Khaleejigirl (KG) Interviews Maryam Al Sadah!
Meet Maryam Al Sadah, a young lady who proves how trusting your gut pays off. Graduating with a MSc degree in Social Development Practice from University College London (UCL) to working in the United Nations Development Programme. Check out how she got there in her interview below!
KG: Where did you go to university?
A: SOAS [School of Oriental and African Studies] was my dream school. I didn’t think I would get in but I did! I decided to study Politics, and spent the most amazing three years of my life there. Studying Politics doesn’t mean you have to specifically work in that field, because any humanities degree is going give you a broad base. If you’re going to go into research or academia, or if you want to work with an NGO it is a perfect degree.
KG: What are some of the things you remember learning during these years?
A: Although the degree is in Politics, it is not the only thing we focused on. This was true in SOAS especially, because it’s focused on the Middle East, North Africa and Asia. We were also taught history and anthropology, were exposed to different people and cultures and there was also the development aspect thrown in there. We had the opportunity to study a language or something outside of your degree as well. All together, it gave us a very well-rounded world view.
KG: What happened after you graduated from SOAS?
A: After graduating, I was very confused. I didn’t know if I should come back to Bahrain, or to continue studying. To be honest, I knew if moved back to Bahrain I wouldn’t have the opportunity to come back to the UK- it would be difficult for me to uproot my life. I decided to stay. I was aiming to pursue a Master’s in Law when I came across a degree at UCL [University College London] in Social Development Practice. The degree appealed to me because it encouraged a human-centered approach to development, with a focus on bottom-up approaches rather than the typical top-down approach. That sounded like something I wanted to do, especially since I was aiming to work for an NGO or a Ministry in Bahrain that works to support development. That persuaded me to apply and eventually study Social Development rather than Law.
KG: Is there a unique experience that stands out in your mind when you think about your experience at UCL?
A: Yes. I had the opportunity to go on a 3-week trip to Kisumu, Kenya to work with a local NGO, Practical Action. I loved that we worked directly with the communities there, coming together to develop and assess development solutions. That provided me with a more grounded view towards development. When you are on the ground, you realize that the situation is a lot more complex than originally thought.
KG: What happened when you finished your graduate degree?
A: I came back to Bahrain and I think it is very important for young girls to know that it is perfectly acceptable to feel lost. A lot of friends and acquaintances immediately got jobs with major organizations like the IMF or World Bank, started working with global NGOs or continued studying. I felt limited in what I could do with the degree I had chosen. I remember regretting my degree, and wishing I had studied Economics or Business- basically a degree that would guarantee a job in Bahrain. Eventually, I had the amazing opportunity to work with a local NGO here in Bahrain, AlMabarrah AlKhalifia Foundation (MKF). The Foundation supports the empowerment of youth, and I worked in Rayaat, a program that provides scholarships to university students. It was an incredible experience, and the best part of the job for me was seeing the tangible change the Foundation was making in the lives of youth and students.
KG: What happened after your experience at MKF?
A: I applied to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), never thinking I would get accepted as they required years of experience. I took the exam, and then went in for an interview-it was a very rigorous process. To my surprise, I was offered the job. I currently work as a Programme and Communications Analyst, supporting UNDP’s programs and initiatives, and undertaking all communication tasks. I work with youth a lot, and promote the United Nation’s Agenda for Sustainable Development 2030 and its Sustainable Development Goals. I never believed that in Bahrain, or in the Middle East in the wider context of the world I’d be able to do something I studied for- so I am really grateful.
KG: But do you think a big reason you are where you are right now is because you trusted your own gut?
A: Yes, definitely. I know that a lot of people face pressure from their families or communities to follow that a certain path. I applied to the US for a general degree in Business, and I was never convinced or happy about it. It was the same feeling I had recently when I thought of starting my own business- my heart just wasn’t in it. I trusted my gut, applied for a degree in Politics in the UK and it has been uphill ever since. So, trusting your gut is definitely the way to go. Of course, there will be times where you don’t trust your gut and go with the ‘safer option’. And you may regret it. But it is all a learning process. Try as best as you can not to live in the shadows, because you will not be happy. Follow your passions, take a risk and even if you end up failing that is more of a reason for you to pick yourself back up and continue doing what you were meant to do.