representatives to discuss their admission processes, available majors, university facilities, and potential candidates. These visits helped us to build a strong relationship with both universities and our students. Advisors in the United Arab Emirates also ask students to meet with them frequently upon their return home. This meeting can be over their winter break or summer vacation. The purpose of this meeting mostly is to discuss their current progress, future plans, and any other issues. Also, some students applied for practical training (an internship) in the UAE according to the conditions and criteria that were explained in advance by their academic advisor.
Finally, students will graduate and return to the United Arab Emirates with their final degree. The scholarship top management strives to ensure that the graduates will find their desired job. A feeling of fulfilment and accomplishment is witnessed every time when our students have received their degree, and students, advisors, and families live out a proud moment every year during the Annual UAE graduation ceremony.
Senior Academic Advisor
United Arab Emirates
McLaughlin, J., & Durrant, P. (2017). Student learning approaches in the UAE: The case for the achieving domain. Higher Education Research & Development, 36(1), 158–170. https://doi.org/10.1080/07294360.2016.1176998
NACADA: The Global Community for Academic Advising. (2017). NACADA core values of academic advising. https://www.nacada.ksu.edu/Resources/Pillars/CoreValues.aspx
Cite this article using APA style as: AlZaabi, M. (2019, December). Monitoring UAE students who are studying abroad. Academic Advising Today, 42(4). [insert url here]