My Summer in the UAE

Amara Hakak is an Accounting specialist from the Rotman Commerce program and will be starting her fourth year in September. She participated in the Summer Abroad Program in the UAE last summer and shares her unforgetable experiences.Why did you decide to participate in the UAE Summer Abroad program?
Initially, I had always wanted to study abroad and get that experience of being on my own. But being in Rotman Commerce, I did not want to just study any course – I wanted to take something that would complement my learning here. I had heard about UAE being one of the fastest growing economies and I thought it would be very interesting to learn about it while being completely immersed in it! Additionally, the rich and very unique culture of the UAE (and the Middle East, in general) was something I wanted to explore and be a part of.

How did your academic experience abroad differ from other business/accounting courses you’ve taken in Toronto?
My academic experience in the UAE was completely different from the experiences I have had here in Toronto. With only 17 people in our class, the small class size made one-on-one interactions with my peers very easy and meaningful, to the point where we all became friends very early on. Our professor was always very accessible and at times, lectures seemed more like discussions where participation was encouraged and our input was highly valued. Additionally, we visited quite a few oil companies and banks, and got the opportunity to hear about the challenges they have faced and overcome. We always read about companies and do case studies here in Toronto, but rarely do we ever get the chance to talk with the senior management of these companies and learn about them first-hand.

What were the highlights of your trip?
I loved every bit of the trip, but some things definitely stand out more than others. On our first day, we went on a desert safari. I will always remember it as the trip that brought us all together as a group. I was very excited that I got to ride on a camel in the middle of the desert. It was quite the ride! And then the best part was that we ended the night with a traditional Arab-style dinner under the moonlight. The next day we got a tour of Dubai, with visits to malls and mosques alike. What I really loved was the fact that we got to see two different sides of the same place within two days and I do not think that I would have had that experience had it not been for the way this Summer Abroad program was planned.

Describe your favourite field trip.
I think quite a lot of people in our group would agree with me if I said that our favourite field trip was the one to Atlantis, The Palm. During the day, we had the opportunity to tour the resort and its numerous facilities. We also heard the Senior Vice President of Operations, Mr. Heiko Schreiner, speak about the resort, its operations and the challenges it has faced over the years. Everything, from dining at the grand Kaleidoscope Restaurant, to spending two days at the Aquaventure Waterpark, to watching the sun set over the Persian Gulf, was amazing!

What was the most interesting (course related) thing you learned while abroad?
I had always thought about how the Middle East would run out of oil very soon and that they were not doing anything about it. However, after visiting the UAE, it was very apparent that they have been making their best effort to diversify their economy away from being based just on oil and gas. A great example of this was when we visited Mubadala in Abu Dhabi, which is a company dedicated solely to finding ways to diversify the economy. This was one of the things that I was not specifically aware of and seeing their efforts really changed my perspective about the UAE.

What did you find most rewarding about the program?
I have enjoyed every bit of the program, but I will have to say that the relationships I have built will definitely stay with me forever. At the end of the day, I have gained a lot of knowledge, have had amazing opportunities to visit the different emirates of the UAE, and have discovered a lot about myself. But the memories that we all made together will last a lifetime and I will always have this summer to look back to as the best summer I ever had.

Did your participation in this program affect what you wanted to do as a future career or what you wanted to study? Explain.
I have wanted to become a Chartered Professional Accountant for a long time and taking this accounting course made me even more certain that this is what I wanted. With great in-class instruction and field trip exposure, this program has helped me further understand and accept my decision of being a CPA.

What advice would you give to a student considering the summer abroad program in the UAE next year?
My advice to a student ‘considering’ this summer abroad program would be to stop considering it and just go for it! I have realized that I should have made the decision to apply to this program in the blink of an eye, without any hesitation. This program has given me everything from knowledge to real-world experience and exposure, and from fantastic friendships memories that will truly last a lifetime!