The adulting process
Palestinian expat Youmna Al Agha was a third-year mass communication student at American University of Sharjah. Finding herself homebound and with a lot of time on her hands during the summer vacation, she applied for an internship at a popular media house in Dubai in August.
Her job responsibilities included generating sales leads, liaising with influencers and working with clients in UAE and across the GCC. Seeing her proficiency at work, she was offered a permanent position of a sales manager after two months and that prompted her to take a gap semester from her course.
Youmna claims this arrangement worked out well for her as she could completely focus on her job. "If I had tried to juggle my course and a job, I wouldn’t have been able to do justice to both," she says. "My parents were very supportive of my decision and so were my friends, I am blessed to have these many supportive people in my life. Being appointed as the manager was the proudest moment in my life and I felt that all my hard work paid off," she says.
The biggest lesson she has learned this year is to appreciate life’s blessings and be thankful for everything. "Our lives changed overnight because of the pandemic. I have lost my uncle who was very dear to me this year. He used to be my biggest inspiration, always pushing me to do my best. I learned to appreciate every moment of my life and keep on doing the things I love. Because of my job, I have also become a more evocative and communicative person. Now I don’t get anxiety every time I speak to or meet someone new," she says.
Come January, she plans to rejoin college for her next semester and find a balance between work and studies because she feels she has developed the competency to do both.
Youmna feels every student should take up at least a summer job before they join university so that they can discover "adulting" first hand and learn how to be independent.
"Because these characteristics matter when we do find a job or even in life in general. When I first joined work, I was this quiet person who would never approach anyone and speak to them. But after a couple of sessions with our founder Mahdi Al Shafiei, I improved so much and I realised what I am capable of. So especially if you do not have a specific major in mind before joining university, this experience will help you find yourself and where you stand."
In June this year, Neil Thomas, 18, had just finished 12th grade from The International School of Choueifat, Dubai, and had to decide which field to pursue after graduation. But staying at home for a few weeks during the lockdown allowed him to explore other hobbies and passions. Before joining university, he decided to take a gap year and opened a brokerage account to make small intra-day trades.
"Day trading requires a lot of discipline, dedication, and time. After health and happiness, financial independence is very important to me and I wanted to see whether day trading could help me achieve this. Secondly, university lifestyle is very hectic. I wanted some time to tune into myself and make time for everything that I found interesting," explains Neil.
Apart from trading, Neil used his time to pursue other passions like baking and automotive interests. A self-confessed petrolhead, he got an internship at the Porsche service centre in November for four weeks, working on everything from a basic oil change service to replacing spark plugs in a misfiring engine. Skiing was another passion so Neil worked himself through another internship at Ski Dubai in July for four weeks. But his most gratifying avocation has been helping out his mum run her home bakery, Paulala’s, in Dubai and even donning the chef’s hat at times.
"I love making desserts. During this time I have made the most complex desserts from a croquembouche to macarons and fried ice-cream and realised that you can make all your favourite treats at home. Another hobby that I discovered was gardening, I never knew you could grow so many fruits and vegetables at home. Our produce this year included watermelons, zucchinis, bitter gourds, tomatoes, potatoes, herbs, chillies, beans, spinach, and bell peppers. My pineapple plants are actually seven months old now," he says.
For Neil, the definition of success is about being in a better place than the previous day and he is glad he took some time off to experiment with various passions during this gap year. "I am definitely considering the automotive industry as an alternative career choice. My baking skills have reached the next level now and gardening is a newly discovered passion – one that will stay with me for the rest of my life. To sum it all up, I have been able to pursue my main field of interest and at the same time hone different life skills. This would not have been possible at a university campus," he says.
"My parents have always supported me. They have never put any pressure on me, as far as a career choice is concerned. However, my extended family and friends have always nudged me towards the family business in the Industrial power back up sector. They also find it difficult to digest the concept of a gap year, as they think I am wasting my time. But if anything this year has proven, it is that everything can change in the blink of an eye. This realisation has cemented my conviction of taking risks and following my passions."
When he started with day trading, he wasn’t so confident. "But now I am much more precise with my risk levels and can spot winning patterns and act on them much more confidently. I have chased trades a few times and got caught at the top, thankfully I realised this and now stick to reliable patterns. It is just a matter of growing my account steadily."
Sixteen-year-old Khushi Tanwar had just finished grade 10 board exams from Gulf Model School, Dubai, in March this year. A skilled cricket player for the past six years, Khushi often had to take breaks from school for matches and practice sessions. Though her parents and teachers supported her at every step, Khushi found it hard to focus on both the things together, sometimes to the point of giving up all together.
So when Covid hit, Khushi took a leap of faith by taking a gap year and pursuing her one sole passion – cricket.
"I have always given my best but I think as a sportsperson whatever you do feels not good enough. You have to work and think about it day and night. By taking this gap year, I have been able to play more cricket and improve my skills and form," she says.
Practicing rigourously for four hours every day, even during weekends, Khushi’s efforts reaped result when she got selected for a full scholarship as one of the top six girls for Royal Rajasthan cricket academy in Dubai and the UAE Women’s Cricket Team.
Looking back, Khushi remembers the tough time she had trying to convince her parents that this was the right thing to do, especially since her mother is a teacher herself.
"A few friends kept taunting me by saying "are you going to be illiterate?" But there were others who stood by me like a rock. The negative comments really didn’t matter because I knew what I wanted and am in the process of achieving my goal."
Her unwinding methods include reading books, playing online games with friends and watching old cricket matches on repeat.
Planning to head back to school the next academic year, Khushi feels students can balance their academics and passions with solid conviction and effective time management. "In your heart you should know what you need to do. Disregard unnecessary things that will stress you out .I have improved myself in cricket because of the unconditional love and support from my family and by believing in myself."
In July, 21-year-old Saahil Shrikent graduated with a BSc Honors in marketing from Warwick Business School, UK. At a time ridden with obstacles for stable employment opportunities, he decided to take the self-employment route by investing and building his own e-commerce business.
"There were limited chances for a young, ambitious graduate like myself to hone my practical real-world business skills. So I decided to pursue a long cherished professional dream which was to establish and develop an e-commerce platform called Nexquest that offers consumers across the globe some of the latest home product designs and innovations," he explains.
While developing the platform, he simultaneously honed his skillset by conducting extensive research and doing numerous online courses on website graphic designing and different elements within digital marketing. "The most productive course I did was a social media marketing course that developed my knowledge and gave me exposure on how to practically apply this knowledge in the real world in the form of LinkedIn marketing, Google Analytics, Facebook pixels and running Instagram ad campaigns."
Though his family and friends have been extremely supportive, Saahil realises that e-commerce is a highly competitive business. "Which only means I have to work that much harder to fulfil my aspirations and take Nexquest to the next level," he says.
Saahil’s biggest take away from 2020 is that time should never be taken for granted. "The era we live in is one filled with more opportunities than our predecessors ever had. This generation is blessed with the best networking possibilities, the greatest economic development rates and global integration like never before. These things were often overlooked or taken for granted rather than a blessing. My perspective after 2020 has changed significantly to an outlook with more gratitude and aspirations."