Studies have shown that students who participate in extracurricular activities tend to fare better in university and gain skills that enhance their lives and careers after graduation. Through its Caring Campaign, Zayed University, in the United Arab Emirates, wants to make sure its students have ample opportunities to experience such activities and become well-rounded individuals.
The Student Life Team at Zayed University designs events through which students experience the value of caring in multiple ways, including self-care, community care, and care for the planet.
“We create activation events and workshops that complement the students’ academic journey and professional development,” said Malina-Nicoleta Dugulan, a community engagement specialist at Zayed University. “We focus more on developing skills that will make them well-rounded individuals once they get into the real world.”
“We create activation events and workshops that complement the students’ academic journey and professional development. We focus more on developing skills that will make them well-rounded individuals once they get into the real world.”Malina-Nicoleta Dugulan, a community engagement specialist at Zayed University
University leaders in other Arab countries also believe in the benefits students gain from engaging in extracurricular activities. “These activities foster essential skills such as time management, teamwork, and leadership, which are highly valued in the professional world,” says Naouel Abdellatif Mami, vice-rector for external relations at Algeria’s Mohamed Lamine Debaghine Setif 2 University.
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“They also provide opportunities for personal growth, helping individuals build confidence, resilience, and a sense of accomplishment,” she added. “Participation in diverse activities can help individuals explore their interests, develop a well-rounded personality, and enhance their social and communication skills.”
Instilling Community Values
The ZU Caring Campaign has included events like Pink October Day to raise awareness about breast cancer, a trip to the Louvre Abu Dhabi, a World Mental Health Day event, and an event at last month’s World Kindness Day that focused on sustainability.
“Caring holds a special place among our community values,” Dugulan told Al-Fanar Media. “These values include being caring, confident, ethical, empathetic and motivated.”
Sustainability has also been a focus, she added. “We don’t just want to be self-caring and caring about the community, but also to care for the planet.”
The campaign’s World Kindness Day events encouraged acts of kindness within the university community and building a stronger connection to the planet.
“What I particularly loved about this event was the integration of art and creativity,” She said.
Students could express themselves through painting, but the event also highlighted eco-friendly options, like reflecting on a printed image of the planet and sending messages of kindness to the Earth.
Visiting high school students joined the activities, engaging with university students. Zayed University student Fatma Ismail Juma enjoyed that engagement. “It was fascinating watching our guests participate while they unleashed their creativity and artistic talents. Every student defined what kindness meant to them through art and writing.”
Juma added: “I believe kindness comes in all forms. As individuals, we are able to look at the world through kind eyes. It costs nothing to be kind. Be kind to yourself and to others, and create a kinder planet. The world could always use more kindness.”
A Syrian Medical Student’s Journey
For Alaa Koujah, a fifth-year medical student at Hama University, in Syria, an extracurricular activity turned out to be a life-altering event. In his second year, Koujah got an opportunity to offer educational seminars and free scientific advice to younger medical students in other governorates, travelling across Syria.
“Quite simply, I found I was fond of public speaking and presentations, which prompted me to develop those skills,” Koujah told Al-Fanar Media. “Being self-confident, getting students’ encouragement, along with the required competence, made a handful of students wonder if I had been teaching for years.”
“Familiar roles cannot create a human being with multiple horizons and broad thinking. Breaking away from stereotypes is the most important thing that generates new ideas and draws out every human being’s latent energies.”Alaa Koujah, a fifth-year medical student at Hama University, in Syria
Within one year, Koujah says he became one of the most active medical students and peer-educators in his country. Two years later, he launched AKO, the first educational application of its kind in Syria, to provide medical e-learning to students.
“The bottom line is that my experience started by pure coincidence,” he said, “but it helped to create an opportunity through which I broke into the labour market so that I could earn something from it.”
Koujah thinks that every student should engage in various experiences. “Familiar roles cannot create a human being with multiple horizons and broad thinking,” he said. “Breaking away from stereotypes is the most important thing that generates new ideas and draws out every human being’s latent energies.”
Extracurricular activities can also positively impact students’ psychological well-being by reducing stress, fostering a sense of belonging, and promoting overall mental health.
“Participation in diverse activities can help individuals explore their interests, develop a well-rounded personality, and enhance their social and communication skills.”Naouel Abdellatif Mami, vice-rector for external relations at Algeria’s Mohamed Lamine Debaghine Setif 2 University
These combined benefits can significantly contribute to an individual’s future career success and overall happiness, said Mami, from Mohamed Lamine Debaghine Setif 2 University, thinks that involvement.
“By developing skills, building relationships, and promoting personal growth, individuals are better equipped to navigate the challenges of both their professional and personal lives,” she said.
Zayed University also emphasises mental well-being. For World Mental Health Day, it held an event that promoted mental health care and reducing the stigma attached to it, and the importance of caring for oneself and fostering a resilient, supportive community.
Mental health problems have increased during and since the Covid-19 pandemic lockdowns, and “there is still stigma around such topics,” Dugulan said. But having open conversations about such issues could help reduce this stigma, she believes. “In our events, we destigmatise and raise self-awareness about mental health care.”
The Student Life Team at Zayed University has received overwhelmingly positive feedback from students, Dugulan said. “It is really gratifying to witness how the campaign has resonated with them on a profound level,” she said.
Dugulan thinks Zayed University’s campaign can be replicated by other universities. She strongly encourages other university leaders to focus more on the soft side of the university experience. Kindness and community values are instilled from Day One, orientation day, at Zayed University, she added.
“By fostering a caring community, we are not only shaping the future leaders of society, but also contributing to a more-compassionate world where everyone is entitled to make a difference.”
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