Even as her studies took her abroad for several years, Aseel Baidoun always kept her end goal in sight. She wanted to return to her Palestinian homeland and make a difference. It was a goal she kept.
“That was the main reason why I left in the first place,” says Baidoun, who completed a bachelor’s degree in communication arts, with an emphasis in journalism, in 2012 fromLebanese American University. “So, I can come back and work and apply what I have learned.”
Like Baidoun, many Arab international students choose to go abroad for greater educational opportunities, exposure to new ways of thinking, training and skills to apply back home.
Baidoun’s educational journey took her to Sweden, where in 2014 she earned a master’s in global journalism from Örebro University. Baidoun returned home to cover the postwar situation in Gaza while working for the Denmark-based humanitarian relief organization DanChurchAid. Today she works as an advocacy and communications officer at Save the Children International, a nonprofit development organization.
In her advocacy role, Baidoun, a Jerusalem native, documents and creates case studies of human rights abuses of Palestinian child detainees in Israeli prisons. She says in general, she reports on “Israeli grave violations against Palestinian children” in Gaza and the West Bank, working alongside other international organizations.
Baidoun says studying at LAU was crucial for her career and gave her a more comprehensive perspective on regional politics. In Lebanon, she says she was able to understand the Lebanese civil war, visited Palestinian refugee camps and was exposed to the situation in Syria. She says these experiences allowed her to understand how to present the plight of Palestinian children to the world.
The opportunity to attend a Western-style university nearby is what led Omani national Othman Al Balushi to the United Arab Emirates. He graduated in 2011 with a master’s in strategic human resource management from the University of Wollongong in Dubai.
“I feel that through such a program I was more competent to see things from a different angle and this has served my country, Oman, as well as the organization I am working for,” says Al Balushi, who has a B.A. with honors in business administration, human resources management pathway, from Majan College in Oman.
Al Balushi is head of staff planning and development at the College of Banking and Financial Studies in Oman, where he has been employed for more than 18 years, beginning as a registration clerk. His work provided a full-time scholarship to attend UOWD.
He says his degree has helped advance his career within the organization, a government institution that educates and trains bankers and supports research in the banking and financial sectors. His position entails the training and development of all staff in the organization, which he says contributes to the overall advancement of Omani society.
Helping his homeland was always the goal of Sudanese national Ahmed Dafalla. He has a bachelor’s in medicine and general surgery from the University of Khartoum in Sudan and attended American University of Beirut on a regional graduate scholarship. The scholarship is awarded to experienced students from Arab countries who are interested in public health.
Dafalla completed his master’s in public health with a concentration in health management and health policy at AUB in 2013. His degree positioned him for the role of assistant health officer for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Sudan, where he responds to the needs of refugees, asylum-seekers, returnees and stateless individuals, among others.
In addition, Dafalla provides technical guidance to UNHCR to provide quality medical care and nutrition services such as prevention and treatment of malnutrition. He also oversees the collection of data that he uses to fine-tune the organization’s future projects.
Studying abroad offers students many benefits, says Hani Hassan, from AUB. At the university, he directs a U.S. State Department program that supports disadvantaged students in the Middle East and North Africa who have the potential to become leaders.
By leaving their country, students have a chance to reevaluate how they see and think about the world, and also exam their cultures and home countries with a fresh and critical perspective, he says, based on his experience with the university’s recipients of the Middle East Partnership Initiative Tomorrow’s Leaders Scholarship Program.
Hassan says the experience allows students to return to their home countries with new ideas, skills and tools and positions them to have a constructive and meaningful role. He says many of the university’s alumni engage with their home communities, such as by spreading awareness of female empowerment or by advancing education, and can help effect policy change.
LAU grad Baidoun says studying abroad “gave my work in Palestine greater context.” She says going abroad is of particular importance for Palestinians, considering the political climate and limited higher education options they have as a result of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
“Palestine is so isolated from most Arabs. So, I think part of getting any education is getting experience abroad,” says Baidoun. “And it’s always important to come back to one’s country with new visions.”